for this game

Caldwell haunts former team, Pats beat Chargers

Jan 15, 2007 - 3:13 AM SAN DIEGO (Ticker) -- Reche Caldwell haunted his former team and added yet another chapter to Marty Schottenheimer's playoff misery.

Caldwell caught a touchdown pass and made a key 49-yard reception before rookie Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 31-yard field goal with 1:10 left in the fourth quarter as the New England Patriots posted a 24-21 victory over the top-seeded San Diego Chargers.

The fourth-seeded Patriots (14-4), who have won three of the last five Super Bowls under coach Bill Belichick, will meet the third-seeded Indianapolis Colts (14-4) in the AFC championship game next Sunday.

"We just made one more play at the end than they did," said Belichick, who improved his playoff record to 13-2.

The Chargers (14-3) had the NFL's best record during the regular season, but the playoffs had a familiar end for Schottenheimer.

San Diego had a chance to tie the game, but Pro Bowl kicker Nate Kaeding was short and wide to the right on a 54-yard field goal attempt with three seconds left.

The active leader among coaches with 200 regular-season wins, Schottenheimer slipped to 5-13 in the postseason in his career with Cleveland, Kansas City and San Diego. Two of those defeats have come with the Chargers.

"We're obviously very, very disappointed in the outcome of this football game," Schottenheimer said. "But our guys had a great year, notwithstanding the disappointment of today. What happened today is we just ran out of time."

What made the loss particularly bitter was that Schottenheimer and the Chargers squandered a 21-13 fourth-quarter lead and were especially hurt by a wide receiver they no longer wanted.

Caldwell signed as a free agent with the Patriots in the offseason after spending his first four years with San Diego. But he made three huge plays in the fourth quarter.

"I just want to go out there and make plays when it counts," Caldwell said. "Playing with Tom Brady makes it that much easier."

The first big play by Caldwell was a recovered fumble with 6:16 left.

The Chargers recorded their third interception of Brady when safety Marlon McCree picked off a pass over the middle at the San Diego 31. After running for three yards, McCree had the ball swiped away by Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown and Caldwell recovered the fumble at the 32.

Caldwell then caught a four-yard pass in the back of the end zone with 4:36 remaining in the fourth quarter to pull the Patriots within 21-19.

Running back Kevin Faulk scored the two-point conversion on a direct snap to tie the game.

After the Chargers went three-and-out, Brady directed his 24th career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter and overtime. Six of those have come in the postseason for the two-time Super Bowl MVP.

"That was as tough a game as I can remember playing," said Brady, who completed 27-of-51 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns.

Brady hit tight end Daniel Graham with a 19-yard pass to start the winning drive. Then on a 3rd-and-10 play, Brady lofted a 49-yard pass down the right sideline for Caldwell, who beat cornerback Quentin Jammer.

"He (Caldwell) was able to get separation from the cornerback, not much, but enough and Tom made a good throw and he made a good catch," Belichick said.

"We haven't made many big plays this season, but Reche ran a great route and I just put it up there for him," said Brady, who improved his playoff record to 12-1. "That was very special for that to come with the game on the line."

Four plays after Caldwell's catch, Gostkowski kicked the winning field goal. The rookie earlier made a 50-yard field goal in the first quarter and a 34-yarder in the third quarter.

A fourth-round pick out of Memphis, Gostkowski is the successor to Adam Vinatieri, who is best known for kicking two Super Bowl-winning field goals for the Patriots. Ironically, Vinatieri signed in the offseason with Indianapolis and will face the Patriots next week.

NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns and caught two passes for 64 yards, but his season for the ages will not end up with a trip to the Super Bowl. Tomlinson set a single-season record with 31 touchdowns and won the rushing title with 1,815 yards.

Philip Rivers completed just 14-of-32 passes for 230 yards with an interception in his first playoff start. With just 1:05 left and no timeouts to work with, Rivers completed two passes to tight end Antonio Gates for 18 yards and one pass to Eric Parker for 21 yards.

However, Kaeding was unable to convert the 54-yard field goal attempt.

Many of the Patriots flung their helmets in the air and danced in the middle of the field to celebrate. They were assessed 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Tomlinson was particularly incensed by the celebration, refusing to shake hands with several Patriots after the game.

"I would never, ever react in that way," Tomlinson said. "I'm a very classy person and I would not have reacted like that. I was very upset. When you go to the middle of our field and you start doing the dance that (Chargers linebacker) Shawne Merriman is known for, that's disrespectful. It showed no class at all and maybe that comes from their coach."

The Chargers had gone 8-0 here during the regular season, but failed to cash in on the homefield advantage in the playoffs.

The loss may spell the end for Schottenheimer, who has a year left on his contract and an icy relationship with Chargers general manager A.J. Smith.

Perhaps the play that best illustrated the postseason fortunes of Belichick and Schottenheimer came when Brown knocked the ball away from McCree.

The Chargers held a 21-13 lead at the time and had just intercepted Brady for the third time. But Brown, the Patriots' all-time leading receiver who also is used as a defensive back, jarred the ball loose from McCree and Caldwell was there to recover the fumble for New England.

"Troy Brown is a terrific player. He does it all," Belichick said.

"We always preach situational football here and what Troy did was that at its finest," Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said.

The Chargers led the NFL in scoring, averaging 30.8 points per game, and totaled 352 yards against the Patriots. But they also committed four turnovers.

"You can't turn the ball over that many times and expect to win," Schottenheimer said.

Jabar Gaffney came through with another big playoff performance for the Patriots. After catching just 11 passes in the regular season, Gaffney had eight receptions for 104 yards in last week's wild card round win over the New York Jets and followed with 10 catches for 103 yards, including a six-yard touchdown, against the Chargers.

Tomlinson scored on a two-yard run and Michael Turner, Tomlinson's backup, ran for a six-yard touchdown in the second quarter to stake the Chargers to a 14-3 lead.

The Patriots closed the half with an 11-play, 72-yard drive. Gaffney caught four passes for 46 yards in the drive, including a six-yard touchdown with eight seconds left in the half.

Tomlinson scored on a three-yard sweep to the left with 8:35 remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Chargers a 21-13 lead. Vincent Jackson highlighted the nine-play, 83-yard drive with a leaping 31-yard catch.






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  • DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS
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    FINAL 1ST 2ND 3RD 4TH TOTAL
    --- --- --- --- -----
    NEW ENGLAND 3 7 3 11 24
    SAN DIEGO 0 14 0 7 21 FINAL
    SCORING SUMMARY
    1ST QUARTER: NWE - FG, STEPHEN GOSTKOWSKI 50 YD, 14:20.
    Drive: 9 plays, 33 yards in 4:35.
    Key plays: Faulk 5-yard run on
    3rd-and-4 to New England 46; Brady
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    SCORING SUMMARY
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