Pats nip Chargers

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SAN DIEGO - The San Diego Chargers gave Tom Brady one chance too many, and that's all the three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback needed.

Brady and the New England Patriots shocked league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers on Sunday, winning 24-21 to move within one win of their fourth Super Bowl trip in six seasons.

Brady overcame three interceptions, his career playoff high, to lead the Patriots to 11 points in 3:26 late in the game. He now has a 12-1 postseason record heading to Indianapolis for the AFC championship game next Sunday.

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.

It was a crunching end to San Diego's season, and could lead to coach Marty Schottenheimer's ouster.

Behind Tomlinson, the Chargers went an NFL-best 14-2, including going 8-0 at home in the regular season.

Schottenheimer fell to 5-13 in the postseason, with Cleveland, Kansas City and San Diego. Although he 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.

Afterward, with the record crowd of 68,810 silenced and a terrific season wrecked, Tomlinson went after an unidentified Patriots player. Tomlinson ran for 123 yards and two scores, and caught two passes for 64 yards.

Schottenheimer will no doubt be criticized for going for it on fourth-and-11 from the New England 30-yard line in the fourth 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.

San Diego lost its fourth straight postseason game dating to the Super Bowl following the 1994 season.


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