Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will try to complete an unbeaten season Feb. 3 against the New York Giants in the Super Bowl at Glendale, Ariz.
"We'll try to elevate our game for one last performance," said Brady, the dimple-chinned, record-setting quarterback with the model girlfriend.
New England (18-0) will attempt to match the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only teams to complete an undefeated season. Standing in the Patriots' way are the road-warrior Giants (13-6) and Eli Manning - Peyton's little brother, whose moxie and leadership abilities no longer can be questioned.
"We haven't been given a shot," Manning said of his Giants, who have won 10 straight on the road. "But we're here, and I think we're deserving of it."
Las Vegas oddsmakers might think differently. They installed New England as a 13½-point favorite in the big game, in which New York will get another shot at destroying the Patriots' perfect season.
New England won 38-35 in Week 17, rallying from a 12-point second-half deficit.
"That got us going, momentum," Manning said.
At least neither team will have to worry about a frigid forecast in Arizona. On Sunday, New England beat San Diego 21-12 in 23-degree temperatures in the AFC championship at Foxborough, Mass., while New York edged Green Bay 23-20 in overtime in sub-zero conditions in the NFC title game at Lambeau Field.
Patriots Take Penultimate Step Toward Perfection
"Now we can look ahead."
Bill Belichick, a coach of few words, said it all with that sentence after his New England Patriots claimed the AFC championship trophy.
Looking ahead means only one thing: A trip to the Super Bowl, and a chance to give their perfect record a whole new meaning.
Despite a shaky Tom Brady, the Patriots were still too much for the banged-up San Diego Chargers, pulling out a victory Sunday that sent them back to the NFL title game for the fourth time in seven seasons.
"There was history on the line," Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "We recognize it, we acknowledge it."
Brady made several stunningly poor throws that fluttered in the wind, Randy Moss was a non-factor for the second straight game and the highest-scoring team in NFL history sputtered all afternoon. Instead, the Patriots relied on Laurence Maroney's spins, cuts and helmet-rattling runs.
With injured Chargers star LaDainian Tomlinson reduced to mostly watching in a parka, the Patriots took care of the nuts and Bolts on a most chilly day. The sellout crowd at Gillette Stadium chanted "Super Bowl! Super Bowl!" in the closing minutes, anticipating the Pats' first appearance in the big game since the 2004 season.
Belichick's team eclipsed the 17-0 mark of the champion 1972 Miami Dolphins, and he'll soon try for his fourth NFL title.
"I think there will be a time to sit back and reflect," Belichick said. "We'll certainly enjoy this for a few days."
A model of success in the late season, the Chargers (13-6) fell short minus Tomlinson. He was hurt last week in the playoff upset of the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, and was mostly a spectator as San Diego's eight-game winning streak ended.
Tomlinson carried on the first two San Diego plays, and did not run it again because of a bad knee. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers hung in despite a torn ligament in his knee and star tight end Antonio Gates did his best with a dislocated toe.
"From getting it reinjured the first play, I just knew I didn't have it," Tomlinson said. "I'm kind of at a loss for words."
San Diego coach Norv Turner needed to improvise without Tomlinson, a two-time rushing champ. Even so, the Chargers never could get into the end zone, and that cost them dearly.
"He really couldn't get started," Turner said. "He went and tried to go and just didn't have the power to push off."
Routed 38-14 at New England in September, the Chargers gave a better performance. They trailed just 14-12 midway in the third quarter this time, but Brady's 6-yard TD pass to Wes Welker early in the fourth period was enough for New England.
Nate Kaeding's fourth field goal, a 24-yarder midway through the third period, pulled San Diego to 14-12. Too bad for the Chargers, that was the story of their afternoon - they'd drive close, only to wind up settling for four kicks.
Road-Warrior Giants Boot Packers In Overtime Thriller
Eli Manning has arrived, and just in time to take his New York Giants on an improbable trip to the Super Bowl.
A suddenly matured Manning guided the Giants to their 10th straight road win Sunday, a frostbitten overtime victory over Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers.
Manning wasn't the only Giant who came through. Lawrence Tynes kicked the winning 47-yard field goal after two earlier misses. He missed a 36-yarder at the end of regulation following a bad snap, and also was wide left on a 43-yarder with 6:49 to go.
But he got a reprieve in overtime after Corey Webster intercepted a struggling Favre. He nailed his kick, then sprinted directly to the locker room while the rest of his frozen teammates celebrated on the field.
"I screwed it up twice," Tynes said. "Thank God we got another opportunity."
The Giants grabbed their first NFC championship in seven years, capping a monthlong surge that reversed a trend of mediocrity built around Manning's inconsistency. He has been a revelation in the playoffs, however, and his calm leadership keyed New York's turnaround.
Manning shook off below-zero temperatures and a wind chill that would make a Siberian husky shiver. He repeatedly put the Giants in position to win in the third-coldest championship game ever - and certainly the most frigid of his young career.
And then he saw Tynes make his first game-winning field goal of the season in the first OT title game in nine years.
As for Favre, his emotions were clear.
"I was disappointed that the last pass I threw was intercepted."
Just a month ago, Eli's moxie was being questioned as the Giants struggled to clinch a wild-card berth. He responded with the best work of his four-year career, including four touchdown passes in the season finale against the Patriots.
"We just came out here and played our hearts out," said Plaxico Burress, who had a career-high 11 catches for 154 yards Sunday.
The Giants have won at Tampa and Dallas since, and now at Lambeau Field, where they shut down Brett Favre nearly all game.
Favre, seeking a return to the Super Bowl after a decade's absence, struggled in the minus-3 degree temperature and wind-chills that reached minus-24. He wound up 19-for-35 for 236 yards and two interceptions. The second, by Corey Webster in overtime, set up Tynes' winner.