Hoping to get tickets to Sunday's matchup in San Diego? Don't get too excited. Bruce Mohl of The Boston Globe explains that the Chargers are trying to keep you out."The San Diego Chargers have restricted sales to the Divisional Playoff game to residents of Southern California and the surrounding area only," Ticketmaster warned. "Residency will be based on your credit card billing address. Orders by residents outside of southern California will be canceled without notice." "Our goal has always been to fill our stadium with Charger fans and supporters of the team. This also helps give our team the best home-field advantage possible," Chargers spokesman Bill Johnston said.
Mike Felger of the* Boston Herald* reports that Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, with 200 regular-season victories is the NFL's winningest coach, but he carries a 5-12 postseason record like a lead weight into Sunday's game. Bill Belichick has the second-best postseason record in NFL history. "How can that not be an issue?" Felger asks.
Mike Reiss of The Boston Globe talks to a couple offense coordinators who game-planned against the Chargers and the Patriots this year in an attempt to compare their defenses, which are both 3-4 alignments. "The first thing as an offensive coach, when you're facing the Chargers, is trying to come up with an answer for [Shawne] Merriman," said Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, whose unit had success against the Chargers in a 49-41 loss Nov. 12, although Merriman wasn't in the lineup that day.
The Boston Globe's Mike Reiss explains that while the Chargers are one of two NFL teams to post an undefeated record at home this season, the Patriots are one of two NFL teams tied for the best road record, at 7-1. The Patriots travel to San Diego this weekend to take on the Chargers. Also included is some bulletin board material from the mouth of Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman.
Gerry Callahan of the* Boston Herald* wonders why baseball's Mark McGwire, who didn't make the 2007 Hall of Fame cuts, is black-balled while Bolts linebacker Shawne Merriman has been let off the hook about his steroid use. "Maybe we should learn to accept the double standard," writes Callahan. "Football players are supposed to be a bunch of crazed dogs, as Lawrence Taylor said, but somewhere Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and McGwire must be shaking their heads. None has officially failed a drug test, yet they can't stop for a quart of milk without someone chanting 'Steroooooids.'"
Shalise Manza Young of The Providence Journal explains that CBS analysts Dan Dierdorf and Phil Simms thing the Patriots have more than a fighting chance. The two former NFL players spoke with members of the New England press yesterday in a conference call, since they'll be analyzing the AFC games this weekend for CBS. Asked by a New England media member for their opinions on how the Patriots will defend Merriman and his fellow outside backer, Shaun Phillips, who combined for 28 1/2 sacks this season, as well as cope with Tomlinson (and his NFL-record 33 touchdowns) and tight end Antonio Gates, Simms commented that the questioner made it sound so doom and gloom. "Are the Patriots 25-point underdogs?" he joked, further wondering if the sporting public is "tired of" the Pats, or if they tend to be overlooked because the players stay out of the spotlight for the most part.
Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant also reports on the call with Dierdorf and Simms. Simms, who knows Patriots coach Bill Belichick from their Giants days, said he won't be surprised if the Patriots come up with ways to blunt the Chargers rush and give Tom Brady the time he needs."They've faced good rushers before," Simms said. "They've always had the answer for [Colts defensive end] Dwight Freeney."
Joe McDonald of The Providence Journal explains it's fitting that LaDainian Tomlinson plays for the Chargers, because he's like lightning in a bottle. "The Chargers' MVP running back has broken records and shattered opponents' self-esteem with his rattlesnake-like moves and powerful all-around game. The one thing that has eluded him is a Vince Lombardi Trophy, and the New England Patriots are his next hurdle as he races toward a possible trip to the Super Bowl," writes McDonald. "However, during the Chargers run toward the AFC West title, Tomlinson didn't run into too many top-notch defenses."
Sandy Burgin of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports from San Diego about the atmosphere in "America's Finest City," which is primed for Sunday's game. "You definitely respect them for the things they've done in the past and the things they've done throughout this season," Chargers tight end Antonio Gates said. "You just want to go out and play with respect, but at the same time you fear no one. I think that's our mind-set, we don't want to go out and fear the New England Patriots."
Glen Farley of The Enterprise previews the upcoming game, featuring Tomlinson and Merriman. "I think we're going to need to play our best against San Diego," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Monday. "Based on the body of work during the 16-game regular-season schedule, they're the best team in the AFC. So we're going to have to play our best game against them."
The Eagle-Tribune's Hector Longo features Tomlinson. "Every time he touches the field, he has a big game, and he's going to be tough to stop again," said former teammate Reche Caldwell, who led the Patriots in receiving yards this season. Tomlinson's started every game but one in his years in San Diego, averaging 382 carries for 1,529 yards per year. And if you're thinking burnout, forget it. He rolled over the 100-yard mark in nine of the last 10 regular-season games, after doing it only once in the first six.
Dan Pires of The Standard-Times reports that this will be the first playoff meeting between coaches Shottenheimer and Belichick. They will meet for just the sixth time Sunday, with Schottenheimer — a Patriot player in 1969-70 — holding a two-game personal winning streak, a 3-2 head-to-head edge with Belichick and a career 7-1 record against New England.
Don't forget to check out USA Today's Inside Slant on the Patriots, updated yesterday.