What’s different — and what’s the same — from the last two playoff meetings between the Patriots and Chargers
Sunday will mark the third time Philip Rivers and Tom Brady have faced off in the playoffs.
When the Chargers roll into Gillette Stadium to take on the Patriots Sunday, it will mark the third time that Philip Rivers and Tom Brady will face off in the playoffs, with Brady prevailing in the first two meetings. Here is a look at those first two contests, and the similarities and differences with the forthcoming matchup:
■ First meeting: AFC divisional round, Jan. 14, 2007 at Qualcomm Stadium
The Patriots entered the 2006 playoffs as the third seed after going 12-4 and winning the AFC East. They traveled to San Diego to take on the Chargers, who were the No. 1 seed after going 14-2 in 2006.
Coming off a bye, the Chargers were clearly a favorite over a Patriots team that had to get by the New York Jets in the wild card the week before. LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 1,815 yards and 28 touchdowns to go with 56 receptions for 508 yards and three touchdowns in an MVP season.
San Diego looked to have the game wrapped up for a fleeting moment in the fourth quarter, when, with a 21-13 lead, Marlon McCree picked off Brady on fourth and 5 with 6:25 remaining. Yet Troy Brown, the intended receiver on the play, was able to strip McCree of the ball as he headed upfield. Receiver Reche Caldwell pounced on the loose ball, giving the Patriots the ball back and a new set of downs.
The Patriots took advantage of their second chance when Brady connected with Caldwell for a touchdown, then tied the game on the two-point conversion when Faulk scored off a direct snap. The Patriots went on to win, 24-21 on rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski’s field goal.
■ Second meeting: AFC championship, Jan. 20, 2008 at Qualcomm Stadium
This time it was the Patriots who were the top seed, having gone 16-0 in the regular season, then defeating the Jaguars in the divisional round. They were facing a Chargers team that entered the postseason as the No. 3 seed after going 11-5 and winning the AFC West. After defeating the Tennessee Titans, they knocked off the Colts in Indianapolis in the divisional round. The Patriots managed to win, 21-12 despite Brady throwing three interceptions.
The Chargers marched inside the Patriots’ 10, but settled for field goals each time. Rivers played the game with a partially torn right ACL, while tight end Antonio Gates had a dislocated toe.
■What’s different this time around: As Sunday’s game looms, there seem to be similarities to the 2006 matchup. At 12-4, the Chargers actually finished the regular season with a better record than the Patriots (11-5), but they dropped down to the No. 5 seed in the playoffs after being edged out by the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC West title.
In 2006, Shawne Merriman led the league with 17 sacks despite serving a four-game suspension, while Shaun Phillips had 11.5 sacks. Both of those players are long gone from the league, but this year’s squad features Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Bosa returned from injury and recorded 5.5 sacks in the final seven games of the season, while Ingram led the team with seven sacks and was a force in the win over Baltimore in the wild card.
Rivers is no longer handing the ball off to Tomlinson, who retired in 2011 and is in the NFL Hall of Fame. This year’s edition of the Chargers has Melvin Gordon in the backfield. The fourth-year running back out of Wisconsin averaged 5.1 yards per carry this season but missed four games with a right knee injury. He finished with 885 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns but left the Week 17 win over the Broncos with an ankle injury. He managed to play last week against the Ravens and had 13 carries for 40 yards, although he did injure his left leg. That injury has been described as a sprain, and Gordon is expected to play this week.
Gates is still on the team, and at 38, he managed 28 receptions and a pair of touchdowns. Los Angeles remains hopeful that Hunter Henry, who missed the entire regular season after tearing his ACL in May, can play Sunday. Henry, 24, had 45 receptions for 579 yards and four touchdowns in 2017. The Chargers activated Henry off the physically unable to perform list and onto their 53-man roster Monday, making him eligible to play this weekend.
The 2006 Patriots struggled to replace wide receivers David Givens and Deion Branch, with Givens departing via free agency, and Branch being traded at the beginning of the season. This year’s squad has experienced similar difficulties after Danny Amendola signed with the Dolphins and Brandin Cooks was traded to the Rams last offseason. Brady still has Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan, while Phillip Dorsett hauled in five receptions in the season finale against the Jets.