Boston Press Says Something Nice
Difference is in the details: Little things help Pats come up big
By John Tomase
Boston Herald Sports Writer
It’s tempting to chalk up Sunday’ 24-21 victory over the Chargers to the Patriots [team stats]’ mystique, but that would be selling them short.
The Pats prevailed by making a host of plays that may not appear on a stat sheet, but were instrumental first in keeping the game close, and then in leading a comeback over the final five minutes.
Some were obvious, like Troy Brown alertly tearing an interception out of the hands of Marlon McCree to extend the game-tying drive. But many others were far less so, like Mike Vrabel making a shoestring tackle of LaDainian Tomlinson on a well-designed screen or Tully Banta-Cain selling the rush before dropping into coverage on a zone blitz, opening a lane for Artrell Hawkins to sack Philip Rivers.
“It’s a kind of positive peer pressure - let me make a play,” said corner Ellis Hobbs , who broke up four passes. “We push each other. You see Tom (Brady) and the guys making plays, you want to make them too.”
Here’s a look at some of the more subtle ways the Patriots were able to knock off the Chargers, who really had no business losing strictly from a talent standpoint.
The Patriots tackled surely all afternoon. It started on the Chargers’ first drive, when Hobbs smacked Eric Parker on what would have been a first down in Patriots territory, clubbing the ball out with his left hand and wrapping up with his right to turn a completion into an incompletion.
On the very next play, all-world tight end Antonio Gates caught a short third-and-7 pass underneath. Chad Scott was the only defender within 7 yards of Gates, who is considered one of the toughest open-field matchups in the league.
Scott didn’t blink, aggressively diving at Gates’ ankles and dropping him after just 3 yards. Had Scott missed the tackle, Gates had room to run. Instead, the Chargers punted.
Another strong effort came from Hawkins on the final play of the first quarter when Tomlinson burst through a hole on the left side. Despite giving up seven inches and 50 pounds to blocking wide receiver Vincent Jackson, Hawkins disengaged just long enough to get an arm on Tomlinson and slow him so he could be tackled after a 14-yard gain that had the potential to go 50.
The ball hit the ground five times Sunday and the Patriots recovered each one - twice on miscues of their own and more importantly all three times the Chargers fumbled.
One of the biggest came late in the third quarter when Parker botched a punt at his feet. Before he could scoop the ball, Patriots special teamer Antwain Spann blasted him between the shoulder blades.
Rookie tight end David Thomas eventually emerged with the ball. What made the recovery so impressive was that Thomas was nowhere near the ball when it disappeared into the scrum. He made a late leap after referees had already begun pulling bodies out and somehow wormed his way through the humanity to paydirt.
One of the unsung stars of the game was left tackle Matt Light, who has been a target of speed rushers all year.
Light simply dominated All-Pro Shawne Merriman, often locking him up and shutting him down 1-on-1. There is no shortage of examples to choose from, ....
Simultaneously, it should be noted, right tackle Nick Kaczur neutralized linebacker Shaun Phillips on the other side.
Speaking of the two-minute offense, the contrast between the Pats and Chargers was hard to miss. Brady drove the Patriots 72 yards in 11 plays over 1:52 for the Gaffney TD.
The Chargers, conversely, got the ball with 1:05 left and no timeouts and only had time to run three plays before Nate Kaeding missed a 54-yard field goal in the closing seconds. Following a 4-yard completion to Gates, Rivers wasted 16 seconds before spiking the clock to a stop.
These are just a few examples of the little things that lifted the Patriots on Sunday. ....
- edited excerpts
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