PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Philip Rivers was decent in his first playoff appearance. But he did have some rough patches getting out of the way of the Pats' blitz packages. Rivers was a victim of at least four drops, which hurt his numbers (14 of 32 for 230 yards and a score). What killed Rivers were drops by Eric Parker (twice), Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson. The pass protection was decent -- three sacks -- although Rivers was hurried on more than a few occasions.
"It was one of those days," Gates explained. "I would love to put everyone in the same situation again. You get one chance to play your best. That was by far our worst game this season."
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- LaDainian Tomlinson was fabulous as he rushed for 123 yards and two scores. The run blocking was sweet as it consistently gave Tomlinson room to run. Lorenzo Neal, too, was a big part of the run-blocking. Don't overlook Michael Turner, who bullied his way in for a 6-yard scoring run. Not much to complain about here.
"It is kind of tough to put into words," said Tomlinson. "You still feel the same way. Everything is still fresh. Disappointment is the initial thought."
PASS DEFENSE: C -- Three picks here, but when it really counted the team was exposed by Tom Brady. On the touchdown right before the half, Antonio Cromartie, Bhawoh Jue and Quentin Jammer got beat on for a touchdown. Then there was Jammer getting beat down the sideline for a 39-yard pickup which set up the winning field goal.
"We dominated most of the game and had critical mistakes on both sides of the ball," defensive end Luis Castillo said.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Pats never could get their running game going as Jamal Williams dominated in the middle. Their running backs could manage but 48 yards on 19 carries. Great game, too, by Donnie Edwards as he had a game-high 13 tackles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F -- Killer mistake by Parker as he muffed a punt which breathed new life into the Pats. Same goes for the dumb penalty by Shane Olivea on his 15-yard penalty for getting caught with the second hit. Kassim Osgood was special on downing a punt on the 2. And asking Nate Kaeding to match his career high with a 54-yard field goal to tie the game was asking a lot. But the playoffs ask for such performances and Kaeding was unable to come through.
COACHING: F -- Once again Marty Schottenheimer falls in the playoffs, although this one can't all be laid at his feet. Still, it's the time of the year where a loss is a ticket home and Schottenheimer was unable to keep the Chargers on their road to their first Super Bowl win. Strange call at the beginning of the game when he went for it on fourth-and-11 from the Pats' 30. With a Pro Bowl kicker? He also wasted a timeout when challenging McCree's fumble which had no chance of being overturned. That time out -- and those potential three points -- looked awfully big as Rivers desperately tried to get in field-goal range near the end of the game.
Patriots Report Card:
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- This wasn't one of QB Tom Brady's better overall games. He was erratic early on in the game, missing open receivers. However, once the fourth quarter hit, Brady turned it up a notch. He finished the game 27-of-51 for 280 yards and two touchdowns. He did throw three interceptions but none of them proved to be very costly. New England's offensive line did a tremendous job of giving Brady time in the pocket. Outside pass rushers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips came into the game with a lot of hype but neither was a factor on Sunday. Matt Light, in particular, did a great job blocking Merriman. Jabar Gaffney continued his stellar play in the postseason, tying a career-high with 10 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown. It wasn't always pretty, but Brady and the Patriots receivers got it done in crunch time.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- The Patriots only ran for 51 yards on 21 carries. They tried running the ball early on but San Diego's defense bottled them up, so New England opted to go to the air instead. Kevin Faulk was the team's leading rusher with a meager 25 yards. However, he did have some success on draw plays right before the half to set up a Patriots touchdown. Faulk also took a direct snap into the end zone for the game-tying two-point conversion. Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney combined for just 23 yards on the day. If you told the Chargers defense they would shutdown New England's stable of running backs the way it did, they would have liked their chances.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- Philip Rivers played pretty well in his first postseason start. However, his receivers did not. The San Diego receiving corps dropped six passes in the game, many of them at critical moments. Vincent Jackson and Eric Parker had a miserable day. Despite plenty of opportunities, neither receiver did anything to help their quarterback. Even tight end Antonio Gates had an uncharacteristic drop near the goal line. Artrell Hawkins recorded a big sack to knock the Chargers out of field goal range but Rivers usually had time to locate his receivers. He finished the game going 14- of-32 for 230 yards and an interception. The interception by Rosevelt Colvin was a big momentum swing heading into the fourth quarter.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- Many felt the Patriots defense would attempt to take LaDainian Tomlinson out of the game. If that was their strategy, they didn't do a very good job of it. The NFL's MVP gashed New England for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Backup Michael Turner chipped in with 24 yards and a score of his own. Tomlinson didn't break off any big runs but he did average 5.3 yards per carry. Playing against one of the league's top rush defenses, the Chargers had to be happy with the way they ran the ball on Sunday. Unfortunately for them, it wasn't enough to get San Diego into the AFC Championship Game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Eric Parker's fumbled punt in the third quarter was recovered by David Thomas and cost the Chargers three points. Stephen Gostkowski continued to impress by nailing three field goals, including the game-winner from 31 yards out with just over a minute to go in the game. Todd Sauerbrun did a solid job punting the football. He averaged 44.1 yards per punt, including a long of 56. Nate Kaeding's last second field-goal attempt of 54 yards fell short, ending the Chargers' season. Maroney and Ellis Hobbs were quiet returning kicks but the Patriots coverage units were excellent.
COACHING: B-plus -- The Patriots did what they usually do when they face teams with a lot of talent, they hung around and hung around until late in the fourth quarter when Brady was able to make some big plays. The Patriots didn't do a great job of defending Tomlinson but they did control Gates. On defense, they showed Philip Rivers a lot of different looks and were able to force him into a couple of turnovers and quick throws. Belichick is now 12-1 in the playoffs since coming to New England. He continues to come up with great game plans and solidify himself as one of the greatest coaches in NFL history.