Today you once again witnessed why the Patriots are the Patriots, and the Chargers are what they are. San Diego is a team prone to making mistakes, while the Patriots rarely do. So, despite being hampered by some truly awful officiating (8 penalties for 80 yards), the Patriots were able to outlast "The Bolt Boys" yet again, 35-21. Here are my grades: I. OFFENSE:
Save for a horrid third quarter which nearly cost the "good guys" this game, the blitz-krieg we witnessed in Miami continued. Thanks to the bumbling Bolts, the "O" redeemed itself in the fourth quarter, as the sleeping pills that the Charger cheerleaders slipped into the Pats' gatorade at halftime gradually wore off.1.) QB:
With the notable exception of the third quarter, Tom Brady was Tom Terrific, once again. Aside from missing an open Deion Branch in the endzone, early in the second quarter, Brady was Miami unbelievable, again...staking the Patriots to a 20-7 halftime lead. Some of his key throws were TD passes to TE terrors Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, and two key drive sustaining hook-ups to Chad Ochocincho.
During the nail-biting moments of the fourth quarter, with the Pats lead at just 20-14, Tom hooked up with Deion Branch on a key 33 yard catch and run...setting up a 17 yard lazar to Gronkowski, for Brady's third TD pass of the game. Then, after the Chargers cut the Patriots' lead down to 28-21, Brady again engineered a TD drive...with the key play being a 29 yard catch and run, again with Gronkowski. For the day, Tom completed 31 of 40 passes, for 423 yards, and the three aforementioned TDs.
The only point of criticism was that Tom seemed to be rushing, and had happy feet in the third quarter. Heavy pressure on pass plays, and the inability of the Patriots to establish a running game, contributed to this. On a 3rd and 4 from the San Diego 49, nursing just a 20-14 lead, Brady uncharacteristically threw a ball behind Wes Welker on a WR screen. That, and a subsequent poor throw in traffic to Deion Branch on 4th down, killed a promising drive...and gave the Bolts a chance to take command. But, fortunately, fumble-itis struck them:GRADE: A;
Though BJGE had his moments in the 4th quarter, he and Danny Woodhead weren't much of a factor in this game. Speaking of Woodhead, his matador block while trying to pick up blitzing LB Donald Butler nearly got Brady killed. Woodhead did contribute a "Kevin Faulk special" to net a two-point conversion. Green-Ellis finished with 70 yards on 17 carries, including a 16 yard TD run to ice the game:GRADE: C+;
3.) OL: It was a tale of two halves for the "Big Uglies". In the first half, they were dominant. But, there was one pass play in the second quarter when Chargers' DT Antonio Garay (who the Chargers stole off the Jets' practice squad a year ago) pushed his way into Tom Brady's left knee...which nearly ended the Patriots' season. In the 3rd quarter, the Pats OL was manhandled. But, thanks to a case of Charger fumble-itis, the big boys up front had a chance to redeem themselves in the 4th quarter...and did so:GRADE: B;
Aaron Hernandez set the tone for the Patriots' offense early He finished with 7 catches for 62 yards, and a TD. Rob Gronkowski was more of a "big play" guy, as he netted 84 yards on just 4 receptions, including two TD grabs. He was also called for a ticky-tac holding penalty...and got beat early in the game by Shaun Phillips on an edge rush, resulting in Tom Brady being sacked. But, those two plays detract little from his aforementioned two TD reception performance:GRADE: A;
Deion Branch seemingly has discovered the fountain of youth in Foxborough, finishing his outstanding day with a team leading 8 receptions, for 129 yards. Wes Welker chipped in with 7 catches for 81 yards...and...there was a Chad Ochocincho sighting! As mentioned above, Chad had two key drive sustaining receptions in the first half, for 45 yards. Let's hope this is the start of something big for the Chadster:GRADE: B+;
Though the "D" had serious problems stopping the Chargers all day, they continually came up with big plays when needed. These included two interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and a stirring goal-line stand.1.) DL
: A tough day for the front 4, or 3, depending on the moment. The Chargers' OL pretty much dominated up front. Save for the goal-line stand, and that 6 point turnaround interception by Vince Wilfolk just before the end of the first half, this group was quiet. Horrible call on Pats' DE Andre Carter for ruffing the passer. There were several similar bogus calls in various games played today. The league must address this mess it's created, soon:GRADE: C;
