Operation Payback

The New England Patriots are the team everybody loves to hate. They have been accused of everything from spying on opponents to practicing their injured-reserve players. The Chargers are determined to beat the bullies who bounced them from last year's playoffs.

The Chargers are saying all of the right things in the wake of their 14-3 victory over the Chicago Bears. The Bolts are wary about giving Bill Belichick any bulletin-board material he can use to rile up his troops.

Antonio Gates, for one, tried to deflect attention away from the coach whom LaDainian Tomlinson called classless back in January.

"Going into this upcoming game, we understand the focus is that we have to outplay the New England Patriots team. It doesn't have anything to do with the coaching; it doesn't have anything to do with the play calling; it has something to do with execution," Gates said.

As for the coach roaming the Chargers sidelines, there is nothing Norv Turner can say or do to get his team to treat this week just like any other. The Chargers had this game circled on their schedules a month before Turner came onboard and the memories of that playoff upset have been festering ever since.

Maybe that is a good thing, if the Chargers can harness that energy into an efficient on-field performance. Then again, that bottled up rage may tempt the Chargers into playing out of control -- which is exactly what allowed the Patriots to beat them last time around.

Either way, there is little Coach Turner can do to steer the team in one direction or the other. The wheels have already been set in motion.

"I think everybody remembers the way they disrespected us at the end of that game," said Malcom Floyd in an interview earlier this offseason. "I'm still mad about it and I hope to use that when I get on the field."

Rest assured, the Patriots remember last year's game, too. Instead of being bitter about the outcome, the Patriots recall the way Tomlinson ran wild on them…again. Tomlinson registered 187 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in that playoff game. In his two prior match-ups against New England, L.T. combined for 351 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

"It doesn't motivate us at all," said Tomlinson of the rematch opportunity. "It's not the same situation. It doesn't mean as much."

If Tomlinson can run through the Patriots defense as well as he can lie to a throng of reporters, then Operation Payback will officially be complete.


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