LAST WEEK’S GAME: San Diego (3-1) is coming off of a last second defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, who shocked Doug Flutie and the Chargers last Sunday in Cleveland. The Chargers lead 16-13 late in the fourth quarter, but Browns quarterback Tim Couch marched his team 50-yards on 8 plays and hit Kevin Johnson on a 19-yard touchdown strike with 1:15 left in the game to lift them to a 20-16 win. Flutie was held to 149-yards passing (17-of-37), and runningback LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 102 yards including a 54-yarder on 19 carries and one TD.
DEFENSE: San Diego has a very good defense anchored by 12-year veteran Junior Seau (forced a fumble last Sunday) who is the leader of the Chargers defense. They also have a very good safety in Rodney Harrison (lead the team last week with 10 tackles, 8 solo, 2 assisted), and Marcellus Wiley (2nd on the team last week with 8 tackles, 7 solo, 1 assisted and 1 sack) who provides them with a solid player up front. San Diego sacked Couch 4 times last Sunday and also forced 2 fumbles.
OFFENSE: The addition of Doug Flutie gave the Chargers a legitimate quarterback to run former Redskins coach and now San Diego offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s offensive system. 1st round draft choice and runningback LaDainian Tomlinson (103 carries for 412-yards [4.0 avg] and 6-touchdowns this season) who Pats Head coach Bill Belichick has compared to Jets runningback Curtis Martin, has made an immediate impact (19 attempts for 102 yards [5.4 average] and a TD last week) and has given San Diego a much needed ground game. The have decent receivers in Jeff Graham (5-catches, 49-yards last week), Curtis Conway (14 catches for 190-yards and two touchdowns this season), and Tim Dwight (3rd on the team in receiving with 6-catches for 134-yards).
SPOTLIGHT: NEW ENGLAND
LAST WEEK’S GAME: New England (1-3) is coming off of a difficult 30-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins last weekend. The Patriots took an early 7-0 lead but were held scoreless by the Dolphins defense for the final 36-minutes of play. Quarterback Tom Brady (12-of-24 for 86-yards vs. Miami) had a rough afternoon facing constant pressure and being sacked four times. Miami runningback Lamar Smith (29-carries for 144-yards rushing and a TD) had a big afternoon and the Patriots weren’t able to do much to stop him. New England meanwhile had some success running the football early in the game with runningback Antowain Smith (14 carries for 47-yards and a TD Sunday) but were forced to abandon the run after they found themselves down 27-10 early in the third quarter. Brady and the offense were then forced to try and throw the football against a solid Miami defense who didn’t allow the Patriots receivers any room to get open, and eventually time ran out on New England.
DEFENSE: Team’s have been having success running up the middle on the Patriots who still don’t have a legitimate nose tackle after losing Chad Eaton to free agency. 1st round draft choice and defensive lineman Richard Seymour (third on the team last week in tackles with 7 total, 4 solo and 3 assisted) is making progress along with veteran Brandon Mitchell (fourth last week with 5 total, 4 solo and 1 assist) who has also played hard so far this season. Lawyer Milloy (1st in tackles last week with 9 total tackles, 7 solo and 2 assisted) continues his hard-hitting style of play and remains a leader on the team along with linebacker Bryan Cox (3 tackles last Sunday) who is a welcome addition to the team after signing during the offseason. The secondary also includes veteran corners Ty Law and Terrell Buckley who have played well thus far this season.
OFFENSE: Quarterback Tom Brady (30-of-57 for 300-yards this season) had yet to throw a touchdown pass, but he can’t take all the blame for New England’s struggles on offense. Brady is averaging a mere 5.3 yards-per-attempt and the Patriots have yet to try and stretch defenses by throwing the ball down the field. Should wide receiver Terry Glenn return to the line-up, it may create more opportunities for David Patten (2nd in receiving with 10-catches for 127-yards) who appears to be the team’s possible deep threat. Troy Brown (1st on the team in receiving with 20-receptions for 256-yards and a touchdown) has been the team’s go-to guy, but he’s going to need some help from the other receivers on the team who have yet to step up. Runningback Antowain Smith (57-carries for 194-yards [3.4 avg] and 3 touchdowns this season) has emerged as the team’s starting runningback, with Kevin Faulk (16-carries for 77-yards [4.8 avg] and a TD this season) has also given them a boost as the third-down back.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Both teams are coming off of difficult losses and emotions will be running high for both sides. Flutie is a Massachusetts native and will likely get a good reception when he returns to Foxboro Stadium and has always played well in this venue. The Patriots meanwhile are returning home after coming off of a tough loss and will likely be playing like they have something to prove. The Chargers have never won in Foxboro, but with Flutie at the helm will likely play better than they have in prior attempts.
The Patriots defense was unable to stop Miami running back Lamar Smith last weekend and will most likely have difficulty containing Tomlinson as well. If that ends up being the case it may open up opportunities for Doug Flutie to be able to make plays against a New England defense that is coming off of a frustrating defeat. The real keys to the game will be for the Patriots offense to run the ball and control the clock and keep the ball out of Flutie’s hands to try to give their defense a rest. They’ll also need Tom Brady to play mistake-free football and to not commit any turnovers. Miami held the ball for almost twice the amount of minutes as the Patriots last Sunday and the defense spent much of the afternoon on the football field. That’s something that can’t happen this weekend.