With the Patriots focusing so heavily on No. 21, things should have been easier in the passing game. Rivers did his part, despite completing just 14 of his 32 passes. Those numbers would have been even better had his receivers not let him down time and time again.
Eric Parker dropped two passes and could not have picked a worse time to have his worst game as a professional. Vincent Jackson dropped one pass and failed to get two feet down in the back of the end zone on another. Antonio Gates also failed to corral a catch near the goal line, one he hauls in more often than not.
"We didn't cash in on -- as offense it was weird; I felt we played good but then we did some things that killed us," Rivers explained. "We collectively did things that were uncharacteristic of this team all year. You know, we didn't make some of those mistakes all year long, and hey, we still almost came through, but didn't, and it obviously caught up with us."
As for Schottenheimer, who could have ever guessed he would be criticized for being too aggressive? Not that the criticism isn't warranted, as going for it on fourth-and-11 against a defense that allowed the second-fewest points in the league is inarguably illogical.
But again, Schottenheimer can only shoulder so much of the blame. There are plenty of others who contributed greatly to the meltdown.
Shane Olivea gave up a devastating fourth-down sack and was flagged for a moronic unnecessary roughness penalty. Drayton Florence was flagged for unnecessary roughness, too. Then there's Marlon McCree, who fumbled away what may well have been the deciding interception.
"I didn't throw a punch," Olivea said. "I was just protecting a teammate. I saw two guys take a shot at Roman Oben when he was down and on his back and I wasn't going to let them do that. I waited for the referee to do something but he didn't, so I took things into my own hands. It's just a really disappointing feeling right now."
Although the secondary played well for the most part, it failed to come up with crucial stops at the ends of both halves. Former-Charger Reche Caldwell and his former-Florida teammate, Jabar Gaffney, combined for 17 catches, 183 yards and two scores. The Chargers receivers combined for just four catches, 85 yards and no scores.
But no one well get more heat – deserved or otherwise – than Nate Kaeding, who is has now ended the Chargers' last two postseason runs with missed field goals.
The defeat is nearly inexplicable, as San Diego did everything it felt it had to do in order to win. It established the run; it kept Rivers from getting flummoxed; and stayed aggressive throughout.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game because they've been in some similar situations before and it happened the way it did," said Shawne Merriman. "You have to give them credit because they played hard, we played hard, and they came out with the victory."
The Chargers even kept playoff icon Tom Brady in check. Brady completed less than 53 percent of his passes, threw a career-playoff high three interceptions and registered less than 300 yards passing despite more than 50 pass attempts.
The Chargers did everything they needed to – except win the game.
"The definition of mental toughness? Well, it's just not letting anything get you," Brady explained. "Staying focused no matter what's swirling around you, continuing to mentally fight through whatever obstacles there might be, whenever it's a certain play or situation. There's a bunch of things with football players, mentally tough guys. This was one of those games. Even though it doesn't all go well, you still have to believe in yourself and still have confidence and go out there and play."