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Friday, 14 September 2007 18:18
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 FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -Smile, LaDainian Tomlinson. The Patriots are focusing on you this time.
The Chargers' star running back should give them an eyeful Sunday night, and the harshest penalty he could hand them would be an early season loss - much less than the $750,000 in fines and one or two draft picks imposed by the NFL .
It would be understandable if the reigning MVP grinned about that punishment imposed on New England coach Bill Belichick and his club for videotaping the New York Jets' coaches in last Sunday's season-opening 38-14 win.
After all, San Diego's 24-21 second-round playoff loss last season left a bad taste in Tomlinson's mouth. He had to be held back after Patriots players angered him by celebrating at midfield in his home stadium after the game.
So even before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell smacked the Patriots hard on Thursday night, L.T. took a seemingly lighthearted jab at them.
``I think the Patriots actually live by the saying, `If you're not cheating, you're not trying,' `` he said with a laugh. ``I'm not surprised, because you keep hearing the different stories of people complaining about stuff they do.''
Put it all together - a marquee rematch between two of football's best teams, extra emotion, and a coach caught for cheating - and it becomes a spectacle as much as a game.
But the three-time Super Bowl champion Patriots just want to play football and ignore the hit their reputation took from the fines of $500,000 against Belichick and $250,000 against the team. They'd also lose their first-round draft pick next year if they make the playoffs, a pretty strong possibility for a team picked by many to reach the Super Bowl, or second- and third-round picks if they don't.
``We're going to focus on the Chargers,'' former San Diego linebacker Junior Seau said. ``We have the best player in the National Football League coming to town. Motivation? That's the motivation.''
The Chargers feel the same - and tight end Antonio Gates said they're more prepared and experienced this time around.
Even Shawne Merriman isn't thinking about payback for Ellis Hobbs' imitation of the spasmodic dance the San Diego linebacker performed after each of his NFL-high 17 sacks. Hobbs did it as part of the celebration.
``That really got under my skin a little bit,'' Merriman said. ``I said, `At least if you're going to do it, look at some film and kind of watch how I do it.' But I was over that. I'm sure a lot of people were over that and we're ready to move on to this game.''
Patriots linebacker Rosevelt Colvin viewed the spirited demonstration as a natural outburst of emotion.
``We're a bunch of old men acting like kids,'' he said. ``If you have problems with that, go look at the kids. How did you act when you were a kid? You did things that you might not have wanted to do sometimes or sometimes you did things the right way. So, as life progresses, you learn.''
The Patriots are coming off a dominant win at New York. The NFL and Belichick said the videotaping had no impact on the game. Several Patriots said the attention given to the investigation won't be a distraction.
``It's just another challenge for us,'' wide receiver Donte' Stallworth said. ``Distractions are distractions if you let them be, and that's one thing we're not even worried about.''
Randy Moss had a spectacular debut with the Patriots, catching nine passes for 183 yards and a 51-yard touchdown. Tom Brady was outstanding, going 22-for-28 for 293 yards and three touchdowns. And Hobbs set an NFL record with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
``The combination of the power run and then the high-percentage passing game and taking the shots up the field, it's a complete challenge for us to prepare for,'' Chargers first-year coach Norv Turner said. ``I don't know that you're going to stop them. Obviously, we want to minimize the big plays.''
The Chargers were less impressive in their 14-3 win over the error-prone Chicago Bears, who made it to the Super Bowl but lost to Indianapolis. Tomlinson ran for one touchdown and passed for another but gained only 25 yards on 14 carries. He did catch seven passes.
``When L.T. had room, he looked like L.T.,'' Turner said. ``We wanted to be patient with the run. We asked a lot of him and he was great handling it because it's easy to get frustrated when there's an unblocked or two unblocked guys.''
After watching the tape - the one they were allowed to view - the Patriots probably saw the same thing. They know Tomlinson is as dangerous as he was when he rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns and caught two passes for 64 yards in their last meeting.
``He has great vision,'' Belichick said. ``When he cracks the line of scrimmage, he has the ability to go all the way. Some weeks it could be a 6- or an 8-yard run. This week it could be a touchdown, it could be 80 yards.''
But the game is about more than this week. As much as players focus on each snap, their energy may be up a notch because of their last matchup.
``Emotions will be going and I guess some of it will be stimulated from the playoff game,'' San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said. ``But this game doesn't change that one win or loss. You can't fix that game. It's a new year.''
Seau knows how badly the Chargers felt when their Super Bowl chances ended after their NFL best 14-2 regular season. He made 12 Pro Bowls in his 13 years with them and spends the offseason in San Diego.
``I live there and there was a big, dark cloud over their heads,'' he said. ``I'll tell you what. My two favorite teams are going to play on Sunday and I have a first-class seat. It's going to be exciting. You ought to be there.''
Or, at least, watch it on videotape.
 

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