The Smarter Team Won This One

Ian Logue
October 24, 2010 at 11:19pm ET

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Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski not at the start of the team's OTA's today
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New Patriots DL Danny Shelton preps to hit the hill
Patriots center David Andrews excited with his new Georgia Bulldog teammates

Sunday's game against the Chargers was a wild one, with New England escaping Qualcomm Stadium with a 23-20 win to improve to 5-1 on the season.

For the majority of the contest, it really didn't seem like this one should have ever been in doubt.  The Patriots were far more physical, and they played much smarter in this one - which ultimately was the reason why they came out of San Diego with a victory.

Watching the Chargers from this side, you almost have to be glad you're not a fan of that team. They're clearly a frustrating group to watch, poorly coached, and just not fundamentally sound.  Coming into the game most Patriots fans had to wonder how a team that lead the league in all those categories could have even lost four games - let alone the two back-to-back losses they just had before today's game.   It didn't exactly make a lot of sense.

Some had blamed it on special teams, saying that they'd given up points in several critical situations and that was the difference in each of their four losses.  Some had said they just don't play well on the road and play better at home, and we should have been concerned because we were probably going to see the same Chargers team Sunday that blew out Arizona 41-10 at the beginning of this month.

Well, fortunately as a Patriots fan we didn't see that team - we saw a different one.

We saw a team that watched one of their own players make a reception and then put the ball on the ground before he was even touched.  A play like that just defies logic, and should have been enough to make Norv Turner's head explode.  If that wasn't enough, try the fact that they also threw a backward pass that was just left on the ground before New England linebacker Rob Ninkovich alertly picked it up and took it all the way down to their six yard line.

One would have to believe that Philip Rivers quietly wishes he could have played for Bill Belichick, and maybe his career would have turned out differently. (PHOTO:Icon/SMI)
Apparently unlike the Chargers, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has told his players to just keep playing until they're told not to, regardless of whether or not they think they heard a whistle.

"You've just got to play them out," said Belichick after the game when asked about that play.  "The whistle doesn't mean anything anymore.  If the ball's loose you've got to play it out.  So that's what we teach our guys to do - you play it out, ask questions later, and forget about the whistle."

Belichick hates stupid football, with Brady telling the media after the game that it's an area that he starts preaching about at the start of training camp - hence the reason why it's not unusual to see so many guys running laps.  It doesn't matter who you are - if you screw up, you're running. 

“From the time we walk in the door, [Belichick] talks about eliminating bad football," said Brady. "That’s stuff Foxborough High School can complete — wide open throws, snap count violations or dropping the ball when you haven’t been touched. The day we started training camp we run laps around the field for stupid plays like that.”

Turner must not have passed along that message to his own team, because his players just sat there and left the ball on the ground - and twice in one game for that matter.  Belichick's team picked it up and ran with it - and ended up coming away with a win.

The Chargers even had a chance to steal this one, kicking an onside kick and catching New England napping with time winding down in the fourth quarter.  On the play San Diego's Richard Goodman got there before a Patriots player could recover the football, barely recovering it past the 10-yards the ball was required to go.  That allowed San Diego to put another scoring drive together to pull within three points, as they desperately tried to complete what to that point had been a 17-point 4th quarter rally.

When you really think about it, San Diego snatched defeat from the hands of victory this afternoon.  They gave themselves a chance to win by rallying back after being down 20-3, and gave all the fans who were on hand hope in thinking they'd have a shot at righting the sinking ship that is Norv Turner.  

When you consider the way they've lost each of their other games, including today's, it has to be completely maddening. If I lived there and I were a fan - at this point the blackouts (with one narrowly being avoided this weekend thanks mostly to Patriots fans) would suit me just fine, at least then I wouldn't have to watch it. After all, they've already been forced to watch Turner single-handedly squander the best years of Philip Rivers, former runningback LaDainian Tomlinson (who's now a Jet and playing well), and Shawne Merriman's lives. If you really think about it, with Belichick coaching that team, do you think the number of Lombardi Trophies would at least be a number greater than zero? I'd have to believe otherwise.

The icing on the cake for Chargers fans had to be when they ended up beating themselves on what was clearly the most critical play of the game.  While lining up for a potential game-tying kick in regulation, they got called for a false start, pushing them back from a 45-yard attempt to a 50-yarder - as if the level of difficulty wasn't hard enough.  Kris Brown ended up pinging the kick off the right upright, ending any shot the Chargers had of sending this one into overtime.

Three losses in a row - that's what Chargers fans are dealing with now.  Consider yourselves lucky, because as far as I can remember that's never happened here in New England during the Belichick/Brady era.  We've never sat here after three weeks and wondered if/when they'd win another football game, and there's clearly a reason that's been the case.  The Patriots don't play stupid football.  They may have games where they don't play their best, but rarely do you see them not play smart.  Even with all the young guys on this roster, we've yet to see any of them commit any mental errors anywhere near to the level that we watched happen today.

Keep this in mind as the season continues should this team experience any bumps in the road.  After all, after watching today's game, Turner and the Chargers should have done more than enough to convince you that it could always be worse.