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Monday, October 25, 2010

Chargers can't get out of their own way, hand game to the Patriots

You'll never see a more bizarre display of NFL football than the Patriots-Chargers game yesterday afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

The Chargers (2-5) gave up four turnovers in the first half: an interception, a fumble and then two crazy plays that are more likely to be seen on a Pee Wee field.

Still, the Patriots (5-1) played well when they had to (namely on a 79-yard touchdown drive to start the second half) and most importantly, the defense continues to improve by leaps and bounds from earlier in the season. No doubt about it, this was a game that the 2009 Patriots would have found a way to lose.

Sure it took a missed 50-yard field goal by Kris Brown with 22 seconds left (after a 5-yard false start penalty by San Diego) to escape with a 23-20 win but this looked like the type of unlikely victory that the Patriots were famous for during their Super Bowl days. They outcoached (for the most part) and their players didn't make the myriad mental mistakes that the Chargers did.

Brown gave San Diego a 3-0 lead in first quarter on a 32-yard field goal. From there, it was one fatal mistake after another for the home team. With Malcolm Floyd and Legedu Naanee out with injuries and Antonio Gates hobbled with turf toe, the Chargers were forced to give playing time to scrubs and it cost them.

Kris Wilson fumbled (recovered by Jerod Mayo), giving the Pats a short field which they took advantage of when Tom Brady (159 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) hit rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski with 1-yard touchdown pass. It was 7-3 New England after one quarter.

In the second quarter, Chargers rookie wide receiver Richard Goodman made his first NFL catch then put the ball on the field without being touched. Patriots safety James Sanders alertly fell on it. Later, Philip Rivers (336 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) threw a deep pass which was picked off by rookie cornerback Devin McCourty. There was also a backward pass from Rivers to Jacob Hester that the fullback missed and then walked away from. Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich picked it up and raced down to the San Diego 8-yard line.

Even with those two gifts, New England was only able to add six points on a 40-yard kick by Stephen Gostkowski and a 35-yard field goal by Gostkowski, who has regained his touch after early season struggles. The Pats offense only had 38 yards in the first half and they were 0 for 6 on third down.

The Patriots seemingly put the game away with a drive which covered 79-yards in 8:25 to start the third quarter. BenJarvus Green-Ellis dove in from a yard out to give New England a 20-3 lead over lifeless San Diego.

Things went haywire in the fourth quarter as Brown started the rally with a 28-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter. Gostkowski answered with another 35-yard kick which proved to the final points for the Patriots.

Gates (50 yards receiving) woke up in the fourth quarter and caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Rivers. After recovering an onside kick, Mike Tolbert plunged in from 1-yard out to make it 23-20 New England.

On the next drive, Bill Belichick opted to go for it on fourth and 1 at midfield but Green-Ellis was dropped for a one-yard loss. Images of the soul-crushing defeat to the Colts last season were front and center as it looked like San Diego might get the comeback triumph that turns around their season.

Well almost. They got in field goal range but the 45-yard field goal turned into 50 yards and that was enough to make Brown squeeze it to the right.

Aaron Hernandez (5 catches, 54 yards) was the only Patriots receiver to have a decent day while Patrick Crayton (7 catches, 82 yards) and Darren Sproles (9 catches, 70 yards) took advantage of way more touches than they're used to.

Mayo (11 tackles, 10 solo) had his third straight game with double-digit tackles as he continues to show the beast mode he had his rookie season two years ago. McCourty is also looking like a very solid first round pick and just maybe, the Pats have the No. 1 corner they've been sorely lacking since they didn't pay Asante Samuel.

Brett Favre & Randy Moss limp into Gillette Stadium on Halloween as the Vikings (2-4) can't afford another loss this early into the season. They choked in Lambeau Field last night and it should be nothing short of a circus atmosphere with Moss' return and all the drama surrounding the ol' gunslinger.

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