Belichick: "The Credit Goes To The Players"

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 over the San Diego Chargers. New England is now one win away from a perfect season and Super Bowl Championship.

"Great credit goes to 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.

"All the credit goes to the players," Belichick added in front of the packed crowd. "I'm really lucky to coach this team."

The Chargers fought gallantly but unfortunately for San Diego the Patriots red-zone defense stiffened and held them to three field goals inside the 10-yard line. For the first time all season, it wasn't Tom Brady and the passing game that was responsible for a Patriots victory.

"Great performance by the team, by the defense," Brady said. "To hold them to field goals was extremely important. We always had the lead there which was ... the mentality of that when you are always winning you don't feel like you have to press when you go out there because you have the lead."

San Diego closed to within 14-12 with another field-goal drive on its first possession of the third quarter, but settling for three really only set up New England's third touchdown of the day, a 6-yard Brady to Wes Welker score, early in the fourth quarter.

But New England's best drive of the day on offense was one that didn't end in points. Taking possession with 9:13 to play following a San Diego punt from the Patriots 36, Brady and Co. closed the door on the win. Laurence Maroney was huge on the march (37 yards) as he was all day finishing with 122 yards for the second straight week with 25 carries and a score.

Maybe even more impressive was the work of Maroney's backfield mate, Kevin Faulk. Faulk had a pair of key third-down conversions on 11- and 14-yard receptions on the final drive. Faulk was also the only real consistent offensive contributor for the Patriots in the first half, catching five passes for 50 yards.

"He always does," Belichick responded when asked about Faulk coming up big at key times. "He's been big for us all year."

Even with quarterback Philip Rivers (19-of-37 for 211 yards with two interceptions) limping throughout, and running back LaDainian Tomlinson limited early before spending three-plus quarters on the sideline with what San Diego's PR department said was a "sore knee," the Patriots were in a dogfight for much of the contest.

But just like they have all season, the Patriots were the team that made the plays when the game was on the line. Now it's off to Arizona for a rematch with the New York Giants where the only thing at stake for the Patriots is a perfect season, a Super Bowl title and football immortality.

Notes:

--The Patriots have won their fifth conference championship since Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994. New England's five conference titles over that span are more than twice as many as any other NFL club over that span. Denver, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and St. Louis are tied for second with two conference titles apiece since 1994.

--With their victory in the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots have won their sixth AFC Championship and will go to the Super Bowl for the sixth time. New England's six Super Bowl berths tie the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos for the second highest all-time total, trailing only the Dallas Cowboys' NFL-record eight Super Bowl trips. Over the last quarter-century, the Patriots' six Super Bowl appearances are more than any other team.

--The Patriots improved to 18-0 this season, tying the NFL's all-time record for most overall victories in a season (regular season and playoffs combined). New England joins the 1984 San Francisco 49ers and the 1985 Chicago Bears as the only teams in NFL history to win 18 games in a single season. The 1984 49ers and the 1985 Bears both went 15-1 in the regular season and won three playoff games to earn Super Bowl championships. The Patriots' 18 wins have set a franchise record, surpassing the 17 overall victories by the 2003 and 2004 Patriots (14 regular-season wins and three playoff victories).

--Bill Belichick has won his fourth conference championship as a head coach and is the eighth head coach in NFL history to lead his team to four Super Bowls. Only Don Shula (6) and Tom Landry (5) have directed their teams to more Super Bowls. Belichick has won three Super Bowl titles as a head coach and is one of four head coaches to win three or more Super Bowls, joining Chuck Noll (4), Bill Walsh (3) and Joe Gibbs (3). The Patriots' victory over the Chargers in the AFC Championship Game was Belichick's 15th career playoff victory, a total that ranks fifth all-time. Belichick's career playoff record of 15-3 (.833) is the second-best in NFL history, trailing only Vince Lombardi (9-1, .900).

--"I can't tell you how good it is to come in here after that game. The players did an awesome job. They have all year. It's a real privilege to coach this group of guys. They stepped up and made the plays today, like they have all year. I really think it was the players' game. They did everything they needed to do to beat an outstanding football team, and I congratulated Norv and the San Diego Charger team and organization. They're a tremendous football team and we certainly had to do everything, especially in the second half, we possibly could to hang on and beat them. I thought our red-area defense stepped up and of course Laurence ran well. We made some key plays when we needed to, especially on the last drive, being able to hang onto the ball and run out the clock. That was good. We'll certainly enjoy this one for a few days. The players definitely deserve it. They've worked hard all year. At the end of the week, we'll start getting ready for the trip to Arizona." - Bill Belichick's reaction after leading the Patriots to their fourth Super Bowl appearance in seven years.

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