FOXBOROUGH - The way Shawne Merriman envisioned it, the menacing Chargers linebacker last night would perform a little San Diego two-step - his trademark "Lights Out" dance - after sacking Tom Brady and leaving him on the field, dazed and defeated.
Merriman would make up for failing to sack Brady in January's divisional playoffs. And the Chargers would avenge a devastating playoff loss that cost them their coach and bruised their collective psyche.
Wrong, Shawne. Very wrong.
The lights did go out last night at Gillette Stadium. But they went out on Merriman and his San Diego's mates like the lights go out in a prison movie when the executioner flips the switch on a condemned man in an electric chair.
The lights also flickered out on the notion that the Chargers have any business ranking with the Patriots as Super Bowl contenders. At least in September.
In a blowout of jarring proportions, the Patriots zapped the Chargers, 38-14, raising questions about whether a team coming off a 14-2 season with 20 returning starters, including LaDainian Tomlinson, the best player in the league, has lost something in the early tenure of Norv Turner, their new head coach.
"It's a humbling game," said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who threw an interception on San Diego's first offensive play, helping to set the tone for the debacle. "I tell you what, we thought we were going to come in here and win, and we did just the opposite. It's a good old-fashioned butt-whipping we took."
The Patriots spanked the Chargers from the opening kickoff as they promptly marched 69 yards on seven plays in just 2 minutes 46 seconds to start the game with a touchdown, Brady connecting with Benjamin Watson on a 7-yard pass for the score.
"This is probably one of the toughest games I can remember," said Tomlinson, who mustered only 43 yards on 18 carries, miserable production for the league's reigning MVP. "We really couldn't respond to anything they were doing, so it kind of got away from us early."
No sooner did the Patriots score than Rivers tossed an errant play-action pass into the clutches of New England linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, killing any chance the Chargers had to lower the volume of the Foxborough masses.
"I've made that throw a million times," Rivers said.
He failed this time, though the Patriots failed to convert on the turnover when Stephen Gostkowski misfired on a 41-yard field goal attempt.
Failure quickly revisited the Chargers, however, as they went three and out on their second drive, committing a 5-yard penalty and losing their starting right tackle, Shane Olivea, to a back injury in the process.
"We need to come together a little bit more," said Merriman, who tried in vain to energize the Chargers with some big plays, including two sacks of Brady, in the second quarter. "We played in a tough environment, but we need to be prepared to return anything they do and get on the same playing level."
Merriman and Co. demonstrated they have a long way to go to catch the Patriots as they continued to falter in the first half. Even when they finally got Tomlinson involved in the game - he did not touch the ball for the second time until more than 11 minutes had elapsed - they came undone again when Rivers was sacked by Colvin, who forced a fumble recovered that was by Vince Wilfork.
"We're not playing with the crispness and the continuity that we will in time," Chargers running back Michael Turner said. "I think some of that is us, and some of that is who we are playing."
For the second straight week, the Chargers failed to score in the first half. Though they recovered to beat the Bears last week, 14-3, they created an insurmountable 24-0 disadvantage for themselves against the Patriots.
Most troubling for the Bolts has been their inability to open holes for Tomlinson, who led the league last year in rushing.
"We had moments where we had a tough time blocking some of these guys," Turner said. "We can block better than we blocked."
It hurts any team's running game, of course, to fall behind by three or more touchdowns before halftime. Still, there are problems with San Diego's once-fearsome running game.
"Whatever it may be, we've got to fix it," Tomlinson said.
They can ill afford another first-half calamity like they endured last night. Rarely has a game effectively ended so early.
"Truth be known, we got beat in the first half," Rivers said.
His interception late in the second quarter - a pass picked off by Adalius Thomas and returned 65 yards for a touchdown - all but put the game out of reach.
"It kind of put a stamp on how bad that first half really was," Rivers said.
Truth really be known, the second half was little better for the Chargers, even though they scored twice.
"We didn't play Charger football," defensive back Quentin Jammer said. "We have to figure out what went wrong and get back to doing what we do."
Said Turner, "I think the key to every team in this league is improving and certainly we have a lot of improving to do."
Bob Hohler can be reached at email@example.com.