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Crafty Brady fuels Pats' comeback win over Chargers

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Tom Brady, as cool as ever, delivered every
time the San Diego Chargers gave him another chance.

Already a three-time Super Bowl winner, his shot at a fourth is
very much alive after the New England Patriots shocked league MVP
LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers on Sunday, winning 24-21 to
advance to the AFC Championship Game.

Brady overcame three interceptions, his career playoff high, to
lead the Patriots to 11 points in 3:26 late in the game. He and
coach Bill Belichick now have a 12-1 postseason record together,
and need to win at Indianapolis next Sunday to make their fourth
Super Bowl trip in six seasons.

Brady and linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who also helped the Patriots
in their Super Bowl runs earlier this decade, walked off the field
together.

"I said to Tedy, 'Man, that was not easy.' He says to me, 'They
never are buddy, they never are,'" said Brady, 27-of-51 for 280
yards.

As tough a win as it was for New England, it was a gut-wrenching
loss for San Diego and its coach, Marty Schottenheimer, whose job
could be in jeopardy after his career postseason record tumbled to
5-13.

Tomlinson shattered several league records in helping the
Chargers go an NFL-best 14-2, including 8-0 at home in the regular
season.

Once it was over, Tomlinson, like Brady one of the most
laid-back superstars in any sport, lost his cool. He went after an
unidentified Patriots player and had to be restrained by a teammate
and former Charger Reche Caldwell, who had a huge game for the
Patriots.

Tomlinson yelled and pointed at the Patriots player, upset that
some Patriots were dancing on the Chargers logo at midfield after
they had silenced the record crowd of 68,810 at Qualcomm Stadium.

"I would never react in that way. I was very upset," Tomlinson
said. "When you go to the middle of our field and start doing the
dance Shawne Merriman is known for, that is disrespectful. They
showed no class and maybe that comes from the head coach."

Merriman, nicknamed "Lights Out," did a spasmodic dance to
celebrate each of his NFL-high 17 sacks.

"We lost to a better team today," Tomlinson said. "Hopefully
the next opportunity we have we'll learn something from this."

Tomlinson ran for 123 yards and two scores, and caught two
passes for 64 yards.

While the Chargers respected the mystique Brady and the Patriots
had built with Super Bowl wins following the 2001, 2002 and 2004
seasons, they hoped to be the ones raising the Lombardi Trophy in
Miami on Feb. 4.

San Diego had nine players voted to the Pro Bowl team and five
to the All-Pro team. And it had been supercharged by Tomlinson, who
became the most prolific scorer in one season in NFL history with
31 touchdowns and 186 points while winning the rushing title with
1,815 yards.

But Brady is the one who's been there before in January. And
nearly always has won -- it was Brady's sixth career game-winning
drive in the playoffs, and his 24th overall.

The winning points came on a 31-yard field goal by Stephen
Gostkowski with 1:10 left. That capped a 72-yard drive highlighted
by a 49-yard pass to Reche Caldwell, who left the Chargers as a
free agent after last season.

With the Patriots trailing 21-13, Brady threw a 4-yard touchdown
pass to the wide-open Caldwell with 4:36 to play. The Patriots tied
it on a tricky 2-point conversion, snapping the ball directly to
running back Kevin Faulk, who was standing next to Brady and ran
through the middle of the line.

San Diego's Pro Bowl kicker Nate Kaeding was short on a 54-yard
field goal try with 3 seconds left.

Schottenheimer will no doubt be criticized for going for it on
fourth-and-11 from the New England 30 in the first quarter rather
than having Kaeding try a field goal.

Philip Rivers, the Chargers' first-year starting quarterback,
was sacked by Mike Vrabel and fumbled, giving the Patriots the ball
at their 35.

Although Schottenheimer has a year left on his contract, at more
than $3 million, he and general manager A.J. Smith have had an icy
relationship for months, and the front-office felt this team was
built for a Super Bowl run.

The Chargers had four turnovers -- they had only 15 in the
regular season -- and made other critical mistakes.

"Anytime you're in the playoffs and lose, and certainly I have
plenty of experience at it, there's a disappointment,"
Schottenheimer said.

Punt returner Eric Parker had a double muff to give the Patriots
the ball on their 31 late in the third quarter. Following a
third-and-13 on which Brady fumbled and Matt Light recovered,
Chargers cornerback Drayton Florence head-butted tight end Daniel
Graham and drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. That led
to Gostkowski's 24-yard field that pulled the Patriots to 14-13.

Tomlinson scored on a 3-yard run with 8:35 left in the game for
a 21-13 lead.

On the next Patriots drive, Brady was intercepted by safety
Marlon McCree, who, rather than going down, tried for a return and
was hit by Troy Brown and fumbled, with Caldwell recovering.

The Chargers challenged, but the play was upheld, and the
Patriots had the ball at the Chargers 32. Five plays later, Brady
hit Caldwell and Faulk added the conversion.

"There was a lot of gratification," Caldwell said. "I had a
chance to come home and show what I could do and I think I made
plays."

Tomlinson scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter for a 7-3
lead. Later, he turned a screen pass into a brilliant 58-yard gain,
leaving two defenders grasping at air while he scooted to the New
England 6. His backup, Michael Turner, scored on the next play for
a 14-3 lead.

Brady kept the Patriots in it by running the two-minute offense
to perfection, pulling New England to 14-10 just before halftime.
At the end of the 10-play, 72-yard drive, Brady had all day to
throw a 6-yard pass to Jabar Gaffney in the back of the end zone.

Game notes
San Diego lost its fourth straight postseason game
dating to the Super Bowl following the 1994 season ... The kicker
rookie Gostkowski replaced, Adam Vinatieri, kicked five field goals
for all of Indianapolis' points in a 15-6 win at Baltimore on
Saturday.