Chargers leave Patriots feeling homesick
Tomlinson runs roughshod to snap Gillette streak at 21
FOXBOROUGH -- The house at One Patriot Place is far from a humble abode.
In fact, with its $325 million price tag, 1.9 million square feet of space on a 17.3-acre spread, and convenient parking for 16,500, it is a rather ostentatious dwelling.
The owners like to invite guests over on certain Sundays in the fall for friendly games of football. Fans of the sport are welcome to watch.
Usually -- 21 straight times to be exact -- the fans have fun, the hosts are celebrated, and the visitors are sent home vanquished.
That was before the San Diego Chargers came to town.
Yesterday, in a veritable home invasion, the Chargers ran roughshod over New England, 41-17, in front of the 119th consecutive sellout at Gillette Stadium.
Tailback LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 134 yards on 25 carries (5.4 yards per attempt), tight end Antonio Gates had six receptions for 108 yards, and quarterback Drew Brees hardly broke a sweat in completing 19 of 24 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns, as the Chargers scored more points than any of the previous 28 opponents had on the Patriots' home field.
Only because it was a beautiful sunny day did the Chargers not track mud all over the place, as they dealt the Patriots their worst-ever loss at Gillette.
''We just have to play better, that's the bottom line," Patriots receiver Troy Brown said. ''We didn't play well at all and they played great.
''They ran the ball great on offense, they threw it great, they converted on third down . . . everything we couldn't do on offense they did on offense.
''You expect to go out there and play well. You never expect to go out there and play like we did today."
In defeat, the Patriots (2-2) continued their season-long roller coaster, as they opened the year with a victory against Oakland, lost the following week at Carolina, then beat Pittsburgh.
''Hopefully that's not a trend we continue because if you go win-loss, win-loss, you end up 8-8 and your chances of making the playoffs are not great," linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said. ''Really, we have to improve, 'cause we can't go any lower than that; 41-17 is just about as bad as it gets."
The point total topped the 38 scored by Kansas City in the second contest at Gillette, a game the Patriots won by a field goal in overtime, and is the most surrendered by the Patriots in coach Bill Belichick's five-plus seasons.
''They did a good job in every area better than we did and I think the score reflected that," said Belichick, who pondered a couple of seconds before admitting he was ''hard-pressed" to name any aspect of the game at which his team played at an acceptable level.
The unacceptability was indeed across the board, as defensively the Patriots never got a handle on the Chargers and offensively Tom Brady (19 for 32 for 224 yards) did not look like a future Hall of Famer as he did a week ago in a flawless performance down the stretch against the Steelers.
As if that were not enough, Adam Vinatieri missed a 37-yard field goal try, his first miss from closer than 46 yards since 2003, ending a string of 34 such makes.
After playing to a 17-17 tie at the half, San Diego pounded the Patriots in the second half, outgaining the two-time defending Super Bowl champions, 243-61, with a 15-3 edge in first downs in the third and fourth quarters.
After needing the services of Josh Miller only once in the first half, the Patriots called on him to punt the first three times they had the ball after the break. The next two possessions ended with interceptions -- one by Brady and the other by third-string quarterback Matt Cassel after the contest was decided. Adding to the Patriots' pain, Clinton Hart returned the fourth pass of Cassel's career for a 40-yard touchdown.
''We just didn't convert third downs," Brady said. ''We couldn't stay on the field offensively. We didn't have the ball enough, mostly due to the offense's inefficiency.
''When they score, we have got to try to answer."
Not only were the Chargers scoring (touchdowns on four straight possessions at one point), they were eating up clock thanks to converting 7 of 12 third downs.
And when New England needed to stop San Diego (2-2) the most, the Chargers put together a torturous 15-play, 72-yard march, devouring nearly nine minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter. It mattered little that they were forced to settle for a field goal, as the resulting 17-point lead with 4:44 to play was more than the Patriots could overcome.
The Patriots refused to use the absence of Rodney Harrison as an excuse for being pounded at home, but the hard-hitting safety, who is out for the season with a knee injury, was sorely missed.
The team's leading tackler the past two seasons, and this season until he was hurt last week, would have been an important part of the defensive plan to keep Tomlinson and Gates in check.
''I think his absence had to be significant," San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer said. ''He brings an intimidating presence to everything that goes on in the secondary. That guy back there is a force."
Despite a week's worth of talk that slowing Tomlinson would be priority No. 1, the Patriots allowed the Chargers to run the ball at will (183 yards). Tomlinson averaged those 5.4 yards a carry, despite his longest run being for just 11 yards.
''He can play. He truly, truly can play. Did I say he can play?" Chad Brown said. ''Obviously, you want to try to stop the run with those guys and it all starts with him, yet he was still able to get it done. Every week people are trying to stop him, and rarely do people get that done.
''Our succumbing to his will [puts us] in a long line of many people who he has run through and run over."
Defensive breakdowns aside, and there were plenty, when Patrick Pass (eight catches for 55 yards) is the Patriots' leading receiver, and they finish 4 for 11 on third-down conversions, victory is unlikely.
''You play good teams, and you play poorly, you lose," Brady said. ''That is what happened today. San Diego played the game as well as we could have and we didn't.
''You look back at the end . . . 41-17 . . . and it's not very pretty."
Jerome Solomon's e-mail address is email@example.com