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A Monday doubleheader sees the return of two stars

New England's Tom Brady and San Diego's Shawne Merriman are coming back from knee injuries. The Patriots square off against Buffalo, while the Chargers take on archrival Oakland.

September 14, 2009|Sam Farmer

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the American Football League, and the four teams playing tonight -- Buffalo at New England, and San Diego at Oakland -- all began as AFL franchises.

But that's not the only nostalgia NFL fans might feel. There's also the immediate.

New England's Tom Brady is coming back.

So is San Diego's Shawne Merriman.

A doubleheader featuring the elite franchises of the AFC East and West also showcases a pair of the league's best players from both sides of the ball, both of whom missed last season with knee injuries.

But the spotlight won't be solely on Brady and Merriman. The Bills have center-stage receiver Terrell Owens, and the Raiders get a defensive boost from five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour, a late acquisition from New England.

"Obviously, Richard Seymour being there now, they're going to be that much tougher," said Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who has had some huge games against the Raiders this decade. "They scare me. We're going to have to be ready to play."

Speaking of nostalgia, the Raiders would love to revisit those times when they were the kings of "Monday Night Football," winning 14 of those games in a row during one stretch. Lately, the trend has been dismal -- they're the only team in league history to lose at least 11 games for six consecutive years. What's more, Oakland has suffered 11 consecutive losses at the hands of San Diego.

Raiders Coach Tom Cable said this game is "a chance for us to come out and put out who we are . . . and show how far we've come."

When Brady returns to the Patriots, things will look familiar on one side of the ball but different on the other. New England's defense will be without Seymour, of course, but also longtime fixtures Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison and Ellis Hobbs.

The Patriots will have cornerback Shawn Springs, however, a 12-year veteran who signed a three-year deal with them in March. How much he has left in his legs is up for debate, but Springs obviously caught the eye of Coach Bill Belichick, who has a knack for squeezing extra years out of fading stars.

And Springs can tell his new teammates something about Owens, having played in the same division with him for seven seasons -- first in the NFC West, then the NFC East.

"The good thing about going against a guy like T.O., you at least know where you stand because he's going to work hard, and he's always trying to dominate and be the best," Springs said. "So when you go up against him, you have to have that same mentality."

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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