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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

A little work needed on the offensive side

LOS ANGELES -- It's pretty obvious the Patriots will beat the Colts Sunday and advance to the Super Bowl. Only a moron would pick against New England in a big game (anybody got a mirror?). The Patriots always win the big game.

Beating Peyton Manning and the Colts should be the easy part. It's the postgame celebration I'm worried about. The Patriots are 2-0 in the playoffs, but according to a lot of NFL people, New England is 0-2 in postgame etiquette. Can the Patriots manage to beat the Colts and get out of Indianapolis without igniting a controversy that will rage into Super Bowl week?

These Patriots don't need playbooks. They need Robert's Rules of Order, or the official NFL handbook on postgame etiquette, which originally was penned by Emily Post-Pattern.

It all started with Bill Belichick's shove of Globe photographer Jim Davis after the win over the Jets. But fallout from that boorish moment was nothing compared with the noise we're hearing from the crybaby Chargers. Lots of sour grapes here in Southern California.

When Nate Kaeding's 54-yard field goal attempt fell short and wide with three seconds left on the clock Sunday, many Patriots players stormed the field, with several dancing on the Chargers logo and spiking their helmets into the ground. Choke signs were flashed and Shawne Merriman's lights-out dance was mocked. Rosevelt Colvin and Vince Wilfork were particularly animated.

League MVP LaDainian Tomlinson had to be restrained during the celebration and ripped the winners after the game, saving his most pointed dart for Belichick.

"They showed no class, and maybe that comes from the head coach," said Tomlinson (oh, and could Marty Schottenheimer explain why LT had only nine touches in the second half?).

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said, "I was disappointed at the finger-pointing and the lights-out stuff and how they handled winning. As much as people expect them to win, they didn't act like it."

Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips added, "That was very classless. When we went in and beat their head in New England [41-17 in October 2005], blew them out, we did nothing but compliment them and say they were a good team. We would never disrespect a team like that. Shaun Phillips will have a grudge against them the rest of his career."

TV commentator Mike Ditka (who let William "Refrigerator" Perry score a touchdown when the Bears crushed the Patriots in Super Bowl XX) piled on, calling the Patriots "classless," "ridiculous," and "childish."

They sounded a little bit like the 1999 European Ryder Cup golfers, angry at the sight of Americans celebrating on the 17th hole of The Country Club in Brookline.

Tomlinson didn't back off his heat-of-the-moment remarks yesterday.

"When you're a three-time Super Bowl champion, I just wouldn't think you would need to act that way," he said. "But obviously that's the way they reacted to it and there's nothing we can do about it.

"You won the game and that was great. And we were obviously just going to congratulate them on going on, but when you start to further disrespect us, in my mind, you just don't do that. From my standpoint, Marty always tells us after the game to act like we've been there before. That's something that your coach always tells you. To me, if guys are acting like that, then it comes from top to bottom."

When he was reminded that Belichick could be his coach in this year's Pro Bowl, Tomlinson said, "I don't know how that would go over, but obviously I probably wouldn't say two words to him. I definitely wouldn't."

A couple of things must be said: First of all, the Chargers and Schottenheimer haven't "been there before," so how would they know how to act after a big win? In four quarters of immature, give-away football, the Chargers looked every bit the part of a team that never had been there before and didn't know how to play or behave in a big game.

The Patriots are the ones who have been there before and need no instructions from the bucket of Bolts who blew the big game. Also, many Patriots contend that the Chargers were smack-talkin' when they thrashed the Patriots in New England last season. And without doubt New England players were good and sick about hearing about the top-seeded, nine-Pro-Bowler Chargers and their undefeated home record.

That said, they could rein it in a little. No one is saying they need to win the Lady Byng Trophy, but a little decorum wouldn't hurt. The Patriots' historic run has been marked by professionalism as much as clutch performance. No need to go all Terrell Owens on us now.

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