The end of the Brady era?

Tom Brady is a great quarterback. He has guided the New England Patriots to three Super Bowl wins in four years but the talent is decidedly in favor of San Diego this year and Brady's time on top could be coming to an end.

Much like the struggle for Green Bay years ago – when they would continually lose to the San Francisco 49ers – the Chargers are winners of two straight over New England after losing ten consecutive to the Patriots.

The wins were monumental in many ways. San Diego beat New England in Gillette Stadium 41-17 on October 2, 2005, halting a 21-game home winning streak for the Patriots.

They also won by a 21-14 margin in 2002, stopping a three-game New England winning streak and sending the Pats to four straight losses.

Being billed as Tom Brady versus Philip Rivers is the foolishness that the media tries to hype. It was never Favre versus Young or Montana. It was and is team against team, pulling all your resources together to come out with the victory.

The Colts on Saturday did exactly that to move on to play the winner of Sunday's game without a single touchdown from Peyton Manning.

"We all know Philip doesn't have to do everything alone," tight end Antonio Gates said. "He has great men to protect him on the field, and a great running back in LaDainian. This is not an individual battle; we look at this game as being a team effort of the San Diego Chargers versus the New England Patriots, not Rivers versus Brady."

But there is a certain aura the quarterback brings to the table. If the defense can come up with the big stop and the quarterback pushes the offense into the end zone on a consistent basis the leadership shown is exuded. It is one of the traits that both Brady and Rivers have.

"Everyone talks about the confidence Tom Brady has and what he does and I don't doubt that," Schottenheimer began. "Let's not overlook the confidence that he brings to every other guy on that football teams on offense or defense or the kicking game. Let's get the ball back; let's get field position because Tom can do it. He is certainly not a one-man gang there, but I think to me the one thing a quarterback can bring is hope and certainly he not only brings you hope, but in most cases if you give him an opportunity he will get it done."

"Us, as a team, we have to be under control and poised," said Rivers. "Everybody is going to be a little more excited. You want all of those things. You've just got to make sure it works for you and you don't get too carried away and have a silly penalty, have the false starts and all those little things that can creep up on you."

The Bill Belichick and Brady era is 11-1 in the playoffs so they know the circumstances.

This is one-and-done. Win and move on. Lose and the golf season begins.

"My 17 sacks don't mean anything any more," linebacker Shawne Merriman said. "The three Super Bowl rings that Brady has don't mean anything anymore. It's about playing in the playoffs. Either you win or you go home. That's the attitude we have right now. We have to get a win.

"Everything goes up 110% because there's no re-do's. You don't get a chance to do this over again. You lose and your out and you go home. You go home or you go on. That's what I've been telling the guys all week. We gotta keep up this winning streak and it definitely helps that we are at home."

And that is the rub. The Patriots' history is just that. The rings that adorn many of the players hands will not be on the field on Sunday.

This is about team unity – a trait that has shown throughout the year in San Diego. The chemistry – battling through legal troubles, fighting the incessant distractions – is unmistakable.

The Chargers pick each other up through injuries, when the offense isn't playing its best, and when the defense is giving up chunks of yardage.

An early lead is enviable but San Diego is in every game until the end.

"We've been a part of so many big games this year," defensive end Luis Castillo said. "You look at the Cincinnati game this year…the way we fought back. The Denver game…the one we played up there. We've had that experience this year. We've fought through tough times. This team has shown and unbelievable resilience and an attitude and a confidence. We've played in playoff atmospheres and we're ready for it."

The test begins on Sunday. The core of this team may not have true playoff experience but they have the better overall talent. As long as they remain hungry and poised it is hard to be against the 8-0 home team.

"We're not nervous; we're just ready to play the game," said cornerback Quentin Jammer.

"It is good for us to play a team like the Patriots because it is a sure test on all we have put together during the season," Merriman said.

Passing this test could send them all the way to a Super Bowl victory.

Lightning Quicks:

"There is absolutely no truth in that statement," Jammer said when responding to Reche Caldwell's comments on the Chargers not respecting New England. "How can you not respect a team and a quarterback who has won three Super Bowls, and a defense that can shut down anybody in the League. 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. We are just looking forward to our first playoff game, which is our first step to the Super Bowl. That is what we think about to get us fired up, and we are going to line up based on that motivation."


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