By: Bob George/BosSports.net
October 12, 2008

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SAN DIEGO -- Looks like the San Diego Chargers finally got sick and tired of being shown up by what they perceive to be an inferior team.

The 2006 home playoff loss, the 2007 bombardment at Gillette Stadium in Week 2 and the subsequent AFC title game loss the following January, all of that festers in the minds of the Bolts. With a wounded Patriot team hobbling into Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday night, you might have expected things to get ugly, and get ugly they did.

The Patriots failed to provide a catharsis for all area sports fans following a tough loss by the Red Sox at Tampa Bay on Saturday night. Philip Rivers torched the Patriot secondary with an aerial assault, Matt Cassel could do very little in dealing with a Charger defense which was without Shawne Merriman, and the Patriots took another stiff beating this year, losing 30-10 and falling to 3-2 on the season.

For all the shots they took, the game was competitive going into the second half and the Patriots had several chances to stay toe to toe with the Chargers, but came up short every time. The Patriot defense took several hits, mostly at the expense of Deltha O'Neal, but it was only 17-3 at the half with the Patriots driving to begin the second half.

The Patriots answered an opening touchdown drive by the Chargers with a decent drive of their own. But the drive stalled at the Charger 31 thanks in part to a nice touch pass from Cassel to Randy Moss on the right sideline which Quentin Jammer just barely got his fingertips on to knock the ball away. Stephen Gostkowski then proceeded to miss his first field goal of the season, pushing a 48-yard attempt wide left.

Trailing 10-0, the Patriots would dodge a bullet when Nate Kaeding himself pushed a 44-yard field goal attempt wide left, a doink shot off the left upright. It was 10-0 Bolts at the end of the first quarter, but the Patriots were still in it. After an exchange of punts, the Patriots got great field position at the San Diego 43. But all they could do was to gain 17 yards, and Gostkowski drilled a 47-yarder to make it 10-3.

After an exchange of punts, the Chargers put up a late touchdown before halftime, as Malcom Floyd hauled in his second scoring toss of the night. The Patriots responded with a curious drive. They had the ball at their own 24, third and 12, with 39 seconds left and San Diego out of timeouts. Instead of trying for a first down and running out the clock if it got to fourth down, Cassel instead took a knee. Josh McDaniels was seen yelling at Bill Belichick on their way into the locker room at intermission.

It was still only 17-3 Chargers when the Patriot offense went to work to begin the third quarter. Cassel took the Patriots from their own 22 to the Charger 1, featuring Sammy Morris on three pass catches for 42 yards and a 15-yard pass to Moss. But with first and goal at the one, Cassel laid his biggest egg since taking over for Brady. On first down, they ran play action but threw the ball away. Morris was stopped for no gain on second down, and then dropped a touchdown on third down. Facing fourth down at the one, Cassel again ran a play fake and had Ben Watson wide open in the end zone. Cassel didn't see him, ran the ball on a keeper, and was stopped at the two by Ryon Bingham and Brandon Siler.

Part of the problem here was that Jamal Williams was killing Dan Koppen in the middle, and perhaps nothing would have worked. But Watson was wide open on fourth down, and Cassel simply did not see him. Williams continually blew up the blocking on all four plays, and the Patriots were deflated as they came away empty.

Soon after, school was out. The Chargers answered with a touchdown, covering all 98 yards on four plays. On the first play following that touchdown, Cassel threw an interception to Jammer. That pretty much was that.

The Patriots usually defense LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates very carefully when they play the Chargers. On Sunday night, they failed to account for the wide receivers, who did most of the damage against the Patriots. On the game's first play, Vincent Jackson ran right by O'Neal for a 48-yard gain. On the second offensive possession, Floyd also ran by O'Neal and hauled in a 49-yard scoring pass. Floyd again burned O'Neal with a 17-yard catch as the Chargers were en route to the last touchdown of the first half.

Jackson finished with five catches for 134 yards, while Floyd had three catches for 75 yards. The Patriots held LT under 100 yards and Gates to only 35 receiving yards yet lost by 20. In both of their losses this season, the Patriots were gouged on defense, but while Miami did it on the ground, San Diego did it through the air. Rivers finished with 306 yards passing and three touchdowns while completing 18 of 27 passes. His passer rating was a stunning 141.9.

Cassel and the offense will be under scrutiny, but once again the defense is more suspect. Without Laurence Maroney and LaMont Jordan, both out due to injury, Kevin Faulk and Morris were not enough to force the Chargers to respect the run and back off pass coverage. Cassel had a hard time finding receivers all night long, and Jammer did generally a good job on Moss (three catches, 26 yards). Morris was so ineffective on the ground that Cassel outgained Morris.

The Patriots come home after two weeks on the west coast, and they get an extra day to prepare for a Denver team which they usually do poorly against. They'll need that extra day, as they haven't beaten Denver since 2003 and have beaten them only twice since 1980. Denver isn't the powerhouse it has sometimes been, but Mike Shanahan will certainly find something in the Patriots to deal with, especially given how well Norv Turner and Miami head coach Tony Sparano did.

The Patriots have their work cut out for them. Miami exposed their run defense, now San Diego carved up, sliced and diced O'Neal. Fortunately for the Patriots, eleven or twelve wins might get top seed in the AFC in 2008. There should be no cause for alarm, but instead a call to get busy and fix what's wrong, if that can be done.

Look at it this way. In both losses, you really cannot lay all the blame at the feet of Cassel.


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