You could feel it this last week. You could feel the momentum of the underdog New England Patriots gaining speed.
It was a week where you heard the very outspoken linebacker Shawn Merriman talking trash. It was a week where New England fans were outraged with the news that the San Diego Chargers organization stopped ticket sales through Ticketmaster to anyone outside of the San Diego area. Then you watched the line of the game and saw that the Patriots were underdogs. Or even if you heard that San Diego had nine players voted to the Pro Bowl team and five to the All-Pro team and the Patriots had one. I don't think that you could have scripted it any better.
This game on Sunday was a war and a battle. These two teams fought and scrapped to put points on the board and left everything out on the field. They went head to head and played a physical, hard nosed style of game.
In all honesty you could see on paper that this San Diego team was a much more talented team. They had the league MVP and possibly the best Tight End in the league in Antonio Gates.
These are my top 5 reasons why New England beat the favored Chargers:
1. New England won was the play of incomparable golden boy, Tom Brady.
No matter how much people doubt this guy, he continues to make amazing plays time and again to get to 12-1 in the postseason. Brady didn't have a good game statistically today but he found a way to win the game by scoring three times during crunch time. Brady has a quiet and confident swagger about him. He just knows how to get the job done.
2. Rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
As Patriots fans watched in utter disgust the day before when Patriot defector, Adam Vinatieri booted 5 field goals for the archrival Colts, not much was known about the untested youngster Gostkowski who had yet to perform crucial situations. Well, today's performance answered the question if he could step up, as Gostkowski's kicks quieted some of the skeptics. He booted not only the game winning field goal from 31 yards, he also nailed a 50-yarder in the first half.
3. Troy Brown.
What else can I say? How else can I describe this unselfish, unwavering warrior. A player who is willing to check the ego at the door and play whatever position the team wants him to if it helps to win the game. After an errant throw by Brady into the Chargers defenders hands, Troy Brown had the whereabouts to strip the ball going from offensive player to defensive player in the flip of a switch. This crafty veteran will go down as one of the all time Patriot greats. He might not get into the Hall Of Fame or be mentioned in the same sentences with receivers like Jerry Rice or Lynn Swann, but he is as consistent as any receiver in the league. Day in and day out Brown comes to work and gets the job done.
4. Head coach, Bill Belichick and his staff.
No matter what people think of his brash personality or 'cocky attitude' this guy wins games. After failing at his first stint in Cleveland in the 90's, he has been nothing short of near perfection since taking the reigns in New England. Belichick's play calling, schemes and his overall preparedness is one to definitely be admired. He is a true testament to competitiveness and the overall need to win. He and Brady share in that mentality and I think that is why they make such a great combination.
5. The fans of New England.
Lets face it, even after Chargers front office restricted sales to southern California residents only through TicketMaster, those fans still showed up to make noise and show their team spirit for the New England boys. With some fans traveling across the country to go to the game, they showed up to have an impact on the game. You could hear them through the TV.
In this game the Chargers played out of character getting called for personal fouls, penalties and untimely bad coaching. With plays such as the head butt of a Patriot player after a stop on third down for a personal foul to extend the drive or even the uncharacteristic explosion of the usually soft-spoken LaDainian Tomlinson at the end of the game, San Diego let the Patriots take them out of their normal game. The Patriots made got into the Chargers heads before, during and after the game.
When Bill Belichick was asked about the game he answered, "I thought it was a very competitive game. It was an ebb and flow. At times, they had a little bit of the upper hand. At times, we had a little bit of the upper hand. It was a dogfight. It was a physical, tough football game - two teams competing their tail off against each other. We just made one more play at the end than they did."
I guess when LaDainian Tomlinson said that the Patriots have no class and it probably comes from their coach, he knows nothing about Bill Belichick.
With this victory the Patriots improved to 19-11 (.633) all-time in the playoffs, passing the Green Bay Packers to claim the best playoff winning percentage in NFL history. Amazingly, of the team's 19 playoff wins, 15 have come since owner Robert Kraft bought the franchise in 1994.
Next week, the Patriots travel to Indianapolis to take on the rival Colts to where they will most likely be the underdogs and will have to bring their 'A-game' but all Patriots fans and even the country will be looking forward to this game.
Shane is a lifelong Patriots fan who grew up in Worcester, MA. He showed his Patriots spirit representing his home team all over the world while in the military and attending games regularly through the years. He now resides in Bangor, ME where he roots for them from afar. He stands firm in his belief in the team and regularly makes the 500 mile round trip trek to watch them whenever he can.