Dec 7, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) runs after the catch as San Diego Chargers free safety Eric Weddle (32) defends during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
The New England Patriots spent the week in Southern California supposedly getting ready to play a football game against the San Diego Chargers. Instead, they looked like they had spent the week on the beach. The first half was an abysmal performance by the Patriots as they were sloppy and playing without energy and passion. Fortunately, they were down just one point at halftime. A strong defensive effort led to a 23-14 win as the offense overcame mistakes and flat play early in the second half. Paced by linebacker Jamie Collins and cornerback Darrelle Revis, the Patriots rode their strong defense to a statement-making road victory on the heels of a tough defeat in Green Bay last week.
The second half was no better at the start as the Patriots went three-and-out as running back LeGarrette Blount was unable to convert on third-and-one. After a Chargers three-and-out the Patriots offense went three-and-out again after getting great field position near mid-field. Just like last week against the Chargers, the Patriots stumbled through their first drives of the game and the second half. Two straight slow starts to start the game and half is not good enough for a team expected to compete for the Super Bowl.
The Chargers returned the favor again as the third quarter opened with four consecutive three-and-outs. The Chargers had a third-and-two inside their own twenty when a breakdown on the blocking call led to New England outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich given a free run unblocked to sack San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers and force yet another punt.
The three-and-outs continued as again the Patriots futility–despite great field position–saw them shooting themselves in the foot. A false start by guard Dan Connolly backed them up and a terribly executed screen saw Gronkowski lose six yards. On third-and-fourteen the Patriots had a chance to convert but Brady could not connect with wide receiver Brandon LaFell.
Dec 7, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers wide receiver Malcom Floyd (80) catches a touchdown pass as New England Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner (39) defends during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
The Chargers apparently turned the ball over as a crushing hit by cornerback Brandon Browner on tight end Ladarius Green saw the ball pop in the air right to safety Devin McCourty who seemingly returned it for a touchdown and a New England lead. However, the officials threw a flag for a helmet-to-helmet hit and gave the Chargers the ball back, negating the interception, and give the Chargers the ball near midfield. This was a huge call for the home team as it appeared Browner hit with his shoulder to the shoulder and chest of Green.
Regardless, it was seven points off the board and then the Chargers finally got the ball to Eddie Royal for the first time all game for a huge first down conversion after the Patriots defensive touchdown came back. However, the defense held as outside linebacker Akeem Ayers dropped in coverage and picked off Rivers. For the fourth straight time the Patriots could not get a first down and punted the ball right back to San Diego.
Despite the Chargers getting their third first down of the second half on a 28-yard completion to Malcom Floyd over Browner, the Patriots defense continued to keep them in the game as safety McCourty drew coverage on Gates on third down and knocked the ball away to force another punt. Two passes to Gronkowski finally see the Patriots convert a first down on their last drive of the third quarter.
Nov 30, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) during warmups prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 26-21. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
New England opened the fourth quarter using short passes to wide receiver Julian Edelman to march down to the San Diego 20 yard line. On third-and-three again the Patriots stalled as Brady made a poor back shoulder pass to LaFell and they had to settle for a 38 -yard field goal, the third field goal of the game for Stephen Gostkowski, as they finally took the lead again 16-14.
In need of a stop, the Patriots defense rose to the occasion again as Rivers got impatient and tried to go deep to Royal on third down when he had Gates open underneath and instead missed Royal by about ten yards as the ball fell incomplete. Now with a two-point lead, the Patriots offense got the ball back with the chance to turn momentum and get a two-score lead if Brady could put his inconsistent play behind him and move the ball into the end zone.
New England did just that as a play-action fake and Julian Edelman got free on a crossing route as he broke free from cornerback Brandon Flowers, broke a tackle, and took it 69 yards to the house and gave the Patriots that desperately needed two-score lead as it became 23-14 Patriots with just 8:41 to play in the game. That seventh reception by Edelman put him over 100 yards for the game and put Brady over 300 yards passing.
The Patriots defense turned up the pressure on Rivers as the pass coverage was tight on the Chargers receivers. After Rivers got off a desperation dump-off on first down to Donald Brown which the back turned into a 24-yard gain, the pressure hit Rivers as he threw to Floyd, then sacked him for a one-yard loss by Chris Jones and newly activated Sealver Siliga. On third-and-eleven Rivers was forced to scramble as New England pressured with a three-man rush and Rivers came up far short of the first down necessitating another Chargers punt.
