First reaction: San Diego-New England

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 12, 2008



Here's our first reaction to the surprising AFC title game showdown. Remember, this is just some immediate reaction, our chance to fill your fertile little mind with some juicy little thoughts in the aftermath of the divisional round. By next weekend, this game will be broken down so completely you'll confuse it with a typical Peyton Manning postseason performance.
 
San Diego at New England, Sunday, 3 p.m.
Can you say redemption time?
 
While the sporting world salivated over a rematch of the regular-season Game of the Century between the defending champion Colts and perfect Patriots, Norv Friggin' Turner of all people spoiled the party.
 
Are you kiddin' us?
 
San Diego-New England won't have quite the same sparkle as Indy-New England, which probably would have challenged non-Super Bowl TV ratings records. 
 
But it offers plenty of compelling storylines:
 
The two winningest QBs in football today
Yes, Philip Rivers was on the sideline in the critical fourth quarter of San Diego's 28-24 win over Indy, but all indications are that he'll be taking the snaps next Sunday in Foxboro.
 
Nobody considers a Rivers an elite quarterback, least of all the Cold, Hard Football Facts. But you can't deny the only record, stat or Cold, Hard Football Fact that matters: wins and losses.
 
Rivers is 25-7 (.781) as an NFL starter, 27-8 if we can include the playoffs (.771).
 
In both instances, he's second only to New England's Tom Brady among starting QBs. Brady is just one-thousandth of a percentage point ahead of Rivers in the regular season, with a mark of 86-24 (.782). But the Best Big Game Quarterback of Our Generation also boasts a gaudy 99-26 (.792) mark if we include the postseason.
 
Sure, Rivers didn't lead the game-winning drive against Indy on Sunday. But he certainly acquitted himself admirably while he did play, completing 14 of 19 (73.7%) for 264 yards, a phenomenal 13.9 YPA, 3 TD, 1 INT and a Brady-like 133.2 passer rating.
 
Knocking off the king in his own castle would spell instant legitimacy for Rivers.
 
San Diego's shot at redemption
The Chargers present a curious phenomenon. They clearly consider themselves an elite team, even if their accomplishments – at least until Sunday's win over Indy – spelled "j-o-k-e-r."
 
No more. You beat the champs in their backyard for your first postseason road win since before the internet age, and you climb up the ladder of legitimacy.
 
Now comes a chance for the Chargers to prove that they're as good as they think they are.
 
A grudge match
Indy's 38-34 win over New England in the 2006-07 AFC title tilt was the NFL's game of the year last season.
 
But New England's 24-21 win in San Diego, over the top-seeded Chargers in the divisional round, wasn't far behind. It certainly rates highly on New England's lengthy "pulling wins out of your ass" list. LT was nearly in tears after the game, charging the Patriots with being "classless" after they (gasp!) celebrated their upset victory.
 
The Patriots then smoked the Chargers in Week 2 this year, 38-14, proving that they were ready to circle the wagons around their coach in the wake of "spy-gate." New England's Tedy Bruschi called it "one of the most satisfying wins" of a career that includes four Super Bowl appearances and three rings, and it gave the Turner Era in San Diego the appearance of a complete dud.
 
It's been anything but. Turner has the Chargers in the conference title game for the first time since the 1994 season.
 
Turner's shot at redemption
Dare we say it? Turner, the butt of countless jokes this year, many of them by the Cold, Hard Football Facts, out-smarted Indy's Tony Dungy Sunday.
 
Hell, the Chargers knocked off the defending champs with their All-World running back and No. 1 QB sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter.
 
That's no small feat. And Turner deserves credit for keeping it all together, overcoming the doubters (Hello, Cold, Hard Football Facts!) who haunted him all year and pulling out a once-every-decade road playoff win for the San Diego organization.
 
San Diego's decision to fire Marty Schottenheimer last year after a 14-2 campaign and a one-and-done playoff performance was widely criticized. But Turner has helped guide the team to the AFC title game, a milestone it never reached under regular-season superhero Schotzy.
 
The Chargers had not won a playoff game since the 1994 AFC title game. Now they've won two this year. The win at Indy was just the organization's second road playoff victory since the incredible Kellen Winslow-led 41-38 win at Miami in the 1981 postseason classic.
 
Turner has already justified the organization's decision fire Schotzy.
 
Outsmarting Bill Belichick and ending the Evil Empire's Reign of Terror will change the way history judges Turner.
 
Duh! The perfect season
Lest we forget, the Patriots are 17-0 this year and, with a win over San Diego, will become the first team in history to win 18 straight games in the same season. They're 22-1 over their last 23 games. They're attempting to become just the third team to win four Super Bowls in the same decade and the first team in history to run the table in a 16-game season.
 
If that's not reason enough to tune in, we don't know what else to tell you.

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