logoby Scott Benson

Well, here we are again.

A journey that began approximately 12 months ago with the shocking finality of a game ending Tom Brady interception and the first AFC Championship Game loss in team history has brought the New England Patriots right back to the place where they left off last year – sixty minutes from the Super Bowl.

The wound suffered that day was so deep that the team hasn’t dared lose a game since. Can they take the final step today?

Let’s see what the papers think.

In the Globe, Jim McCabe says the business-like Pats and the heart-on-their-sleeve Chargers are polar opposites. Christopher Gasper says for the Patriots, their experience eases the pressure of the Big Moment. McCabe has the San Diego morning notebook, where the Chargers claim no hard feelings for sack dance copyright violation. In the New England camp, Gasper notebooks some thoughts from understudy Matt Cassel, as he and his fellow Pats prepare for a possible Billy Volek appearance today. Jim McBride likes the Pats to be air traffic controllers in his weekly scouting reports.

The Pats safeties get a closer look from Michael Vega, who profiles the studious James Sanders, and Gasper again, who notes that this time, Rodney Harrison is healthy for the AFCCG.

I admit to a sinking feeling when I saw a Jackie MacMullan column on Randy Moss this morning, but after further review, it could have been worse. The thing even ends up being functional; it lists every brush with the law that Moss has ever had, so if you’re keeping track, you could stick this to your refrigerator or something.

As you know, it is the longstanding policy of this space never to link a Dan Shaughnessy “column”. So you won’t be getting one for today’s “effort”, which candidly, I didn’t read. All I needed to see was the little slug that runs underneath the link on the Globe’s sports webpage. “They are the San Diego Chargers and they have no chance to win today.”

Sigh. Despite several decades as a lead columnist for one of the country’s preeminent sports sections, Dan evidently still does not understand team sports. Hey Curly, if it’s so easy, why don’t YOU get out there and do it? Not that I don’t notice that you’ve set yourself up nicely for a Bill Buckner reference tomorrow if the “no chance” Chargers beat the Pats a week after taking care of your Colts. Because that’s exactly the kind of “writer” you are.

To cleanse our palate, let’s visit with a true sportsman, Mike Reiss, who looks at Tom Dimitroff, who became the Atlanta Falcons GM this week. By the way, Mike killed it with his blog this week. He was hitting line drives all over the ballpark, day in, day out.

Another top blogger, John Tomase, got taken out of the game this week while dad attended to an under-the-weather child, so we hope things are back on track in the Tomase household this morning. JT leads the Herald coverage with a look at Randy Moss in the playoffs. Steve Buckley says the Chargers will face some cold, hard football facts (hmmmm….) in chilly Foxborough today. AP says expect low 20’s.

Karen Guregian has the notebook, where the Pats prepare for anything from the Chargers quarterbacks today. Tomase has his weekly five things to watch, leading with the pass rush of Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips. Visiting columnist Nick Canepa is in the corner, curled in the fetal position, sucking his thumb and mumbling something about the Patriots being “vulnerable.”

At the ProJo, Shalise Manza Young says Tom Brady’s no wide-eyed kid anymore, as he prepares for the fifth championship game of his eight year career, while his defensive teammates contemplate Philip Rivers and Volek. All things considered, SMY is leaning Pats with her analysis. Jim Donaldson is in playoff form with two more columns today – a  visit with Rhode Island native (and Chargers GM) A.J. Smith, and in case nobody had already stated the obvious, JD opines that it would be a shame if the perfect Pats lost now.

Elsewhere, the Courant’s David Heuschkel asks which Chargers are standing in the way of the Pats. Douglas Flynn of the MetroWest Daily News details the extreme makeovers of both teams since their last playoff meeting.

From earlier this weekend, Eric McHugh of the Quincy Patriot Ledger recalls another chilly championship game for San Diego, and looks at Randy Moss’s 0-2 record in conference title games. Christopher Price of the Metro has Junior Seau’s old team as the last hurdle to the Super Bowl, and ponders the always intriguing Laurence Maroney.

Speaking of price, you can’t put one on this decade, at least for Patriots fans. And yet another chapter in the story of this most improbable of football dynasties will be written today. Enjoy. In case you missed it yesterday, here’s a Patriots Buffet Table to enhance your championship day experience.