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Original Issue

DR. Z'S FORECAST: AFC Championship Game



HERE'S THE thing that's scary about the Patriots. Donte' Stallworth was one of the new receivers who came to New England in the off-season with a flurry of excitement. That flattened out as the season wore on; Stallworth began last Saturday's playoff game against Jacksonville on the bench. In the fourth quarter, when the teams were still only a score apart, the Jaguars decided, for one of the few times that night, to bring blitz pressure. Tom Brady countered by lofting a long ball to Stallworth down the right sideline. Stallworth's one-handed catch went for 53 yards and set up the field goal that put the game out of reach. Just another weapon in an arsenal that's full of them. Where does it stop?

Well, not in Foxborough this Sunday. San Diego's incredible fourth-quarter drive against the Colts, with Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson out injured and Antonio Gates hobbling, should be carved on a monument. But is it logical to give the Chargers another miracle victory, this one in the AFC title game over the league's showpiece team?

I don't think so, but I know one thing: San Diego won't hand the game to Brady the way the Jaguars did. The only thing Jacksonville's diet of four-man rushes did was to give Brady (above, 12) the alltime record for completion percentage in an NFL game. The Pats' defense looked vulnerable, though. It's been a long season for a unit with some age on it. The Jags mounted TD drives of 80 and 95 yards in the first half. They hurt New England with their tight end; they hurt it when David Garrard got out of the pocket and bought time. In the second half Jacksonville put together an 86-yard drive and got a field goal, but the Patriots were dealing in TDs at that point, and the Jaguars weren't going to catch up with three-pointers.

Can the crippled Chargers, with their QB, star ballcarrier and Pro Bowl tight end all limping, put together enough touchdown drives of their own to hold off the Pats' point machine? I don't think so, although San Diego coach Norv Turner is as resourceful a play-caller as there is in the game. NEW ENGLAND 34, SAN DIEGO 17