FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -The San Diego Chargers like what they're hearing from Philip Rivers.
Forced to leave last weekend's upset win because of a sprained right knee, the mouthy quarterback is ``optimistic'' about playing Sunday in the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots.
Rivers returned to the practice field Friday for the first time this week and sounded ready to go.
``I think honestly, given the magnitude of the game and given the situation, if I'm out there as I plan to be for the first snap and throughout the game, it won't have an effect at all,'' he said.
Chargers coach Norv Turner is taking a more cautious approach. He listed Rivers as doubtful and said it would be a gametime decision.
``We want him to be able to move well enough to protect himself,'' Turner said.
Rivers handled about one-third of the snaps in practice. He was hurt in the 28-24 playoff win over the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, and backup Billy Volek led the winning touchdown drive.
``The way I felt Monday morning, I didn't think I'd feel as good as I do right now,'' Rivers said. ``Certainly, it can ease my mind a bit.''
Under NFL rules for reporting injuries, someone listed as doubtful has a 25 percent chance of playing that week. Until Friday, teams were required to merely list whether a player practiced - Rivers did not work out Wednesday or Thursday.
Already a two-touchdown underdog against the perfect Patriots, the Chargers are awfully banged up. Star running back LaDainian Tomlinson said he thought his hyperextended left knee would be OK for him to start, but tight end Antonio Gates was put in the doubtful category.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said San Diego's injury problems were of little concern to him.
``We get ready for all 53 players every week,'' he said. ``We don't have any control over that.''
The Patriots practiced outdoors at Gillette Stadium, showing more spirit than usual. Defensive line coach Pepper Johnson was among the most lively, hollering at his players.
Tom Brady, whose best games often come in the biggest settings, was typically more composed, joking about a future in Hollywood.
For all his experience in pressurized settings, the Patriots quarterback suggested he had more trouble nowadays when it came to keeping his adrenaline in check.
``Everyone is going to be excited. I'm probably the one that needs help on that the most with just the excitement of the game and the excitement of the season on the line,'' Brady said.
Brady was reminded that six years ago, right before playing in his first Super Bowl, he took a nap on the locker room floor. Brady wound up as the game's MVP in a win over the St. Louis Rams.
``I think I was naive back in the day. My first couple years, I thought it was easy,'' he said. ``I got to the Super Bowl, hey, this is no problem. You start a few games, you're in the Super Bowl and U2 is out there playing.''
At 17-0, the Patriots get a daily prompt to concentrate simply on the next game, Brady said. There is a sign the players see every day in the locker room with this slogan: Do Your Job.
Because of that focus, the Patriots said they weren't worried about Randy Moss' legal trouble becoming the team's latest distraction. A temporary restraining order was issued this week in Florida, directing the star receiver to stay at least 500 feet from the home of a longtime female friend.
``We're sort of used to dealing with them,'' linebacker Tedy Bruschi said.
Like it or not, the Chargers (13-5) have grown accustomed to Rivers raising a ruckus.
Still trying to reach the elite level, Rivers has already made his mark with his mouth. He jawed across the field with Denver quarterback Jay Cutler late in the season, then verbally sparred with fans in Indy last week as he walked off the field.
``I'm aware of it,'' Rivers said this week. ``I'm out there having a good time as I did in the backyard since I was 5 years old. I'm not saying anything out of line.''
Volek has had his volatile moments, too.
Upset that he didn't get a chance to start, Volek asked Tennessee to trade him early in the 2006 season. He got sent to San Diego and a day later, Titans coach Jeff Fisher publicly criticized his former player.
Volek is in his eighth season and did well last week, scoring the winning TD on a 1-yard sneak in the final five minutes.
Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel said preparations were about the same for Rivers or Volek,
``You're not looking at Tom Brady and Vince Young different,'' he said. ``More similar than dissimilar.''

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