Championship Sunday: Super stage set for Giants, Patriots
Greg M. Cooper-US Presswire
Conference championship Observation Deck
By Mike Sando, ESPN.com (from Foxborough)Key members of the San Diego Chargers limped around the visiting locker room at Gillette Stadium following their failed attempt to hand New England its first defeat of the season. The Charger s had made the Patriots work for a 21-12 victory in the AFC title game, but San Diego never led during the final 43 minutes. The deepest team in the NFL finally ran out of manpower.
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Chargers QB Philip Rivers lost Sunday's game, but he won the respect of his teammates.
"I think the guys showed their toughness out there today," Chargers nose tackle Jamal Williams said.The Chargers' locker room resembled an accident scene. Quarterback Philip Rivers, playing despite partially torn knee ligaments, dragged his damaged and tightly wrapped right leg behind him. Tight end Antonio Gates winced and grimaced with nearly every breath, favoring the mangled big toe on his left foot. He could barely walk, hunching over as he shuffled about. Williams, double-teamed on 11 of 26 snaps despite a high ankle sprain, carefully maneuvered to his locker through a mass of reporters, folding chairs and duffel bags. "My hat's off to our quarterback," Williams said. "You just don't understand the things he is going through. And our tight end, a dislocated toe and you have to pivot, cut and all that stuff. It's tough, man. "You have no choice but to go out and play for your teammates. That's how tight we are." NFL rushing champion LaDainian Tomlinson started the game for San Diego despite a knee injury, but he did not last long. Team officials told reporters during the game that Tomlinson was capable of returning despite knee soreness. After the game, Tomlinson said he knew right away that he could not play because he lacked explosiveness. "A lot of guys shouldn't have been out there today," said safety Clinton Hart, who left the game with an injury. "They put it on the line because they knew what was at stake, and we appreciate that." Here are a few other observations from Sunday's conference championship games:
1. Mistake-free ManningThose Citizen Eco-Drive watch commercials describing Eli Manning as "unstoppable" don't appear so silly now that the Giants are bound for Super Bowl XLII.
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Eli Manning, turnover-prone in the regular season, has yet to throw an INT in three playoff games.
Eleven of the 12 playoff teams this season tossed interceptions. The New York Giants, led by the suddenly efficient Manning, have yet to suffer a single pick during the postseason.New England, San Diego, Pittsburgh and Jacksonville have tossed three interceptions apiece during the playoffs. Indianapolis, Green Bay, Washington, Seattle and Tampa Bay tossed two before being eliminated. Dallas and Tennessee tossed one interception apiece before elimination. Manning, who passed for 254 yards during the Giants' 23-20 overtime victory at Green Bay, has gone three consecutive games without an interception for the second time in his career. He avoided interceptions during the second, third and fourth games of the 2005 season. This season, Manning had suffered eight interceptions during a five-game stretch heading into a 38-35 defeat to New England in the final regular-season game. Manning also averaged 7.8 yards per pass attempt in that game, matching a season high.
2. Third-and-no chanceGreen Bay finished the regular season with the NFL's eighth-best conversion rate on third down, but the Packers failed on nine of 10 chances against the Giants. Their inability to establish a running game put quarterback Brett Favre in too many third-and-long situations. And while the Packers' line has played well this season, the team's guards aren't particularly strong in protection. That's why Green Bay needed to sustain its recent production on the ground. Favre faced third-and-8 or longer nine times. He avoided turnovers on those plays, only to make poor decisions on first- and second-down plays that resulted in interceptions.
3. Hitting 'em on the noseThe New England-San Diego game featured two of the NFL's more accomplished nose tackles. New England's Vince Wilfork and San Diego's Williams have commanded double-team blocking throughout much of their careers, but opponents have had less trouble with Williams since he suffered an ankle injury. The Chargers double-teamed Wilfork 25 times in 48 snaps. They doubled Wilfork on eight of 16 first-down running plays. San Diego averaged 4.1 yards on these rushes, compared to 3.6 yards per first-down carry when they blocked him with one lineman. San Diego was also more productive on first-down pass plays when doubling Wilfork. The Patriots double-teamed Williams 11 times in 26 snaps, but never on a first-down running play. New England averaged 6 yards per carry on first down when single-blocking Williams. Williams was on the sideline for at least 10 consecutive plays beginning late in the third quarter. He missed all of the Patriots' eight-play, 67-yard touchdown drive that gave them a 21-12 lead. "They were trying to make sure they had a rotation going on out there," Williams said. "It was tough playing with the high ankle sprain, so they were like, 'OK, let's try to make sure we keep you fresh.' "
4. Hard feelings for HardwickChargers center Nick Hardwick accused Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour of dirty tactics during a postgame harangue. "There are 10 [expletive] good players on that team, but Richard Seymour is a dirty, cheap, little pompous [expletive]," Hardwick told a Boston Herald reporter. "They've got 10 great players on that team and when Jarvis Green comes on the field, they've got 11 great players who compete how you're supposed to play. "But Richard Seymour is the biggest [expletive] I've ever played." Hardwick accused Seymour of stomping on feet during pileups, slapping linemen on the head and punching them in the back. "He plays like a punk," Hardwick said. Seymour will presumably address the issue during the buildup to Super Bowl XLII.
Mike Sando's game balls
Game 1: New England 21, San Diego 12