- Aug 18, 2005
SAN DIEGO ---- Eli's come and gone, and now the world champs await.
With their first victory and first conquest of the New York Giants' Eli Manning in their scrapbook, the Chargers face a much stiffer opponent Sunday in the New England Patriots.
While buoyed with Sunday night's win, the Chargers realize the level of competition will increase considerably in New England.
The Patriots enjoy the status that the Chargers hope to someday achieve.
"We're just trying to get better, that's our mind-set,'' LaDainian Tomlinson said. "We are trying to become an elite team in the NFL.''
The Chargers will see one up close and personal at Foxboro Stadium. The Patriots are 2-1, and 3-of-4 in the last four Super Bowls.
"To be able to do what they have done in an era in which everything is designed to get people to be .500 in the win-loss percentage, and they go out and win three championships in four years? To me that's remarkable,'' coach Marty Schottenheimer said.
Many thought when free agency was introduced in the early '90s the heyday of dynasties was extinct. But the Patriots, with their team-first concept, continue to pile up Vince Lombardi trophies.
"It's remarkable,'' Tomlinson said. "Everybody around the league looks up to their organization.
"The things they have been able to do, especially in a time when free agency is critical and things have changed, they've done it and proved it can be done.''
The Chargers might be catching the Patriots at the right time, with former Charger safety Rodney Harrison out for the season with a serious knee injury and left tackle Matt Light's availability uncertain with a leg ailment.
Schottenheimer, though, merely shrugs. He's watched the Patriots plug in able replacements too often to feel that the Chargers are fortunate.
"They have a process there in place,'' Schottenheimer said. "Rodney is a terrific player but my point is if you go back and look at the history, the history says it doesn't affect them regardless who it might be. They have a system where there are just interchangeable parts.''
Brees speculates the Patriots feel being part of something special as a team trumps individual goals.
"You have guys that are able to step in when somebody goes down and do the job because they believe in the system,'' he said. "They got guys that trust in each other. It really can be done and they have proven it.''
The Chargers are primed to embark on a six-pack of prove-it games. After the Patriots, they face the Steelers at home, have road contests in Oakland and Philadelphia, then greet the Chiefs and travel to the New York Jets before a well-deserved bye.
But first they say hello to an outfit with three title rings weighing down their hands.
"It's very hard to do,'' Brees said. "You look at the teams like Buffalo, when they went to four straight Super Bowls, and then the Cowboys, when they won three out of four. And you're sitting there going, 'That will not happen again.' And to have New England come in and win three out of four ---- with free agency and the injuries that they have suffered through a few of those seasons. It's pretty remarkable.''
CHARGERS NOTES ---- RB LaDainian Tomlinson said he wasn't too sore after Sunday night's stellar game in which he rushed for 192 yards, three TDs and threw for a score. Tomlinson said the biggest difference from the season's first two games ---- both losses ---- was the play up front. "I think they had a chip on their shoulder,'' Tomlinson said of the offensive line. "They wanted to play well.'' ... LG Toniu Fonoti (hand) will return to practice this week, but his starting job may not be waiting. Coach Marty Schottenheimer said no decision has been made if Fonoti will bump Kris Dielman. ... DE Igor Olshansky is another ex-starter running with the backups; he gives way to rookie Luis Castillo. Although, Schottenheimer said the starter for New England has yet to be determined. ... LB Ben Leber and Castillo could hear from the league this week regarding penalties involving QB Eli Manning. ... Denver LB Ian Gold was fined $5,000 last week for making contact with Drew Brees' helmet in the Chargers-Broncos game.