Tomlinson misses most of game vs. Pats with sore knee
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- LaDainian Tomlinson spent most of the game bundled up in a parka on the sideline on a freezing, windy day, his injured left knee unable to provide the moves that make him one of the NFL's most exciting players.
The pain Philip Rivers felt from his sprained right knee was matched by the two interceptions he threw.
Combine the two, and that was not going to get the job done against the undefeated New England Patriots.
The aching San Diego Chargers did what most people thought they would do in the AFC Championship Game. They lost, 21-12, as the Patriots improved to 18-0 and advanced to their fourth Super Bowl in seven seasons.
"It's unfortunate we didn't come through today,'' Rivers said. "It's probably a lot closer than everybody expected. Not necessarily us; we expected to win.''
To have a legitimate chance at a huge upset, Norv Turner's team needed to have all its star players healthy.
A week after spraining his left knee in an upset win at Indianapolis, Tomlinson re-injured it on the game's first play from scrimmage. He carried again on the next play, then didn't touch the ball again until catching a short screen pass from Rivers on the next drive.
LT didn't have his usual burst and he knew he was finished.
"Sometimes your body tells you it ain't going to happen,'' said Tomlinson, the two-time NFL rushing champion and the 2006 league MVP. "So you've got to listen to your body. Obviously I wanted to play, but if I did try to play I would be hurting my team because I didn't have any explosiveness, and I wouldn't have been myself.
"It's just been two bad weeks for me,'' he added. "I usually don't take shots like that. It just happened today.''
Tomlinson's knee injury originally was described as a hyperextension. He said Sunday that he has a sprained medial collateral ligament.
"It's obvious that I couldn't play,'' Tomlinson said. "If I could have played, I would have been in there.''
Tomlinson said he felt "helpless'' as he watched the Chargers settle for four field goals by Nate Kaeding.
"I'm kind of at a loss for words,'' Tomlinson said.
Of the three big-name Chargers who were hurt coming in, Tomlinson seemed to have the best chance to play. He finished with two carries for five yards and one catch for 1 yard. Tomlinson rushed for only 75 yards in three playoff games.
"He really couldn't get started,'' Turner said. "He went and tried to go and just didn't have the power to push off.''
"They have great depth at that position and you saw those guys make great plays last week,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "Tomlinson's a great player and there's no question about his ability and the things he can do.''
Rivers also was hurt at Indianapolis, injuring both the medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee.
Rivers started despite being listed as doubtful on the injury report, and Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates played for the second straight week with a dislocated left big toe.
Rivers released the ball as he was being tripped deep in his own territory and was picked off by Asante Samuel, giving the Patriots the ball at the San Diego 24. Two plays later, Tom Brady hit Jabar Gaffney on a 12-yard TD pass.
Three plays into the next Chargers drive, Rivers threw deep for Chris Chambers and was picked off by Ellis Hobbs. The Patriots ended up punting. Rivers had thrown only four interceptions during the Chargers' eight-game winning streak.
Players on both teams lauded Rivers' effort.
"It was a gutsy performance,'' Tomlinson said. "He's a really tough guy. I don't know anybody who can play through that type of pain.''
Said Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel: "I felt that it was a pretty gutsy effort for him to come out there, play the whole game and play well.''
The Chargers were inside the Patriots' 20-yard line three times and got as far as the 22 on another drive but had to settle for field goals.
Not scoring touchdowns "kills you,'' Rivers said. "Turn those into touchdowns, I know it's a what-if game, but then it's a different story, the whole second half. They're looking up at us, instead of us at them.
"We had a chance,'' he added. "There's no consolation for it. I'm not asking for any sympathy at all, believe me. We're all hurting right now. We grew a lot and came a long way.''
This was San Diego's third straight loss to New England, and the second straight year the Chargers were eliminated by the Patriots.
A year ago, San Diego was an NFL-best 14-2 before committing several blunders in a home playoff game. Brady was intercepted three times in that game, too, but still led the Pats to a 24-21 win.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
MORE NFL HEADLINES
- Rodgers still not ready to return for Packers
- Welker likely out until playoffs, sources say
- Vikes' Peterson 'ready to roll' vs. Bengals
- Bears' Briggs medically cleared to return
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
- The Highland Mint San Diego Chargers Phillip Rivers Panoramic Photo Mint