October 02, 2005
Patriots Outmanned, Outclassed By Chargers
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- One has to wonder what would have happened if the Chargers had only played this well at home against the Jets in January.
Everyone knows what is great about the San Diego Chargers. The running back. The tight end. The city itself. The Patriots will now tell you that every Charger is that good. And based upon how Sunday’s game turned out, you would think that the Bolts were the ones with the impeccable championship pedigree.
All sorts of weird things happened on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, none of it good for the home towners. The Chargers came into town and basically kicked the tar out of the champs, coming away with a mind-numbing 41-17 win and ending all sorts of streaks. The Patriots suffered only the fourth loss in Gillette Stadium history, and their first since a December 2002 loss to the Jets in the penultimate regular season weekend. They also suffered their first home loss to the Chargers since a 16-14 loss on November 15, 1970 at Harvard Stadium when the team was known as the Boston Patriots. It was the first win by San Diego in the town of Foxborough.
This was a literal perfect game played by the Chargers. It wasn’t so much that the Patriots played badly, rife with mistakes and stupid football. The Patriots lost because the Chargers had more material than the champs, and never allowed the Patriots to have a chance to win the game, especially in the second half. The Chargers won both sides of the line of scrimmage, and did so fairly easily, which turned out to be the central key to victory for the visitors. What little the Patriots did well in the first half, the Chargers took it away in the third quarter.
Marty Schottenheimer is now 7-1 against the Patriots in his career. It is astounding to see how much success this coach has against the Patriots given how badly he chokes with good teams in the playoffs (to wit: last season’s home playoff loss to the Jets, two home playoff losses with the Chiefs when they had home field advantage for the playoffs). Bill Belichick has this guy by a mile in coaching smarts, but on this day Schottenheimer’s players simply had a ton more on the field.
One has to wonder if the Rodney Harrison injury was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Was this finally an injury which is too much for the Patriots to overcome? When you look at the stat sheet and see how well LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates did, you might begin to believe this postulation. Harrison could have had a hand in slowing both players down, yet with him shelved for the season, both men had superb games.
Tomlinson had his second straight great game against the Patriots, gaining 134 yards on 25 carries. Tomlinson, who butchered the Patriots for 217 yards and two touchdowns in the September 29th, 2002 meeting at San Diego, featured powerful cutback runs all game long, and was simply too much for the defensive front seven to handle. Very rarely do running backs get away with such power displays against the Patriots, who were in a 4-3 base defense presumably with the intent on loading up to stop him. Nothing much worked at all, and Tomlinson was able to cut through the Patriots like a knife through butter.
To praise Gates for his great day may turn out to be disrespectful towards Drew Brees. The Charger quarterback (Philip Rivers simply has to go) dazzled the Patriots with 19 of 24 passing for 248 yards, two touchdowns and a 137.5 passer rating. He found eight different receivers, was never sacked, and had time to throw on most every play. He carved up a Patriot secondary which was forced to go with Duane Starks and Asante Samuel as the starters. Playing largely a zone defense, Brees was able to find zone seams pretty much all game long.
Gates had six catches for 108 yards. His leaping ability helped him greatly, but the Patriots really had nobody who could effectively cover him. This is another area where Harrison was missed. Granted, Gates is an All-Pro, but the Patriots were completely unable to deal with him.
So, if the Patriot defense was powerless to stop the Bolts on offense, then what of the sudden disappearance of the Patriot offense in the second half?
It was 17-17 at the half. Tom Brady had a nice first half, hitting 14 of 23 for 203 yards and a touchdown. The high water mark was a nice diving 30-yard touchdown catch by former Charger Tim Dwight, which at the time gave the Patriots a 14-10 lead in the second quarter. But that pretty much would be it for the Patriots, as they would only muster a field goal in the second quarter, and only three first downs in the second half.
What surprised the Patriots was how intense the Charger defense was all game long. Against a depleted secondary which Brady should have been able to pick apart easily, Brady was under siege for much of the game. He was sacked once, by linebacker Ben Leber, but had numerous hurried throws and a slew of receivers who could not get open much at all in the second half.
Perhaps this is the most telling stat of the game: The leading Patriot receiver was a backup running back. Patrick Pass caught eight passes for 55 yards, but if this guy is your top receiver, you won’t win many games. Deion Branch had only one catch for six yards. Usually, if Branch is smothered, David Givens picks up the slack. But Givens only had six catches for 66 yards. Neither receiver was a factor in the whole game, though Givens did have a decent first half (all his catches and yards were in the first half).
Corey Dillon had a slightly better day, rushing for 63 yards but a 4.5 average per carry. This figure is skewed thanks to a first quarter carry which went for 29 yards. But Dillon did get some nice squirts in here and there. As the Patriots fell further behind, they really couldn’t use Dillon like they would normally like to.
The bottom line is that the Chargers stopped the Patriots cold in the second half. Intense defensive pressure from linebacker Donnie Edwards and lineman Jamal Williams forced Brady into lots of hurried throws. The defensive game plan for the defensive backs was simply brilliant.
Never mind Harrison for a second. There will be some folks who will wonder if Charlie Weis would have figured out a way to solve the secondary. Or, would Romeo Crennel have figured out how to stop Tomlinson. Many folks will debunk the coordinator thing, and on this day, they’re probably right.
Against Carolina, the Patriots pretty much beat themselves. On Sunday, the Chargers took it to the Patriots and clobbered them. Given how tough the first six games are for the Patriots, this cannot be unexpected.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt for all of you to sit back and reflect once more on the wonderful things that have happened here over the years, and once again, to never take the good stuff for granted.
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