When the Patriots beat the Chargers 38-14 on Sept. 16 at Gillette Stadium, New England was in the second week of an historic early-season stretch in which the team scored at least 34 points in each of its first eight games. Blowouts were the norm and even top-seeded playoff teams from the previous season like San Diego could do little to fight the offensive onslaught.
Conversely, Week 2 saw the Chargers limping out of the gates under first-year head coach Norv Turner, losing the first of three straight. More loses in the first month than the Bolts had suffered in all of 2006 had players and fans alike searching for answers.
But somewhere along the line -- because of or in spite of Turner -- his troops found the answers. San Diego won six straight games to close out the regular season before beating Tennessee on wild-card weekend and then traveling to Indianapolis last Sunday afternoon to upset the Colts 28-24.
Make no mistake, the Chargers have a little something going these days and aren't exactly the underachieving team the Patriots plastered in early September. According to Patriots coach Bill Belichick, New England expects a totally different team than the one it pounded four months ago.
"We'll definitely start all over on the preparations with them, almost like it's a new team, and then look back at some of the things we had from September," Belichick said just minutes after learning San Diego would be his team's AFC Championship Game opponent Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. "That's a long time ago. I think the most important thing for us to focus on is what the Chargers have done the last couple months. They have a long winning streak."
As thrilled as Belichick and his 17-0 team are to be hosting the Chargers in New England's second straight AFC title game and fifth in seven seasons, San Diego's upset of the team's chief rival doesn't make life any easier on the Patriots.
"As I said last night, we're privileged as a football team to be in the AFC Championship Game," Belichick said. "That was a tremendous win today by San Diego, in Indianapolis. They beat them twice this year, of course. They're a good football team, strong in every phase of the game - offense, defense, special teams. They make a lot of big plays in all three areas of the game as we watched them through the season, as I know all of you have. They're tough, they're physical. Going out on the road and winning today in Indianapolis today shows what kind of mental toughness they have. We know we're going to have to play our best game of the year.
"On the same note, we're excited to play, and we're excited to be in the game. It's a privilege to be in it. Hopefully we'll be able to go out there and do our best Sunday against the Chargers."
And San Diego would like nothing more than to avenge its early-season embarrassment in Foxborough, not to mention beat the Patriots in their home and eliminate them from the championship hunt just the way New England did the Chargers last January on divisional weekend. The AFC title game is set and it may not be the Patriots-Colts matchup that most of the football world expected, but it shouldn't lack any intrigue.