Chargers want fans to bring the noise

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Linebacker Shawne Merriman wants a strong start for the Chargers in Sunday’s playoff game – from their fans.

The sooner they begin screaming, the better he’ll like it when San Diego faces the New England Patriots. Tom Brady is traveling all the way across the country only to be greeted by a hostile crowd whose decibel level may drown out his signal calling.

“I want to hear it ASAP,” said Merriman, the NFL sacks leader. “Louder when L.T. is about to get the ball and going to break another record or something.”

Fans at Qualcomm Stadium have cheered LaDainian Tomlinson all season. He has four of the best 11 single-game rushing performances in the NFL this season, three of them at home. And the Chargers are 8-0 at home with an average victory margin of 14.6 points.

As if a team with a 14-2 record and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs needed more of an edge, ticket sales to the divisional playoff game were restricted to Southern California residents this week.

Curious, then, that the Patriots saw some positives in taking the long journey Friday to play a team that fell short of an unbeaten season by just two three-point losses.

“I love traveling, man,” Patriots backup defensive end Jarvis Green said Thursday, “getting on the plane. It’s a time to relax for me, just getting out there, just time to get away from home. I’ve got three kids at home.

“Getting a nice hot meal on the plane, it’s like a vacation time. I don’t take many vacations, but going on the road for me is fun.”

Disneyland, it’s not. But some of his teammates see it as just another challenge to overcome. Besides, they’ve done very well on the road with a 7-1 record and a point differential of 13.9 per game.

“It’s a challenge when everybody’s against you,” nose tackle Mike Wright said. “It just makes you that much more focused and that might not be a complete advantage, but I look at it as a positive. It just gets you going.”

The Patriots’ only road loss was their worst performance of the season, 21-0 at Miami in their 12th game. Since then, they are 4-0, including a 37-16 home playoff win over the New York Jets, and have outscored opponents by an average of 35-17.

“All year long we’ve been feeding off our crowd,” Tomlinson said. “We want the crowd to be quiet while we’re on offense so that we can get our checks and everything we need to talk about out there on the field offensively.

“And then on defense, we don’t want Tom and the Patriots to be able to hear each other talking and be able to make checks. So the crowd has to be as loud as possible.”

Brady has succeeded in front of boisterous enemy fans many times. But when a play doesn’t work, he can expect Chargers rooters to get even louder.

“When they try to make a running play and we stuff them and we hear the “You can’t run’ chant going, all that adds to the emotion,” San Diego defensive end Luis Castillo said. “It makes it a lot easier to for us to play.”

Despite their three Super Bowl championships in five years, the Patriots still claim they don’t get enough respect. So the more boos they hear, the more motivated they could get.

Former Chargers wide receiver Reche Caldwell, who signed as a free agent with the Patriots before this season, brought firsthand knowledge of his old team’s attitude. He told current teammates that San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer criticized the Patriots’ ability before they lost to the Chargers 41-17 last season.

“They’re high on themselves right now,” Patriots wide receiver Jabar Gaffney said. “They have every right to be, being 14-2, had a great season. (But) they don’t even know us. All the people they know on the team is Brady and Reche, so we’ve got to show them who we are.”

The Patriots are 13-4 with a playoff tested team and a quarterback who is 11-1 in the postseason. Chargers fans are ready to do whatever they can to help put a stop to New England’s latest postseason run in San Diego.

“Obviously, the city is excited,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “We’re excited. The fans are excited. It ought to be as awesome of an atmosphere as there is.”

AP-ES-01-12-07 0338EST

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