Are the New England Patriots stumbling at the end of their amazing 16-0 season like the San Diego Chargers stumbled at the end of their 2006 14-2 season? Well, the Patriots are not blowing teams away with as much ease as they were early in the season. The Pats are led by a grizzled, three-time Super Bowl champion instead of an injured first-year quarterback like the 2006 Chargers. The Patriots’ “stumbling” looks a whole lot more like nerves of steel in the face of a motivated opponents playing above their head.
The Patriots have beaten back all of their detractors by being resilient and coming from behind, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat three times. The Patriots had some terrific battles with bad teams like the Jets, Ravens, and Eagles. On the other hand, they dominated a blindsided Chargers team and an undermined—by free safety Anthony Smith's mouth—Pittsburgh Steelers squad. The Pats are 4–0 against 2007 division champs.
I know of a few Charger fans that were hoping for the third seed. Not to avoid the Jacksonville Jaguars, but to sic Jacksonville on the Patriots in the second round. If the weather is reasonable, I do not think the Jaguars can get to Tom Brady, nor cover the Patriots' receivers.
However, if the weather is horrible and the wind is whipping, I would truly be amazed if the Patriots could win that game. The Jaguars have as awesome a rushing attack as the Patriots have a passing attack. Wind negates passing, and the Patriots can’t run—and probably wouldn't be able to stop the Jaguars’ rushing attack in a physical, bad-weather game.
That’s nice for Chargers fans. The only problem is that the Steelers also have a grizzled playoff veteran at QB in Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben comes in with a 5–1 playoff record and the Jaguars will have to beat him first. The Jaguars will be hard-pressed to go into Pittsburgh and win again—even without Willie Parker starting for the Steelers.
Jacksonvile barely hung on the first time they played in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have plans on moving to the next round and are probably confident about it. The last time Big Ben and the Steelers were smoked by the number-one seed and got a rematch in the playoffs, they got their improbable revenge on the Colts.
If the Steelers move on, they’ll either go for revenge against the Patriots or get a rematch with the Colts. Though some will think otherwise, every team in the AFC Playoffs has a chance to beat any other team. The Steelers are not worried about facing the Jaguars, Colts, Titans, Patriots, or Chargers—and none of those teams are worried about the Steelers either.
Charger fans better hope the Bolts don’t blow it for the fourth straight time as home favorites. In 1996, a year after they were spanked in the Super Bowl by the so-called San Francisco 49ers (more like the NFC Pro Bowl team), they were embarrassed at home by a Colts team that they had just beaten a couple of weeks before.
The Chargers suddenly decided to stop defending the run as the immortal fullback Zack Crockett romped. After carrying one time for zero yards during the 1995 regular season, he stomped all over the Chargers 13 times for 147 yards. He shocked the Chargers and himself.
Then in 2005, Marty Schottenheimer decided to shelve Pro Bowlers Tomlinson and Brees and rely on a rookie kicker to make a 40-yard game winning overtime field goal in the rain—which he missed. Martyball, otherwise known as prevent offense, cost the Chargers big time, as Marty called three straight predictable runs to the middle of the field after Drew Brees passed San Diego into winning position in overtime. Earlier in the game, Marty stormed on to the field drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty that all but handed the Jets their first touchdown.
In 2007, the Chargers were 14-2 and more than a match for the New England Patriots. However, after NFL-New_England_Patriots-Pittsburgh_Steelers-San_Diego_Chargers-For_Charger_Fans_It_Has_to_Be_About_the_Bolts/revisions/">10 or more of the most ridiculous errors I have ever seen, the Chargers somehow managed to give that game away to the bungling Tom Brady and the overmatched Patriots. Schottenheimer once again made a critical error, challenging a call that had no hope of being overturned.
Philip Rivers began to work his comeback magic—only to run out of time, because of Marty's foolish and failed challenge that wasted a time out. One more missed Nate Kaeding field goal later, San Diego lost to another huge underdog by a field goal, for the second time in three years.
Charger fans should agree that the Bolts should only worry about themselves. If the Chargers play mistake free football, they can beat any team in the league. Unfortunately for the Bolts, New England Coach Bill Belichick and personnel man Scott Pioli also realized this and went all out to surpass Indy and San Diego.
One last tidbit: Another thing that Marty Schottenheimer botched was cutting Wes Welker. Hardcore Charger fans knew this guy was a player and lamented when the Miami Dolphins claiming him off waivers, which was totally predictable.
Marty was so enamored with HUGE wide receivers—like Malcolm Floyd, Kassim Osgood, and Vincent Jackson—that he could not see what a weapon he had in the 5'9" Wes Welker. Welker put on a football clinic for the Bolts in the preseason (taking a punt return to the house) and made the team—only to be cut after the first game.