The last time the San Diego Chargers went to New England, they had Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson and a healthy Antonio Gates.
They lost anyway, 38-14.
The Chargers may have beaten the Indianapolis Colts 28-24 on Sunday without their top players, but they'll have a hard time keeping up with the unbeaten Patriots in the AFC title game if they're still out.
Back on Sept. 16, a Sunday night game in the second week of the season, the Patriots were just getting started on their 16-0 run and blowing away anyone in their path. Their margin of victory has dropped markedly in the second half of the season, but New England will still be 17-0 when they play host to the Chargers next Sunday.
``A lot's happened since then,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after the Chargers beat the Colts to qualify for a trip to Foxborough and the AFC title game. ``We'll definitely start all over on the preparations. It's like it's a new team.''
The first question for San Diego is the health of Rivers and Tomlinson, their starting quarterback and star running back, who was the 2006 NFL MVP. Both injured their knees in Sunday's 28-24 win in Indianapolis and their status isn't yet known for next week's AFC title game in Foxborough. Gates played with a toe injury, but clearly wasn't at full speed.
Even if Rivers and Tomlinson play, the Chargers (13-5) face a daunting task.
Tom Brady did to Jacksonville in Saturday night's 31-20 win what Peyton Manning did to the Chargers early in Sunday's game, completing his first 13 passes, most of them underneath, to give San Diego a 7-0 lead. But after Marvin Harrison, coming back from injury, fumbled one of his completions to give the Chargers life, Manning started taking more chances and had less success deep.
San Diego managed to beat the Colts with subs - good ones in Michael Turner and Darren Sproles at running back, plus journeyman Billy Volek at quarterback leading the winning TD drive. Turner and Sproles together equal Tomlinson, but Volek is not going to beat the Patriots. Rivers will have a hard time doing that if he's ready.
If the Chargers are to have a chance, they'll have to get the kind of pressure they got on Manning on critical drives late in the game. That was most notable when Shawne Merriman got around rookie left tackle Tony Ugoh to force an incomplete pass on fourth down inside the San Diego 10-yard line with just over 2 minutes left.
Merriman is certainly one of the NFL's best pass rushers and Shaun Phillips is formidable from the other side.
So Brady may not have as much time as he had Saturday night in completing 26 of 28 passes, an NFL-record 92.9 percent for both playoff and regular-season games. But the Chargers don't cover as well as Jacksonville, and Randy Moss is unlikely to be limited to one catch for 14 yards, as he was by the Jaguars.
Now we wait to see if Rivers and Tomlinson will even play.
Belichick thinks they will.
``We're prepared for everybody. As we saw today, any number of players could be in the game,'' the Patriots coach said Sunday after the Chargers-Colts game. ``If they're on the 53-man roster, we'll prepare for everybody.''

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