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Patriots control Chargers in home opener

Brady (423 yards) has another big day

Patriots quarterback became the first player to follow a 500-yard passing game with a 400-yard passing game, according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff) Patriots quarterback became the first player to follow a 500-yard passing game with a 400-yard passing game, according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / September 18, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH – Tom Brady and the Patriots offense picked up where it left off last week in Miami.

Brady passed for 423 yards and three touchdowns and New England won its home opener, 35-21, over the San Diego Chargers at Gillette Stadium.

In Week 1, Brady had the first 500-yard passing game in New England history and the offense unit totaled 622 yards in a convincing victory over the Dolphins.

The Patriots (2-0) scored every time they touched the ball in the first half, with tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski catching touchdown passes and Stephen Gostkowski kicking a pair of field goals.

Gronkowski had four receptions for 86 yards and two touchdowns. Deion Branch caught eight passes from Brady for 129 yards.

"I’m really proud of our football team today," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "I’ll tell you, we had a lot of guys battle through stuff – coming off a short week, getting ready for this football team. The Chargers are a good football team, but ultimately the turnovers and getting the ball in the end zone was big for us. We had a lot of guys step up. Really, it’s a good team win all the way around."

The game initially looked as though it would be a shootout. The Chargers were stopped just inside New England territory on the first drive of the game, but when the Patriots got the ball, they went 92 yards on a dozen plays for the day’s first touchdown.

Brady hit five different receivers on that drive, including a key third-and-five conversion to Chad Ochocinco for a 15-yard pickup that gave the home crowd the opportunity to warmly welcome the veteran receiver – who was the subject of some criticism from former Patriots and current broadcasters Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison this week.

Brady found Hernandez on the next play for a 14-yard touchdown.

"We had good plays in all three phases of the game. We played hard for 60 minutes and that’s a good football team. It’s good to win," Belichick said. "It’s good to win and then we’ve got to go to 2-0 Buffalo, so we’ve got a tough one coming up, so we can’t celebrate this one too long. We’ve got to go on to other challenges next week, but it’s nice to be 2-0."

San Diego wasted little time tying the score, converting two third-down chances, both of them to 6-foot-5 receiver Malcom Floyd. On the first, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers put the ball up and despite having three members of the Pats secondary – Ras-I Dowling, Leigh Bodden and Sergio Brown - within just a few feet of him, Floyd jumped over all of them and camp down with the ball. Three plays later, Rivers looked to Floyd again, and this time he beat Devin McCourty on the right sideline, again by using his height and wingspan to his advantage.

Rivers hit 29 of 40 pass attempts for 378 yards and two touchdowns, but he was also intercepted twice. One was by Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, who tipped a pass to himself and returned it 36 yards.

New England settled for a chip-shot field goal from Stephen Gostkowski after three straight goal-to-go plays from the four-yard line, two of them end zone passes.

The Patriots’ defense made its own goal-line stand, and the stop may have been the difference in the game.

A 21-yard catch and run by fullback Mike Tolbert gave San Diego first down from the Pats’ 5. On first down, Ryan Mathews picked up three yards, and Tolbert was stopped for no gain on second. Rivers kept it on third down, but seemed unaware of where the goal line was – it appeared that he could have taken the ball in for the touchdown, but he stopped and dropped to the turf just short of breaking the plane.

Rivers went back to Tolbert, the 5-foot-9, 243-pound bowling ball, on fourth down, but he was dragged down by Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo.

The Pats took over from their own goal line and went 99 yards for their second touchdown. Ochocinco had the big play on the drive, a 30-yard gain.

The highlight of the game, for its pure entertainment value, was Wilfork’s first career interception. The super-sized defensive tackle tapped a Rivers pass intended for Tolbert with his right hand and caught it with his left.

He then took off up the sideline, the Gillette Stadium crowd cheering him on every step of the way. Just as Tolbert caught up to him, Devin McCourty took down Tolbert, but also tripped up his rumbling teammate in the process.

Wilfork held on to the ball as a memento, and when he was shown on the big screen sitting on the Pats’ bench, he received another ovation from the crowd. Wilfork saluted the fans.

McCourty was flagged for an illegal block in the back on Tolbert, pushing New England back 15 yards from where Wilfork’s run ended. Brady got the ball with just nine seconds left in the first half, but completed two quick sideline passes to Branch for a total of 18 yards, giving Gostkowski a 47-yard field goal try with one second left.

Gostkowski converted, and the Patriots went into the locker room up 20-7.

The Chargers made things interesting, scoring on back-to-back possessions to pull within a touchdown, 28-21 with 5:47 to play, but New England did what it can do so well, grinding out a nine-play drive that took nearly four minutes off the clock.

Mark Anderson strip-sacked Rivers and the ball was recovered by Kyle Love, sealing the game for New England.

"New England is obviously an outstanding football team and we didn’t play well enough to come into this stadium and win today," Chargers coach Norv Turner said.

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