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NFL DIVISIONAL ROUND

Patriots have easier path to 19-0

January 14, 2008|Christine Daniels | Times Staff Writer

These are dark hours for the Anybody But New England grass-roots football supporters movement, which took two staggering hits Sunday inside the supposedly safe confines of the RCA Dome and Texas Stadium.

The two teams with the best hope of stopping the Patriots between 17-0 and 19-0, the Indianapolis Colts and the Dallas Cowboys, lost at home in the divisional round of the playoffs, and now there is no way to dance around the cruel and obvious truth.

Only three teams can possibly prevent the Patriots from winning the Super Bowl . . . and two of them advanced to the NFL's final four while being quarterbacked by Billy Volek and Eli Manning.

Volek, who has not started a game since 2005, who threw two regular-season passes in 2006 and 10 in 2007, played the entire fourth quarter and scored the winning touchdown in the San Diego Chargers' 28-24 upset of the Colts.

Manning, who had been the New York Giants' ball-and-chain throughout his first two treacherous trips to the postseason, completed 12 of 18 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns as the Giants eliminated the Cowboys, 21-17.

Brett Favre, a nation of despondent Patriots haters turns its lonely eyes to you.

Incredibly, the AFC championship game will send the Chargers, who were 5-5 on Nov. 18, to New England to take on the 17-0 Patriots.

In the NFC, Favre gets one more gift for his many years of meritorious service to the Green Bay Packers -- a home start in the championship game against the Giants.

We have seen this once before, on Sept. 16, and it doesn't look good for the Chargers or the Giants. During Week 2 of the 2007 regular season, San Diego lost at New England, 38-14, and the Giants lost at home to Green Bay, 35-13.

On that same September Sunday, Tom Brady passed for 279 yards and three touchdowns (two to Randy Moss) against the Chargers and Favre passed for 286 yards and three touchdowns against the Giants.

Should we even bother to go ahead with the rematches?

Well, the Giants do have one thing going for them they didn't have the first time around. They will be playing on the road, where they are undefeated in their last nine, including consecutive playoff victories at Tampa Bay and Dallas.

And the Chargers have . . . well, let's see . . . quarterback Philip Rivers hurt his right knee in the third quarter against the Colts . . . and running back LaDainian Tomlinson hurt his left knee in the second quarter against the Colts . . . and tight end Antonio Gates was already hurt before getting limited playing time against the Colts . . . and Norv Turner will be matching wits for four quarters with Bill Belichick . . . and . . .

OK, the Chargers have the element of surprise on their side.

Moments after watching San Diego eliminate the Colts with Volek at quarterback and Michael Turner taking handoffs, CBS' studio analysts declared the AFC championship game no contest.

"I said the Patriots would go 19-0, and now I firmly believe it," Boomer Esiason said. Esiason called the idea of a Chargers` victory in New England "impossible" and predicted the Patriots would score at least 38 points. Shannon Sharpe said he saw the Patriots scoring at least 40.

Sunday's results assured there would be no all-Manning matchup in the Super Bowl. Happens every postseason. So what else is new?

How about this:

The Manning brother with no interceptions, the 132.4 passer rating and the victory on the road was named Eli.

Peyton, who supposedly put aside the can't-win-the-big-one knock in the last Super Bowl, was back to not winning the medium-sized ones at home in the divisional round.

On the bright side, Peyton had four fewer interceptions this time than his infamous six-pack of throwaways in San Diego on Nov. 11.

And he did have 402 passing yards.

And he did complete nearly 69% of his passes.

But with his team trailing by four points with 2:51 left, he had first down on the Chargers' nine-yard line -- and failed to score.

One handoff to Joseph Addai gained two yards.

Then came three consecutive incomplete passes, including a wobbler while pressured when rolling right -- with a receiver wide open near the left flag.

Later in the day, television viewers were confronted with one more head-shaking example of role reversal: Eli taking a few moments during a Fox postgame interview to commiserate about Peyton's playoff misfortune.

"Its tough," Eli said.

There still might be a Brady-Manning matchup in this postseason, but it won't be the one the country, the league and the networks expected. The Patriots aren't complaining. Neither are the Packers.

--

christine.daniels@latimes.com

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