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Tomlinson misses most of game vs. Pats with sore knee

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- LaDainian Tomlinson spent most of the
game bundled up in a parka on the sideline on a freezing, windy
day, his injured left knee unable to provide the moves that make
him one of the NFL's most exciting players.

The pain Philip Rivers felt from his sprained right knee was
matched by the two interceptions he threw.

Combine the two, and that was not going to get the job done
against the undefeated New England Patriots.

The aching San Diego Chargers did what most people thought they
would do in the AFC Championship Game. They lost, 21-12, as the
Patriots improved to 18-0 and advanced to their fourth Super Bowl
in seven seasons.

"It's unfortunate we didn't come through today,'' Rivers said.
"It's probably a lot closer than everybody expected. Not
necessarily us; we expected to win.''

To have a legitimate chance at a huge upset, Norv Turner's team
needed to have all its star players healthy.

It didn't.

A week after spraining his left knee in an upset win at
Indianapolis, Tomlinson re-injured it on the game's first play from
scrimmage. He carried again on the next play, then didn't touch the
ball again until catching a short screen pass from Rivers on the
next drive.

LT didn't have his usual burst and he knew he was finished.

"Sometimes your body tells you it ain't going to happen,'' said
Tomlinson, the two-time NFL rushing champion and the 2006 league
MVP. "So you've got to listen to your body. Obviously I wanted to
play, but if I did try to play I would be hurting my team because I
didn't have any explosiveness, and I wouldn't have been myself.

"It's just been two bad weeks for me,'' he added. "I usually
don't take shots like that. It just happened today.''

Tomlinson's knee injury originally was described as a
hyperextension. He said Sunday that he has a sprained medial
collateral ligament.

The Chargers announced early in the second quarter that
Tomlinson had a sore knee and could return.

He didn't.

"It's obvious that I couldn't play,'' Tomlinson said. "If I
could have played, I would have been in there.''

Tomlinson said he felt "helpless'' as he watched the Chargers
settle for four field goals by Nate Kaeding.

"I'm kind of at a loss for words,'' Tomlinson said.

Of the three big-name Chargers who were hurt coming in,
Tomlinson seemed to have the best chance to play. He finished with
two carries for five yards and one catch for 1 yard. Tomlinson
rushed for only 75 yards in three playoff games.

"He really couldn't get started,'' Turner said. "He went and
tried to go and just didn't have the power to push off.''

In relief of Tomlinson, Michael Turner ran for 65 yards on 17
carries and Darren Sproles had 34 yards on three carries. Those two
helped bail out the Chargers during their 28-24 win at
Indianapolis.

"They have great depth at that position and you saw those guys
make great plays last week,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
"Tomlinson's a great player and there's no question about his
ability and the things he can do.''

Rivers also was hurt at Indianapolis, injuring both the medial
collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee.

Rivers started despite being listed as doubtful on the injury
report, and Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates played for the second
straight week with a dislocated left big toe.

Rivers was intercepted twice in a span of four plays late in the
second quarter, and the Patriots turned one of the turnovers into a
touchdown.

Rivers released the ball as he was being tripped deep in his own
territory and was picked off by Asante Samuel, giving the Patriots
the ball at the San Diego 24. Two plays later, Tom Brady hit Jabar
Gaffney on a 12-yard TD pass.

Three plays into the next Chargers drive, Rivers threw deep for
Chris Chambers and was picked off by Ellis Hobbs. The Patriots
ended up punting. Rivers had thrown only four interceptions during
the Chargers' eight-game winning streak.

Players on both teams lauded Rivers' effort.

"It was a gutsy performance,'' Tomlinson said. "He's a really
tough guy. I don't know anybody who can play through that type of
pain.''

Said Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel: "I felt that it was a
pretty gutsy effort for him to come out there, play the whole game
and play well.''

The Chargers were inside the Patriots' 20-yard line three times
and got as far as the 22 on another drive but had to settle for
field goals.

Not scoring touchdowns "kills you,'' Rivers said. "Turn those
into touchdowns, I know it's a what-if game, but then it's a
different story, the whole second half. They're looking up at us,
instead of us at them.

"We had a chance,'' he added. "There's no consolation for it.
I'm not asking for any sympathy at all, believe me. We're all
hurting right now. We grew a lot and came a long way.''

This was San Diego's third straight loss to New England, and the
second straight year the Chargers were eliminated by the Patriots.

A year ago, San Diego was an NFL-best 14-2 before committing
several blunders in a home playoff game. Brady was intercepted
three times in that game, too, but still led the Pats to a 24-21
win.