Lightning Quicks: Tricks and Kicks

The playoffs are time for pulling out all the stops. The Patriots are scouting trick plays and tricking themselves into feeling disrespected, while both squads' kickers are carrying the weight of the world on their feet.

Triple Threat

Much has been made of Bill Belichick's ability to take away an opponent's best player. That sets up some great drama as his Patriots prepare to take on the league's best player, LaDainian Tomlinson.

Tomlinson has been on a season-long rampage. He is an unstoppable runner, as he led the league in rushing yards and set a new single-season scoring record in the process. He's a productive receiver as well, having caught at least 50 passes in each of his six seasons in the league.

But when preparing for No. 21, Belichick knows he must stop more than Tomlinson's quick feet and soft hands. His accurate arm has given teams fits, too.

"It does look like most of the time when they call those (halfback passes) the guy is standing there fair catching the ball. There's nobody near him," Belichick said. "I'm not taking anything away from Tomlinson as a thrower, but some of those plays have been extremely well executed, or designed, or run at the exact right time."

Not Just a River

Denial isn't just a river; it may be the secret to New England's success. The Patriots refuse to recognize the respect given to them by opponents and media alike, instead preferring to feel slighted. It's a motivational tool New England relies upon.

The Patriots crave external motivation. Tom Brady will be motivated because Philip Rivers took his spot on the Pro Bowl roster. His team will be out to prove a point after Shawne Merriman picked the Jets to win at halftime of last weekend's Patriots-Jets game.

The latest quest for motivation comes via former-Charger Reche Caldwell. He claims the Chargers don't respect the Patriots.

"There is absolutely no truth in that statement," Quentin Jammer said. "I think it is just a ploy to get their team fired up, and if that's what they need to get them fired up, then that's their business."

Just for Kicks

If this weekend's game is close - as many expect it will be - it will be interesting see how the kickers fare under the pressure. Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding has not missed a field goal in Qualcomm Stadium since his costly overtime miss against the Jets in the 2004 playoffs.

Then there's Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, a rookie with the unenviable task of replacing Adam Vinatieri, arguably the most successful kicker in postseason history.

"I think there is a little more pressure on us kickers, but there is major pressure on everybody," Nate Kaeding said. "When you're a kicker there is no gray area for us. The kick is either in or out, black and white, plain and simple."


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