Tomlinson turned in a stellar game rushing for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns while adding another 64 yards on a pair of receptions. He was playmaker that the Patriots had no answer for. Yet in spite of all the pats on the back, the accolades and the league honors, Tomlinson took umbrage with the Patriots postgame celebration. He said the Patriots lacked class and disrespected the Chargers.
Tomlinson's ire erupted when cornerback Ellis Hobbs mimicked the Shawne Merriman "Lights Out" celebratory sack dance. The league MVP was visibly upset and tried to make his way over to stop the action while teammates and former Charger Reche Caldwell restrained him. Tomlinson turned and left the field without shaking hands.
In his postgame press conference Tomlinson explained his position.
"You know what, I would never, ever react in that way," said a visibly upset Tomlinson. "When you go to the middle of our field and you start doing the dance that Shawne Merriman is known for, that's disrespectful to me and I can't sit there and watch that."
Yet Tomlinson didn't let it end there, he went on to insult the Patriots head coach, as if Bill Belichick instructed his players to mock the Chargers.
"I was very upset," he said. "And just the fact the way they showed no class at all, absolutely no class and maybe it comes from the head coach, there you have it."
The normally boisterous Hobbs didn't buy the Chargers were being disrespected card.
"I did the Shawne Merriman dance. He thought it was disrespectful," Hobbs said of the issue. "I didn't mean anything by it."
Hobbs repeated what a lot of Patriots felt on Sunday. If anyone was disrespecting their opponent it was the Chargers and the media who practically anointed San Diego AFC Champs before the game.
" These guys were setting parades and everything else," Hobbs said. "They were scouting NFC teams. These guys weren't only skipping over us, they're skipping over the AFC championship and getting ready for the Super Bowl."
Tedy Bruschi agreed that the Chargers were getting all of the attention leading up to the game, and that they may have been looking past New England with their actions and their statements during the week.
"They were the sexy team," Bruschi said of the Chargers being favorites to win the AFC title. "Everybody in San Diego had their plane flight to the Super Bowl already planned."
|New England Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel celebrates stripping the ball from San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers in the first quarter in their AFC Divisional playoff football game in San Diego, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2007. At rear is New England Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)|
Having a 14-2 record and homefield advantage through the playoffs fueled San Diego's confidence. Other Patriots expressed the popular sentiment that the Chargers started trash talking before, and during the game.
"They're probably still thinking they should have won," Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel said of Chargers confidence level. "I can't help thinking about what Marty Schottenheimer said about our team last year, about how (the Patriots) had a good run." Schottenheimer was referring to the Patriots losing due to a rash of injuries and free agency defections. "You don't need to be saying things about another team, what's going on in their locker room."
Vrabel brushed aside the rest of the trash talking as just that, trash talking and nothing more.
Vrabel's teammate Rosevelt Colvin believed that the trash talking leading up to the game came mostly from the Chargers camp. When asked if it was the mark of a young team to be loudmouths or to badmouth others Colvin responded, "You'll have to go ask them (Chargers). That's the type of players they are, the type of team they are. We just play for 60 minutes and leave what we've got on the field." When pressed on the issue, Colvin replied, "We'll talk when we need to talk, but I think the scoreboard says enough."
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who was near Tomlinson when LT attempted to interrupt Hobbs' celebration agreed with his running back. He supported Tomlinson's accusation that the Patriots were disrespecting the Chargers by mimicking Merriman's "Lights Out" dance and pointing to the scoreboard.
"Personally, I was disappointed in the way they handled winning," Rivers said. "I think what got L.T. and I right there was a little bit of taunting. It was a little finger pointing and I don't know where it came from."
Rivers admitted that it was the type of game where everyone was talking - the type of hard-fought contest that was heated from the opening kickoff through the final tick of the clock.
"You know, yeah, guys talk, I was talking," Rivers said. "It was one of those kind of games, you have a good time and you compete."
That's the way it should be, two teams competing for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
L.T. might want to ask himself if it was disrespectful for Merriman to do his dance after every play he made during the season. Maybe the disrespect card should be put back in his pocket until next year. There's no doubt it will come out when the teams meet in 2007.
Regardless of what was said before, during and after the game, the Patriots move on to play Indianapolis next Sunday, while the Chargers clean out their lockers.