Jarod Mayo knifed in behind the line of scrimmage on the Pats' first half goal-line stand...stopping the Bolts' bowling ball, Mike Tolbert, at the one yard line. Mayo may have saved the game by later forcing a fumble by Tolbert, with the Pats nursing a 6 point lead, and the Bolts driving. His played changed the momentum of the game. But, he also over-pursued, and took himself out of the play, on San Diego's Ryan Matthews' first quarter TD run. Nonetheless, Mayo was all over the field, finishing with a team leading 11 tackles, including 8 solos. But, the rest of his brethren were awful, both with their tackling, and, especially, their pass coverage. San Diego RBs accounted for an astounding 15 receptions for 135 yards today. Thus far, the LB corp has been the biggest chink in the Pats' 2011 defensive armour:GRADE: C (thanks solely to Mayo's big plays);
There's no telling how bad the performance of this "D" could have been, had Malcolm Floyd not gone down with a groin injury. He finished with 2 receptions for 59 yards in just one quarters' worth of play. His high flying partner, Vincent Jackson, showed why he's one of the most dangerous WRs in the league, finishing with 10 catches for 172 yards, and two TDs. The trio of Kyle Arrington, Leigh Bodden, and Devin McCourty were no match for these tall Bolt wide-outs. Losing both CB Ras-I Dowling and safety Patrick Chung to injury certainly didn't help the cause, either.
This group was able to take TE Antonio Gates out of this game, save for one bogus 20 yard PI call...which gift-wrapped a Charger TD. Credit young safety Sergio Brown for doing a nice job on Gates (with help), and for his second quarter red-zone pick, which pulled the plug on a potential San Diego scoring drive. Brown led the secondary with 7 tackles, including 5 solos.
For the second game in a row, the Patriots' pass defense was awful...as Philip Rivers completed 29 of 40 passes, for 378 yards, and two TDs: GRADE: C;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS:
No glaring errors in coverage...but nothing on returns. Credit Stephen Gostkowski for finally nailing a long FG...a 48 yarder on the last play of the first half. This turned out to be a very important FG. Hopefully, Zoltan "The Magnificent" was not badly injured when his own man got knocked into his knee after a punt. Prior to his injury, Zoltan had done a good job with a "coffin corner" kick, as well as getting off a booming 54 yarder on the play when he was injured. Beautiful open field tackle by Matthew Slater saved what could have been a long return.GRADE: B;
Another good job overall by the offense, against some stiff competition. I have no idea what transpired at halftime. But, it seemed that the Patriots came out flat...and were dominated by the Chargers in the third quarter. Had they scored again on their opening drive, this game might have turned into a rout.
Just a thought...I know that the Pats' like that up tempo, no-huddle offense. But, on their TD scoring drive late in the second half, wouldn't they have been wiser to take a little more time off the clock, and not leave Philip Rivers so much time once he got the ball back? It worked out well for the Pats...but what if Rivers doesn't throw that Wilfolk pick, and the Chargers were able to get a FG? Then, at halftime, it would have been 17-10, instead of 20-7.
The game-plan was to take away Antonio Gates, and the Pats succeeded in doing so. But, the Pats' CBs were no match for San Diego's tall WRs Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd. The "D" was also unable to stop those annoying short passes by Rivers to his RBs. In hindsight, it seemed that the Pats paid too high a price to take away Gates.
The "D" is far from a finished product. But, allowing an opponent to convert on 83% (10 of 12) of their third down tries, as the Pats did today, is totally unacceptable. The LB corp in particular looks terrible. Something must be done to get more out of this group. The Pats were fortunate that the Chargers made so many mistakes today:GRADE: B;
V: PLAYER OF THE GAME:
Though I'm tempted to go with Jerod Mayo, Tom Brady was "the man" again;VI: PLAY OF THE GAME:
With the score 20-14 early in the 4th quarter, the forced fumble by Tolbert changed the momentum of the game...and allowed the Pats to regain control. This was a tough choice over the Mayo play on fourth down, during that great goal-line stand, and the Wilfolk pick.
It's simple. When a team turns the ball over in this league, it loses.
Here are the game stats: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=310918017
Your thoughts and opinions are welcome.