CB Antonio Cromartie (Harry How/Getty)
The Chargers head to New England for Sunday's AFC title game with a new look and an eight-game winning streak. That's different from their visit in September, when they were still finding themselves with a new coach staff and were blown out, 38-14.
Among the reasons the Chargers climbed off the mat and are still playing is the play of cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
He was but a bit player back earlier in the year. Now he is a Pro Bowler after leading the NFL with 10 interceptions.
"I was more playing the nickel package and now I'm the starter," said Cromartie, who set the team's single-season record with his 10 picks. "I can help out a lot more and see things to help out my teammates also.
Among his tasks Sunday is trying to slow down the record-setting Randy Moss. He'll have plenty of help, but the Chargers want to make sure the athletic Cromartie is a big part of trying to slow Moss down.
"Just being able to cover Randy Moss is probably going to be one of the biggest things for me," Cromartie said. "It's going to be a big challenge for me in trying to put myself out as one of the best corners in facing one of the best receivers in the NFL."
But the Patriots, of course, are more than Moss. And Cromartie said that is what makes defending them so difficult. Take away one receiver, and another rises up. That's why quarterback Tom Brady is who he is.
"I mean he has great receivers," Cromartie said. "I don't want to take anything away from him, he makes the throws that most quarterbacks can't make and he makes the reads that most quarterbacks can't make.
"There are probably only two or three quarterbacks in the NFL that can do the things that Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Brett Favre can do. They make the throws that no one else can make and that's what separates them from the rest."
Speaking of Manning, Cromartie intercepted him four times in two games this season. Now he has his sights set on tracking Brady's offerings as the Chargers go for their second upset in two weeks.
It's an underdog role the Chargers have embraced.
"I like it," Cromartie said. "It means our backs are against the wall and no one is counting on us to win. It's been that way since Week Two to tell you the truth. I love it. It gives us a chance with the momentum of knowing we are underdogs just to show everybody in the world what we can do."
--All-Pro TE Antonio Gates will likely be rested until Friday to allow his ailing toe to calm down after pushing it on Sunday. He likely will be a game-time decision.
--QB Philip Rivers might practice on Friday, but it's possible he won't take a single workout snap this week as he tries to recover from a sprained MCL in his knee. Billy Volek will run the first team this week, it appears, and possibly in the game as well.
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson's knee injury isn't as serious as QB Philip Rivers'. He didn't sprain a ligament but hyper-extended his left knee. Tomlinson's workload leading up to the game will be at a minimum.
--NT Jamal Williams has battled an ankle injury most of the season and he aggravated it pretty good in Sunday's win. Williams might not test it until Friday, although there is little doubt he will play Sunday.
--K Nate Kaeding's leg is improving and there is a chance he could handle the kickoffs this week. If so, the Dave Rayner could be moved off the active roster.