Quarterback play crucial

Among the more glaring matchups Sunday in the Chargers' divisional playoff game against the visiting New England Patriots is the one at quarterback.

The Patriots present Tom Brady, he of the 11-1 postseason mark and owner of three Super Bowl titles.

The Chargers present Philip Rivers, a first-year starter making his playoff debut.

Brady's fire might be fueled that it was Rivers, and not him, who gained the final Pro Bowl spot at the position. But while Brady always plays it cool, it's obvious Rivers is geeked for his first playoff appearance.

"I'm not sure what to expect from him," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said of Rivers. "He is excited about being in the playoffs, but some part of being a quarterback, you keep that even keel of not getting too excited, but in the weight room just a while ago, he was talking about how after the New England game (Sunday), he was already ready to go. I was thinking to myself, 'We've got a long way to go! We've got six days to go, Philip.'

"It's good I think because he is excited to be in his first playoff game, but I think for us who have played in a playoff game that we've got to remind him that a fast horse runs fast, but it doesn't run long."

Tomlinson said that was part of the Chargers' problem when they lost in their last playoff chance, in overtime to the Jets to cap their 2004 season. After not reaching the playoffs since 1995, the Chargers went in wide-eyed and were quickly bounced.

"I think we were trying too hard, but not only that, we were running off emotions the first part of the game," Tomlinson said. "Everything was emotional, and once that emotion died down, then it was time to play football and we were already drained.

"I think that's a big thing, to keep your emotions in tact. Don't be so emotional the first part of the game that in the fourth quarter you have nothing left."

Coach Marty Schottenheimer, though, isn't concerned. He'll take his chances with the quarterback which directed the NFL's highest-scoring offense and took the Chargers to their second AFC West title in three years.

"That's his makeup," Schottenheimer said of Rivers' persona. "Crunch time in the NFL for a quarterback and a football team is the fourth quarter. I think he's, if not the best, he's in the top two or whatever. I have no reservations whatsoever."

Rivers is indeed No. 1. Come Sunday, he looks for playoff victory No. 1 as well against a quarterback shooting for No. 12.

Lightning Quicks:

OLB Shawne Merriman was 10 years old the last time the Chargers won a playoff game. But he is expected to be a critical component in harassing Patriots QB Tom Brady. Merriman is fit and has fresh legs, thanks in part to missing four games after being suspended for steroids. Merriman was the first Charger to lead the league in sacks, recording 17.

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