FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -The Patriots are heading to the Super Bowl with a defense that kept the Chargers out of the end zone.
Three times the Chargers moved inside the 10-yard line and three times the unbeaten Patriots held them to a field goal, a huge factor in New England's 21-12 victory in Sunday's AFC championship game.
Flash back to eight days earlier and gauge the improvement: Jacksonville scored two touchdowns when it got inside the New England 10, but still lost 31-20 in the divisional playoff game.
This time, the Patriots intercepted two of Philip Rivers' passes, one leading to a touchdown, and erased any doubts that their linebackers were too old or their defensive backs too slow.
They are, simply, too good.
The Patriots' first big defensive stop came late in the first quarter when San Diego had a first-and-goal at the Patriots 9-yard line. Michael Turner ran for just 1 yard, Rivers followed with two interceptions and Nate Kaeding kicked a 26-yard field goal to make it 3-0.
Trailing 7-3 in the second quarter, the Chargers moved from their 30 to another first-and-goal at the 9.
Turner rushed for 1 yard. Rivers then threw toward Antonio Gates, but linebacker Tedy Bruschi dove in front of him at the last second to slap the ball away near the goal line. Rivers then hit Chris Chambers in the left flat, but cornerback Ellis Hobbs made an open-field tackle at the 5.
The Chargers settled for another field goal, this one for just 23 yards that cut the lead to 7-6.
With the Patriots ahead 14-9, Rivers led the Chargers downfield again.
With a third-and-2 at the New England 4, Turner took the handoff and started up the middle. But linebacker Junior Seau penetrated, forcing Turner to veer left, and Seau tackled him for a 2-yard loss.
No first down. No chance for a touchdown
Kaeding came out again and kicked a 24-yard field goal, another wasted opportunity and a 14-12 lead for New England.
It was 21-12 when San Diego started moving again, from its 16 to a third-and-10 at the New England 36.
This time, aggressive Rodney Harrison ran in from Rivers' right side, hit the quarterback as he was throwing and forced an incompletion.
With 9:21 left, San Diego was forced to punt and Kaeding never saw the field again.
The Chargers had let him on the field too much already.
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