In beating the Giants in Arizona the Patriots could put an emphatic stamp on a historic perfect season. Super Bowl rings, having Bill Belichick's current dynasty stamped as one of the elite teams of all time and putting together arguably the greatest single season in all of professional sports would come with a second victory over New York in little more than a month. It wasn't easy in the season finale against Tom Coughlin's troops, and in fact it hasn't been easy for the Patriots over the second half of the season.
Back during all the early season blowouts, Tedy Bruschi sounded like the old Shirelles song when he said there'll be days like this, days when it wouldn't come so easy. As the Patriots proved once again Sunday evening at chilly Gillette Stadium with the win over the banged up Chargers, nothing that's worth anything comes easy.
New England clinched its fourth AFC Championship in seven seasons while becoming the first team ever to improve to 18-0 with a hard-fought victory that included contributions from seemingly every player on the roster.
"Great credit go our players, Coach Belichick and his staff that did what never has been done before," owner Robert Kraft said after yelling "18-0" to the fans while accepting the Lamar Hunt Trophy.
"All the credit goes to the players," Belichick added in front of the packed crowd. "I'm really lucky to coach this team."
The bend-but-don't break defense and just-good-enough offense that beat the Chargers to advance to the Super Bowl did little to temper the Patriots' postgame thoughts of an almost single-minded goal. While Junior Seau was quick to point out there were no wild locker room celebrations, the emotional win left New England focused on the chance that lay before it.
"We are now looking forward to the next opponent," Seau said. "We're not having a parade. We don't have the confetti in the locker room. We're not jumping around. It's special."
"Now we can look ahead," Belichick said of Super Bowl XLII in Arizona on Feb. 3.
--RB Laurence Maroney notched his second straight 100-yard effort with a strong 25 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Chargers. Maroney has now surpassed 100 yards in four of his last five games, including the first two playoff contests.
--RB Kevin Faulk had a team-high eight catches for 82 yards, including a number of key third-down conversions against San Diego.
--WR Jabar Gaffney scored his third career postseason touchdown -- a 12-yard score on his only catch of the day against San Diego -- in just his fifth postseason game.
--QB Tom Brady threw three interceptions against the Chargers after having thrown just eight interceptions in the entire regular season. Brady's off game against the Chargers included completing 22-of-33 passes for 209 yards for two touchdowns with the three picks for a 66.4 passer rating.
--WR Troy Brown was the most notable of New England's game inactives for the AFC Championship Game. S Mel Mitchell missed the game with a biceps injury while Matt Gutierrez, Chad Jackson, Antwain Spann, Wesley Britt, Billy Yates, LE Kevin Smith and Brown were all healthy scratches.
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