SAN DIEGO — Brandon Meriweather may have learned his lesson.
For the second consecutive week, the Patriots safety initiated a hit that could make a viewer cringe. Only this time, the hit was legal. In the first quarter yesterday, Meriweather hit San Diego receiver Patrick Crayton with the kind of force that could cause whiplash. Meriweather popped up, saluted toward the sideline, and moved on to the next play.
The salute, Meriweather said, was for a friend who joined the Army. The hit was a tackle that fell within the NFL rules.
“I just did what my coaches asked me to,’’ Meriweather said. “I lowered my aiming zone. I tried to be aggressive. I wasn’t trying to be overly aggressive, and take his head off. But I was trying to play within the rules.’’
Last week the NFL announced it would be more aggressive in penalizing players for hits to the head and neck area that violate the current rules. The increased penalties could include higher fines and suspensions. Last week Meriweather was among three players fined a combined $175,000 for illegal hits.
Meriweather was tagged with a $50,000 fine for what the league determined was a flagrant violation of “player safety rules’’ for his hit on Ravens tight end Todd Heap.
Meriweather apologized for his hit on Heap, who was listed as questionable yesterday but did play in the Ravens’ overtime win over the Bills.
With all the attention focused on Meriweather last week, he didn’t let it affect his approach yesterday.
“You know it’s a game,’’ Meriweather said. “You’re going to play to have fun. I’m not going to think about it. I’m just going to go out there and play.’’
Linebacker Rob Ninkovich
heard his teammates yelling for him to jump on the ball in the second quarter. But he didn’t know why. He just did it and then when his teammates yelled for him to get up and run, he did that, too.
The result was a 63-yard fumble return to the Chargers’ 8-yard line. A pass from Philip Rivers that dropped was ruled a backward pass, making it a live ball.
“I just heard everyone say get on the ball, so I ran back to the ball and slid on it and then it was like, ‘Get up and run,’ ’’ Ninkovich said. “I wish I could have took it to the house, but I’m not a world-class sprinter.’’
It was the second of two quirky plays in the first half the Patriots’ defense was able to take advantage of. On the previous Chargers possession, safety James Sanders made an alert play when he realized receiver Richard Goodman put the ball down on the ground without being tackled after a 25-yard catch. Sanders fell on the ball.
“Soon as he put the ball down, I just did what coach tells us to do whenever you see the ball on the ground, you just jump on it and get it,’’ Sanders said. “It was an opportunity for us to get the ball, it was a head’s-up play for us, but a disappointing play in their eyes.’’
Chung injures knee
Safety Patrick Chung
went to the locker room in the second quarter with a knee injury and did not return.
“I’m all right,’’ Chung said when asked about his knee. But time will tell. The Patriots practice Wednesday, the first day the team is required to release an injury report.
Earlier in the first quarter, Chung came up with a nice play to drop running back Ryan Mathews for a 5-yard loss on second and 10 from the San Diego 18.
Brown chips in
Rookie safety Sergio Brown
, who was signed to the 53-man roster from the practice squad Saturday, made his NFL debut in a big way. Brown started on the kickoff unit and contributed four tackles. One of his biggest plays came when he wrapped up tight end Antonio Gates
at the Patriots’ 27 after an 8-yard completion late in the game on third and 10. The play left the Chargers short of a first down and forced them to attempt a game-tying field goal, which ultimately failed.
The first half was tough for many, including Patriots long snapper Jake Ingram
. The second-year player botched two snaps that punter Zoltan Mesko
was able to recover. Ingram also had a 10-yard holding penalty in the first quarter, which allowed the Chargers to start their drive from the 50. The Chargers ended the drive with a 32-yard field goal that gave them a 3-0 lead . . . Tom Brady
is getting beat up a little more than he’s used to these days. Brady was sacked four times for minus-31 yards. For the third consecutive game, Brady was sacked at least three times. The Patriots made a change on the offensive line to start the second half, inserting Ryan Wendell
at left guard over Dan Connolly
A first for McCourty
Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty
has played well this season, entering the game with three pass breakups. But now the rookie knows what it feels like to get an NFL interception. On a long third down in the second quarter, Rivers dropped back and spotted Patrick Crayton
on the right sideline. Only his intended receiver wasn’t the one who came down with the ball. “I couldn’t see Rivers; the next thing I saw was the ball going up and trying to make a play on it,’’ said McCourty. The Rutgers product used every bit of his 5-foot-10-inch frame to stretch up and pull in the interception, the fourth straight Chargers drive that ended with a turnover . . . Linebacker Jerod Mayo
had his third straight game with at least 10 tackles . . . Vince Wilfork
started at end for the third consecutive game, eating up anything that came at him on the left side, especially early in the first half. Gerard Warren
moved over to nose and rookie Brandon Deaderick
picked up his second consecutive start at end . . . Wide receiver Julian Edelman
, who was questionable for the game because of a concussion, returned a couple of punts, including one for 34 yards in the second quarter . . . Patriots defensive lineman Ron Brace
was inactive for the first time this season. Other inactives included offensive linemen Mark LeVoir
and Rich Ohrnberger
; defensive lineman Kyle Love
; safety Jarrad Page
; wide receiver Taylor Price
; running back Fred Taylor
; and defensive back Terrence Wheatley
. . . Page missed his first game of the season because of a calf injury he suffered against the Ravens. Taylor missed his third consecutive game because of a toe injury . . . Offensive lineman Quinn Ojinnaka
made his Patriots debut with the special teams.
Christopher L. Gasper and Shalise Manza-Young of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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