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October 24, 2010
Patriots Remain Upright With Narrow Victory
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net

SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers' last mistake finally felled them, but it seemed that the Patriots preferred a heart attack game to a blowout.

It all came down to a last second field goal attempt by Kris Brown from 50 yards out. Brown, late of Houston and Pittsburgh, had plenty of distance on the kick which would have sent the game to overtime. But the ball clanked off the right upright, and the Patriots were able to run off the final 22 seconds and claim a 23-20 win at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday.

Brown's kick should have come from 45 yards out. But a false start on left guard Louis Vasquez pushed the kick back five yards, and Brown, who had a checkered career at Heinz Field before being kicked out of the Steel City, barely missed the 50-yarder. The Patriots were able to hold off the Chargers, who made a raft of mistakes all game long yet stuck around thanks to their defense. Vasquez's false start was merely the final goof in a goofy game for the Bolts.

The game should have been over at halftime. The Chargers suffered turnovers on four consecutive first half possessions. But the Patriots totally whiffed at these gifts, going three and out on three of the drives and scoring only ten points off the turnovers. The one touchdown they scored was on only a 27-yard drive. The field goal they got was off a drive which went minus-14 yards in three plays, thanks to two sacks of Tom Brady.

The fact that it was only 13-3 Patriots at the half was a miracle for the Chargers. The reason that it was still a ball game was defensive coordinator Ron Rivera's defense, who played like they still have Shawne Merriman. Thanks to a fierce pass rush and tight secondary coverage, Brady never got into a rhythm until the first drive of the second half, and that was really the only time the Patriots really succeeded in moving the ball.

Brady was sacked four times for minus-31 yards. Antwan Barnes led the way with two of those sacks, and looked like Jason Taylor all afternoon long. Shaun Phillips and Antonio Garay had the other two. The team speed of the Charger defense seemed like vintage 2006, but it seemed that back then the Patriots were better able to handle that speed. Brady was hurried and hit all game long, and it prevented him from getting into a good groove with his receivers.

The Patriot running game provided little help. Other than some nice runs by Danny Woodhead in the third quarter, the running game was also slowed to a halt. BenJarvus Green-Ellis gained only 24 yards on 11 carries, Woodhead was held to 24 yards on eight carries. The Patriots were unable to get much of a push off the line of scrimmage. In short, the Chargers brought the same defensive intensity that the Patriots brought last weekend to the Ravens back home in Foxborough.

But the mistakes San Diego made during the game made them look like a Pop Warner team.

Kion Wilson fumbled after making a catch on San Diego's third offensive possession. This was simply a ball which juggled loose and Jerod Mayo was able to pounce on the pig at the Charger 27, and the Patriots were able to convert this into a touchdown when Brady threw a high ball to Rob Gronkowski in the back of the end zone from one yard out. Wilson's fumble was still on the receiver rather than the result of a big stick, but the next two turnovers were simply dumbfounding.

After the Patriot touchdown, San Diego got the ball back at their own 20. On the second play of the second quarter, Philip Rivers hit Richard Goodman for 25 yards to the Patriot 41. Goodman fell down and simply let the ball fall to the ground, thinking the play was over. But Goodman was never touched, and James Sanders scooped up the ball and tried to make a return. Sanders was judged down by contact, but Goodman was not. It is a play you almost never see at the NFL level.

The Patriot response? Two Brady throw-aways and a three-and-out, with a delay of game thrown in.

Next drive. The Chargers begin at their own 19 and drive to the Patriot 32 fairly easily. Then Rivers attempts a pass in the right flat to Jacob Hester which travels at a very slight backwards angle. Hester drops the ball and the ball just sits there, no official blows his whistle. Patriot assistant coach Pepper Johnson screams at Rob Ninkovich to pick up the ball and run, and Ninkovich runs with the ball all the way to the San Diego eight-yard line. Referee Gene Steratore looks at the pass under the hood, and either rules backward pass or not enough conclusive evidence to overturn the call. The play stands, and San Diego looks clumsy once again.

The Patriot response? Phillips and Barnes sack Brady for sixteen combined yards. Stephen Gostkowski kicks a 40-yard field goal after first and goal at the eight. The drive lasts three plays for minus-14 yards.

Next drive. On the third play, Rivers tries to go long down the right sideline to Patrick Crayton. Devin McCourty makes his first career NFL interception, a spectacular leaping grab at the Patriot 42. It was great coverage and a great catch.

The Patriot response? Three-and-out. Aaron Hernandez has an eight-yard pass for a first down wiped out because he was caught pushing off, and the drive is killed.

The Patriots redeemed themselves with one of their best drives of the season to begin the third quarter, going 79 yards in 17 plays, chewing up the first 8:35 of the second half. Green-Ellis finished it off with a one-yard run for the touchdown. Brady hit on six of seven passes and were helped by a personal foul on Garay. They were even able to overcome a holding call on Sebastian Vollmer and a Garay sack of Brady.

In the fourth quarter the Patriots held a 23-6 lead. But the Patriots then went into their fourth quarter funk and nearly blew the lead. The defense went into soft zone prevent nothing coverage, and Rivers was able to put up two touchdowns in 1:26. In between was a nifty onside kick which was recovered by Goodman, a play the Patriots almost never louse up.

The Patriots had a chance to put the game away with 2:00 left in the game, and had fourth and one at midfield. But the Patriots called for an off-tackle run to Green-Ellis instead of the almost fail-safe Brady sneak. Green-Ellis was stuffed by Antwan Applewhite for a one-yard loss. The Chargers were only able to drive to the Patriot 27, and Brown had to try his 50-yard doink shot with 22 seconds left.

The Patriots were lucky to get out of this game with a win. Next week they get Randy Moss wearing a purple and white Halloween costume. Brett Favre will perhaps make a mistake or two, and the Patriots had better capitalize on his mistakes better than they did on Sunday against the Chargers.

But they won. And they also knew when they were down and the play was over.


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