Conference Championship News

In the early AFC Championship game, the injury status of several Chargers is expected to help decide the outcome against an undefeated Patriots team. The weather could be a huge factor in the NFC Championship with a frigid snap in Green Bay, especially being the late game. We bring you reports from each of the four teams left in the drive to the Super Bowl.

San Diego Chargers (13-5) at New England Patriots (17-0)


The Chargers got some good news on Thursday with All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson returning to practice.

Tomlinson worked for the first time since hyper extending his knee in Sunday's win over the Colts. He was upbeat afterward and appears on track to play Sunday against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

"I feel pretty good," said Tomlinson, who walked without a limp. "I feel fine."

Tomlinson was curious just where his left leg was after getting it twisted against the Colts.

"I tested it," the two-time rushing champion said. "I wanted to see where I was today. (And) I was happy where I was today."

Coach Norv Turner was smiling with his star player back on the field.

"I think we are making progress; L.T. was able to practice," said Turner, who is looking for his first conference championship as a head coach. "He looked good."

Quarterback Philip Rivers, though, wasn't able to practice. He is still being bothered by a strained MCL in his right knee.

Rivers tried to talk his way onto the practice field, but was stiff-armed.

"He was wanting to go out and throw some and take some drops today," Turner said. "But (trainer) James Collins didn't think it was appropriate, so we will see where he is tomorrow."


The only team hotter than the Chargers right now is the Patriots. San Diego has won eight games in a row and comes to Gillette Stadium believing it can do what no other team has done this season: beat the Patriots.

"I see a confident football team. I see a physical football team," Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel said.

"I think their grit. I think that's a way they've learned how to be," added linebacker Tedy Bruschi. "They just keep fighting and fighting. That is proven with the win streak they have over the last half of the season since Thanksgiving."

One of the reasons for the Chargers' revival is All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson. Tomlinson wasn't being used a lot early in the year but turned it on during the second half of the season, once San Diego returned to the power running game.

"Every team has a guy that kind of you build around and he's been that guy here," said Chargers head coach Norv Turner. "He's persistent in his attitude and his leadership and we all got off to a slow start. It was tough on LT early and we weren't playing as well as we had, but once we got going, he's had the same kind of year he's had over the last seven.

"Obviously when you lead the league in rushing after getting off to a slow start, he's a complete player for us offensively. He makes plays in the passing game, he's an excellent blocker and obviously is a great runner."

The key for the Patriots defense this week is stopping the former NFL MVP, or at the very least, slowing him down.

"You sort of have to be everywhere in the run game," Bruschi explained. "They'll keep it front side and also cut it backside. He's a runner that will find the hole. Just when you think he's running the ball, there's a play fake and he can get it on a screen pass. You have to expect him in running game and the passing game. He's a very dangerous player. He was the MVP last year and that was well deserved. He's a guy you have to focus on every down."

Tomlinson couldn't finish last weekend's game against the Colts after suffering a bruised knee. But the Patriots players don't seem to think that will be much of an issue for Tomlinson this weekend.

"LT is definitely a great back, so his injury, as far as that goes, I don't know how that goes, but I'm sure he'll play," Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "Other than that, I think that he's going to come and play just like he does every Sunday, not just because it's the (AFC) Championship Game."

For the Chargers to pull the upset on Sunday, they'll need a big game from Tomlinson. That's something New England's defense will do its best to prevent from happening.

New York Giants (12-5) at Green Bay Packers (14-3)


The Giants have gotten this far without three of their key players, strong-side linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, tight end Jeremy Shockey and running back Derrick Ward. All of them, ironically, were felled by fractured fibula injuries, and all involving the left leg.

But now the question must be raised: Have these losses seriously impacted the team's ability to play well and win?

The obvious answer is no. With Reggie Torbor replacing Kiwanuka, rookie Kevin Boss replacing Shockey and Brandon Jacobs regaining his health in time to replace Ward, there has been almost no stumbling from the gate.

The answer to why this has been so smooth must relate to the team's depth, and that includes the work done by retired general manager Ernie Accorsi, new general manager Jerry Reese and head coach Tom Coughlin.

Kiwanuka was the first-round pick in Accorsi's last draft, 2006. He was a defensive end from Boston College and after showing promise at that position as a rookie, Coughlin and Reese moved him to strong-side linebacker, with the urging and blessing of newly hired defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

Boss was a fifth-round pick this past year, one of Reese's eight choices — all of whom made the team and all of whom saw action in the first playoff game in Tampa Bay, incidentally. Boss attended tiny Western Oregon College; talk about intense scouting.

Torbor was another Accorsi pick, a fourth-rounder from Auburn in 2004, and after getting a few chances to start and failing to hold the job, he became a reliable backup and special teams performer. But now, with Kiwanuka out, it would appear a newly discovered sense of urgency has moved him up a notch.

Depth gets little or no credit until it's needed, and if it isn't there at the time the team gets to no criticism. Smooth transitions like this one don't just happen, it just seems that way.


A heavy snowfall and plummeting temperatures Thursday was an appetizer.

A wind-chill advisory is in effect this weekend for Northeast Wisconsin. Temperature in the late afternoon Sunday for the kickoff of the NFC Championship at Green Bay's Lambeau Field isn't expected to be higher than 2, with a wind chill well into the negative numbers.

For Packers punter Jon Ryan, it will be reminiscent of a high-school football game he played in his native Canada. He remembered the temperature being minus-20 as he played running back and handled the punting and kicking chores for his team.

"I did wear gloves that day," Ryan said.

The second-year player, however, is planning to not wear gloves on his hands in the bitterly cold matchup against the New York Giants. Never mind that Ryan — and the rest of the Packers — suffered through a forgettable game in blustery conditions at Chicago four weeks ago.

Extremely strong winds wreaked havoc with the Packers' punting, turning hard snaps from Rob Davis into curveballs for Ryan. He was unable to get one punt off and had two kicks blocked, which fueled the Bears' 35-7 upset victory over their NFC North rival.

Despite being accustomed to the wintry elements on a daily basis during the season, the Green Bay players were done in by Mother Nature.

"I thought the problem we had in Chicago was clearly focus, and our fundamentals were very poor. And, you could apply some of that to the focus," head coach Mike McCarthy said this week. "I thought wind factored very much in that game, and hopefully, it won't factor this week."

The Packers have tried to not think of how bitterly cold it will be as Sunday's game starts and continues into the evening.

Per McCarthy's approach throughout the late season, he hasn't taken the team outside for practice, whereas the Giants have spent the last two days in much warmer conditions at their training site in New Jersey.

The Packers believe the harsh lesson they received playing at Chicago and then having the experience of persevering in a snowstorm last Saturday in the divisional-round win over Seattle will help them make do Sunday.

"Saturday was a winter wonderland — 30 degrees, no wind, snow. That's a nice day in Green Bay, Wisconsin. That's what it's supposed to be," McCarthy said. "As you remember, as a kid playing in the backyard when it's zero degrees, windy, it's different. It's a totally different atmosphere, and that's what we have to prepare for."

The team did practice inside Thursday with footballs that were put in a freezer overnight.

Ryan and kicker Mason Crosby kicked in Lambeau on Wednesday and were to do the same Friday.

Ryan, though, is preparing to kick Sunday without protection on his hands.

"I'm not a huge fan of the gloves yet," he said. "I just don't get the same feel on the ball. I worked on it a little bit (Wednesday). But, I think I'll probably be bare hands on Sunday."

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