Taking over with 6:18 to play, the Patriots needed to eat some clock to keep the ball away from the Chargers. After a short run by Blount, Brady found Edelman for seven yards and then converted on third and two by running it himself to convert the first down as the pass rush went out of control past him. After running back Shane Vereen drew an illegal contact penalty on linebacker Andrew Gachkar who was matched-up in single coverage on the speedy back.
New England ground the clock down further as Blount rumbled for 23 yards cutting back for a big gain and staying in bounds and forcing the Chargers to burn a timeout. Another Blount run used the last Chargers timeout and let the Patriots get the clock under three minutes. On third-and-long New England made the safe call and threw a screen to Danny Amendola. When New England punted they forced the Chargers to take over at their 20 just prior to the two-minute warning.
New England continued pressuring Rivers on the Chargers final drive, continuing their strong defensive effort. New England kept bringing extra rushers and making Rivers uncomfortable throughout the game. Tavon Wilson stopped Gates short of the first down on the Chargers fourth down conversion attempt. The Patriots were in victory formation and the game was won 23-14.
The defense gave up one scoring drive to San Diego in the second quarter. Rivers threw just one pass into cornerback Darrelle Revis’ coverage the entire game. It was a signature “Revis Island” kind of game as he completely eliminated wide receiver Keenan Allen from the Chargers’ attack. Kyle Arrington had a great game after being on the injury report all week and even Brandon Browner made some big plays.
Dec 7, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) warms-up before the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Brady finished with 317 yards passing and two touchdowns. Rivers had just 189 yards passing and rushed for just 53 yards. Keenan Allen was held to two catches for three yards. Blount led the way with 66 yards rushing, but it took him 20 carries as the San Diego defense was unexpectedly stout. Edelman had 141 yards on eight grabs and Gronkowski had eight catches for 87 yards. Both had the touchdown grabs for the Patriots.
A great job by the defense in coverage and bringing pressure. Without linebacker Dont’a Hightower on defense, the Patriots saw Jamie Collins step in and pick up two sacks. Fellow linebacker Akeem Ayers had a big interception as well. San Diego had just 13 first downs and 216 total yards for the game. Despite two turnovers, the Patriots had 20 unanswered points and it was that statement-making road win against a quality opponent where the defense won the game for the team.
The Chargers leapt to a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter of the game. Things started well for New England on defense as the Chargers had to punt on their first drive after a perfectly timed Jamie Collins sack stalled a drive into New England territory. After New England stalled in the red zone after driving 92 yards to the one yard line before Melvin Ingram of the Chargers had a big sack to force a field goal. The next drive saw the Chargers target tight ends Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green to march downfield before Malcom Floyd got San Diego into the end zone beating cornerback Brandon Browner.
The Patriots secondary had the expected look of Darrelle Revis on Keenan Allen, Browner on Floyd, and Kyle Arrington on slot receiver Eddie Royal. The Patriots mixed coverage on Gates with safety Patrick Chung and linebacker Jonathan Casillas. After the Chargers touchdown the Patriots fumbled away at midfield as Brandon LaFell fumbled after a reception and Darrell Stuckey brought it back for a 14-3 Chargers lead.
Again the Patriots marched downfield as they spread out the Chargers and used the hurry-up to get down the field in a hurry. This time, a first-and-goal at the four ended up in another field goal. After a three-and-out for the Chargers Brandon Bolden made a huge special teams play blocking a punt and knocking punter Mike Scifres from the game. A Brady scramble converted a third-down-and-four and the next play he found Gronkowski from fourteen yards out to cut it to a point.
The story for the Chargers was outside linebacker Melvin Ingram. Ingram was their 2012 first-round draft pick and was–to put it nicely–a bust for the past two-and-a-half years. With just three sacks in 25 career games entering this match-up, Ingram was not exactly a player circled as a threat to get in the backfield and disrupt the passing game like Corey Liuget and Dwight Freeney. Ingram seemed unblockable rushing inside and on both the left and right edge.
The Chargers as a team got more pressure than expected as they were hitting Brady and disrupting him in the pocket with a team pass rush approach. Beyond Melvin the Chargers had strong rushes by Liuget, Freeney and rookie Jeremiah Attaochu. Safety Eric Weddle was active in the run-stop playing up at the line of scrimmage and in pass coverage as part of the group of linebackers and safeties in coverage of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The first half ended with the Chargers forced to punt and kicker Nick Novak punting just 27 yards in relief and giving the Patriots the ball at their 39 yard line and a minute-and-a-half. Unfortunately, another red zone mistake was on tap. On third-and-nine at the 18 yard line Brady under-threw Gronkowski and the pass was intercepted just before the half by Manti Te’o. New England had four red zone trips and had one touchdown, two field goals, and a turnover.