The title above is not a misprint. I would love to write, “Patriots defeat Chargers 23-20,” but they really didn’t do much to win this game. The Chargers did a good job shooting themselves in the foot and virtually handing the game to the Patriots. The Chargers’ last play of the game was a mirror image of their play for the previous three quarters. They were set up for a 45-yard game-tying field goal when a false start penalty pushed them back 5 yards, which ended up being 5 yards too many and Kris Brown could not make the kick. Stupid mistakes at critical times highlighted the Chargers play, and the Patriots could never really capitalize and put the game away, which they could have done in the first half.
After jumping ahead 3-0 in the first quarter, the Chargers started making mistakes that have highlighted their season. Philip Rivers passed to TE Kris Wilson for 11 yards when he coughed up the ball, which was recovered by Jerod Mayo. That lead to New England’s first TD of the game, a 1-yard pass to TE Rob Gronkowski. On the subsequent series, Rivers passed 25 yards to WR Rob Goodman, who fell down after catching the ball and placed the ball down. However, he was never touched and there was no whistle, so James Sanders picked up the ball and it was in New England’s possession. The Pats could not turn the mistake into point and punted the ball back to the Chargers.
On the Chargers’ next series, Rivers threw a backward pass to FB Jacob Hester, who did not make the catch. Unknown apparently to Hester was that an incomplete backward pass is a live ball, and Rob Ninkovich picked up the ball and ran 63 yards before being tackled by Philip Rivers. That turnover led to a New England field goal. Three turnovers in three series and the Chargers were only down 10-3. On the next series, Rivers was intercepted by rookie Devin McCourty, but New England could not turn it into points. The Patriots would tack on 3 more points before the end of the half, thanks in part to a pass interference call on San Diego on a 3rd-and-8 that extended the Pats’ drive.
At the start of the second half, New England marched down the field and BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran the ball for a 1-yard TD, extending New England’s lead 20-3. The Chargers would answer with a field goal, which New England would in turn answer with a field goal of their own. With the score 23-6, the Chargers came roaring back. The Patriots looked like they softened their coverage, and Rivers picked it apart. The Chargers scored a TD, and then recovered an onside kick before scoring another touchdown, making the game a close 23-20 contest.
On New England’s next series, they attempted to go for it on 4th-and-1 and Green-Ellis was stuffed for a 1-yard loss with just under two minutes to go. The Chargers got to within field goal range, but as previously mentioned, a penalty set them back and Brown missed the attempt. The Patriots did little to win this game. They totaled 179 total net yards on offense, with 159 passing yards and 51 rushing yards. They averaged only 2.3 yards per carry and 8.4 yards per pass. Brady completed only 59% of his passes. The keys were that the Pats’ defense made stops at critical times, despite softening up in the second half, and they didn’t make any critical mistakes. The Pats didn’t have a single turnover in the game and that was enough to allow them to sneak out of San Diego with a victory.
Next week, Brett Favre comes to town and Randy Moss makes his return to Gillette Stadium. It should be an interesting week!