If you were told that Tom Brady threw three interceptions in a playoff game, your mind would have raced to the worst possible scenario - a Patriot defeat in the AFC Championship game. Your concerns would have been warranted, but you would have been wrong.
The Patriots used their running backs to overcome Brady's mistakes and to grind out valuable yardage late in the game on Sunday. Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk took control of the game in the fourth quarter and never let up. Down by 11, facing a fourth-and-10 on New England's 36 yard line, San Diego punted believing their defense would get the ball back to them.
With 9 minutes left in the game and the ball on their own 13, Brady turned to Maroney and Faulk. 11 times the ball went to one of the two backs, as the Chargers were unable to stop them. New England marched down the field to kill the clock allowing Tom Brady to take a knee in the victory formation on the final two plays.
Maroney finished with 25 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown while Faulk made a pair of critical third down catches on the final drive to seal the deal. Faulk finished with eight receptions for 82 yards and 1 carry for 8 yards. The two backs did what the vaunted New England receiver corps couldn't -- secure a Patriots victory.
The win comes courtesy of a strong red zone defense led by former Chargers Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison. Three times the Chargers had the ball inside the Patriots 20, and three of those times they had to settle for a field goal. The inability to get the ball in the end zone was the real story for San Diego on Sunday.
Randy Moss and Tom Brady connected 98 times for 1,493 yards and a record-setting 23 touchdowns during the regular season, but on Sunday, the Brady to Moss connection amounted to only 1 reception for 18 yards and one run - a reverse - for 14 yards. It was a near duplicate performance of the week before when Moss was held to just one catch and became more of a decoy than a real threat.
Credit San Diego defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell for finding a way to copy the blueprint set forth by the Eagles, Ravens, Giants and Jaguars on how to shut down Randy Moss. Unfortunately Cotrell didn't check the bottom line on those games the Patriots won. San Diego was able to stop Moss, but Kevin Faulk, Laurence Maroney and Wes Welker found holes in the blueprint. Maybe Cottrell didn't read the fine print. Stop Randy, and the other guys still have to be covered.
Complimenting New England's solid ground attack featuring spectacular plays by unheralded running back Kevin Faulk and second year back Laurence Maroney, were the Patriots' veteran linebacking corps. The Patriots defense turned in one of their best performances holding the Chargers' 5th ranked scoring offense to just 12 points. Junior Seau sacked a hobbled Philip Rivers once, while Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs each picked off errant throws by Rivers who had to get rid of the ball quickly from the defensive pressure.
New England will face the New York Giants on Sunday February 3, 2008 in Glendale, AZ for the Super Bowl. It is New England's fourth Super Bowl appearance in 7 seasons (2001, 2003 and 2004).
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