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By Tom E. Curran
SAN DIEGO -- Five thoughts from the Patriots' 23-20 victory over the Chargers on Sunday:
1. Chargers Dimwittedness Was Epic
Well, the Chargers are certain to retain their rankings at the top of the league in total offense and total defense. But Sunday was a referendum on why they're 2-5 and not 5-2. They allowed the Patriots to muster 179 total yards. Meager. Held them to 25 percent conversions on third down. Rolled up 363 yards of their own, 336 through the air. But lost because of some mind-bogglingly bad business. They lost three fumbles, two of which they simply left on the ground and didn't bother to pick up. They took stupid penalties -- formation stuff, personal fouls, a false start before the possible game-tying field goal. They only had to play pretty well against the Patriots and probably would have won. And the funny thing is, their explanation for stupidity was simple: "That is going to happen," said receiver Buster Davis. "Mistakes are mistakes and they are going to happen," said linebacker Kevin Burnett. "We're working as hard as I've ever been around on taking care of the ball. The three guys that had mishaps today have not before," said head coach Norv Turner. It's endemic to their football team and it's probably going to get Turner fired before much longer.
3. Pressure's Up
Tom Brady took four sacks on Sunday and was harried on several other throws. In three consecutive games -- all Patriots wins -- against strong defenses, Brady's been jostled much more than he was in the first three. It seemed as if the Chargers played a ton of press coverage and blitzed, knowing the Pats don't have the field-stretching ability they did when Randy Moss was here. Look at the numbers for Deion Branch and Wes Welker -- four catches each for 39 and 25 yards respectively. Moss' presumed replacement -- Brandon Tate -- has just one catch in the two games since Moss left. He caught one ball for three yards Sunday. After the game, Brady was peeved, saying to me as we walked through the tunnel that the Patriots were their own worst enemy offensively. The Patriots will see more pressure over the coming weeks with the Vikings, Steelers, Browns and Colts all lined up in the next month. The pressure is going to keep coming and the offensive adjustment to being more of a quick-hit team than they'd been is going to have to pick up. That the defense -- now led by Belichick -- has picked up significantly is a nice bit of serendipity for the Patriots because their offense has been a shell of itself when it comes to explosiveness.
4. Early Returns
The Patriots got huge contributions from their rookies on Sunday. One of the biggest came from safety Sergio Brown. Brown was on the practice squad until Friday when he was summoned to step in for Jarrad Page. He made the tackle on Antonio Gates after an 8-yard gain in the final minute, stopping Gates short of the first down and forcing the field goal. "Huge, huge tackle," linebacker Jerod Mayo said of Brown's play. "The staff does an excellent job as far as grooming talent and getting guys ready to play. Everybody on the practice squad, they know at any given time their number may be called to come up and play and he came up and played well." Besides Brown, Brandon Spikes made an easily overlooked play when he knocked Jacob Hester sideways on the pass/lateral/fumble return allowing Rob Ninkovich to fall on the ball and return it 63 yards. Devin McCourty had a tremendous interception (his first). Deaderick came up with a sack. Rob Gronkowski had two big red-zone catches and a touchdown. For all the draft failures from 2006 through 2008, the Patriots have a ton of hits in the past two seasons.
5. Second Half Signals
After being so solid closing out both the Dolphins and Ravens, the Patriots almost unraveled completely in the fourth quarter Sunday, allowing 17 points and coming within half-a-football of allowing 20. The key to the eruption for San Diego's offense was Antonio Gates, who was without a catch until the 7:25 mark when he caught a 4 yard touchdown. He then followed it up on the next drive with a 26-yard reception and caught 20 yards worth of passes on the final Chargers' drive. It was a startling dismantling when the one guy the Patriots defense couldn't afford to get revved up was Gates. "One thing this team does is they keep their poise," said Vince Wilfork. "They play to the whistle. At times, when we don't do that, we have problems. For the most part, we always play, keep our poise and stay positive out there if anything happens." A lot happened down the stretch Sunday and the Patriots survived -- barely. But it's a signal that they have a way to go still -- on both sides of the ball -- when it comes to closing out games.
Tags: New England Patriots, Tom E. Curran, Devin McCourty