New England’s postseason march to a third consecutive Super Bowl began with a step that couldn’t have been more resounding.
In fact, the echo of the Patriots’ 41-28 AFC divisional-round victory over the Chargers is still being heard in Atlanta, nearly three weeks later.
“Going into that day, I really thought there was a good chance that the Chargers could pull it out,” LaDainian Tomlinson said. “That game was very difficult to watch.”
One of the franchise’s all-time greats, Tomlinson is at Super Bowl LIII in his role as a commentator for the NFL Network.
He remains the Chargers’ all-time leader with 12,490 yards rushing in nine seasons. Tomlinson spent his final two seasons with the New York Jets.
Since his retirement as a player, he has become a special assistant in the Chargers’ front office.
In that capacity, he was forced to endure the sight of the Chargers giving up 35 points in the first half to New England on Jan. 13 at Foxborough, Mass.
“It just looked like they weren’t ready to play the first half,” Tomlinson said. “The Patriots came out and jumped on them, and the Chargers couldn’t recover. That’s what the Patriots do, especially at home.”
Despite losing in such an emphatic way, Tomlinson said he remains convinced the Chargers are heading in the right direction.
He noted the talent on the roster and the coaching of Anthony Lynn, who will be honored Thursday in Atlanta at an event being staged by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which promotes coaching and front-office diversity in the NFL.
Tomlinson said that, while watching the loss to New England, he felt particularly bad for his longtime teammate Philip Rivers.
“I wanted him to win as badly as anyone can want something for someone else,” Tomlinson said. “I know what Philip means to our organization, how hard he’s worked. He’s been a leader for a long time. He deserves it, quite frankly.”
The Patriots held their first practice in Atlanta, going through an 88-minute session at Georgia Tech’s indoor facility.
Defensive tackle Malcom Brown (calf) was the only player limited during the workout, coach Bill Belichick said.
“We are way ahead of where we normally are on Wednesday,” Belichick said, “but we are trying to keep it as a Wednesday-Thursday-Friday and get into our normal routine, which has worked pretty well for us this year.”
The team plans to work out each day inside, partly because of the cold weather and partly because this is the ultra-secret NFL.
“There are 20-story skyscrapers surrounding the field,” Belichick said. “I don’t think we can have a public practice out there.”
Cordarrelle Patterson, who ranked third in the NFL with a kickoff return average of 28.8 yards and took one 95 yards for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears in Week 7, is hoping for a chance to impact Sunday’s game.
Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein might not let him. In addition to his clutch field-goal kicking, Zuerlein has sent 57 of his 75 kickoffs for touchbacks this season.
“He’s got a strong leg, man, that guy can kick,” Patterson said. “He’s one of the best kickers I’ve ever faced.”
The Chargers were so concerned about Patterson’s explosiveness in early January that they signed the stronger-legged Nick Rose to handle kickoffs in the divisional-round playoff game against the Patriots and retained Michael Badgley for field goals and extra points.
“That was crazy, man,” Patterson said. “You should have seen how many text messages I got when that happened. Everyone was like, ‘They respect you, man, they’re scared of you.’ It was fun, man, but they did it for a reason. If I was them, I would have done it too.”