Breaking Down the AFC Championship Game
We decided to flip the script a bit and enlist the aid of a handful of our web friends to provide scenarios for the Pats-Chargers tilt. Joining us today are Will Leitch, editor of Deadspin and author of God Save the Fan (maybe you’ve heard of it), AJ Daulerio of Philly Mag’s blog, and the Mighty MJD, who writes The Debriefing on aol/fanhouse and who is a real live Chargers fan.
After the jump, the scenarios.
The Chargers are setting up late for game-winning field goal. Right before the ball is snapped, Bill Belichick does that annoying “call time out real fast” trick that’s all the rage right now. Problem is, Nate Kaeding misses the field goal, and no one hears the whistle. So Foxboro goes crazy, everyone thinks they won, and they have to call everyone back on the field to kick again.
This time, Kaeding makes it, the Chargers go to the Super Bowl and we all have to come to terms with the fact that Belichick lost a coaching contest to Norv Turner. The world will never be the same again. There will be blood.
As much as the Chargers have turned into a cuddly story in the NFL, it felt like their season ended right after they beat the Colts. It should be enough: they’re de-monkey’d during the playoffs and Norv Turner finally gets to be pockmarked and feisty on camera on the way to an important victory. Yay, Norv.
But even in the best of scenarios, does anybody really want the Chargers to win on Sunday? The only team I’d like the Patriots to lose to is my own (the Eagles), and if they don’t, I’d love the silver jaunty hatted men to keep steamrolling people for as long as possible. I want them to be the greatest team in history; this is fun to watch, regardless of how despicably smug their coach is or how alpha-male their quarterback is or if Randy Moss did or did not use an open palm or a closed-fist on his lady-friend.
Sunday, that all vanishes. The Chargers will play well, hanging with them for a good portion of the game by their fingertips. But as is always the case, the Patriots will come along and just stomp on them, cruelly and without any warning.
Last week, you could find a few people who thought the Jaguars had a snowball’s chance. This week, you can’t find a soul who wouldn’t bet their first born child on the Patriots. I get that, to an extent, but how are the Chargers any worse off than the Jags? Jacksonville didn’t lose because they couldn’t score, they lost because they didn’t get a single stop until there were 32 seconds left to play. No turnovers, no punts. I’m not a coach, but I think that’s bad.
The Chargers, if nothing else, make plays on defense. That’s the one thing they have going for them here, and it’s the only way they can win. No one’s going to slow down Handsome Tom. You’ve just got to force a turnover or two, and then capitalize, and the Chargers do lead the league in takeaways.
I’ll give you this, too: In the last 15 years, the Chargers are undefeated in AFC Championship games in which they’ve been huge underdogs on the road in the freezing cold. In 1995, it was Alfred Pupunu with the game-winner. This time, because tight ends with names that end in “u” tend to succeed in these situations, it’s going to be Legedu Naanee.
After Darren Sproles returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown and Antonio Cromartie returns an interception 109 yards for a touchdown, the Pats are down 14-0 early. With the wind and cold playing havoc with New England’s passing game, the Chargers play conservatively with Billy Volek in for an injured Philip Rivers, and take a 17-14 lead late into the fourth quarter.
Facing a 3rd-and-20 from his own 35, Tom Brady’s pass to Ben Watson bounces off the tight end’s facemask. With the end of the perfect season in sight, a backward-baseball hat wearing Rivers can’t contain himself and is flagged for taunting 14-year-old Anna Grant, the New Hampshire kid who was booed at the Colts game.
Given a reprieve, Brady gets one more chance from the 50. On the final play of the game, his pass tips off the hands of Randy Moss and Marlon McCree and into the waiting arms of Troy Brown in the end zone for the winning score.