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Early goal-line stand didn’t come up short in impact

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / September 19, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - In two weeks, the Patriots defense has allowed a total of 958 yards. But yesterday, New England stopped the Chargers from getting one critical yard in the second quarter, and that proved crucial in the Patriots’ 35-21 victory.

The Chargers trailed, 10-7, in the second quarter and were facing fourth and goal from the 1. Linebacker Jerod Mayo kept an eye on the Chargers’ personnel and noticed some of the biggest players were stacked to one side.

Philip Rivers handed the ball to running back Mike Tolbert, who surged ahead but was diverted by cornerback Devin McCourty. When Tolbert tried to change direction, Mayo was there to wrap him up short of the goal line.

“We said ever since training camp that the goal line has to be ours,’’ Mayo said.

The Dolphins accumulated 488 yards of offense against the Patriots last week but had to settle for a short field goal after being stopped on third and goal from the 2 in the third quarter, and also failed on fourth and goal from the 1 in the final quarter.

“That’s key when you play defense,’’ McCourty said. “Your job is not to let them score on that goal-line stand.’’

The Chargers had 470 yards of offense yesterday but hurt themselves with miscues.

On the fourth-and-goal play, there wasn’t much surprise that Chargers coach Norv Turner went for the touchdown. The drive began at the San Diego 24 and in four plays the Chargers were at the New England 5.

Running back Ryan Mathews squeezed out 3 yards, Tolbert was stuffed for no gain, and Rivers followed with a 1-yard scramble.

When the Chargers lined up on fourth down, McCourty said there wasn’t time to guess.

“Down there, there’s a heavy chance of run, but in my position I have to be thinking pass but just reading my key,’’ McCourty said. “I tried to get there to see if I could create something, which made Tolbert bounce, and Jerod Mayo did a great job with Patrick Chung getting him down and stopping him at the goal line.’’

Mayo said the Patriots defense thrives on making the big play.

“We still have to work on the yardage and third-down defense, but we showed great mental toughness coming up with big turnovers and playing complementary football,’’ Mayo said.

The Patriots offense took over and drove 99 yards on 10 plays, capped by Tom Brady’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski.

“You have to take the energy and turn it into points or at least get better field position,’’ left tackle Matt Light said. “We have had a couple of drives now early in the season that we’ve gone the distance and that is demoralizing [for the opposing team].’’

Tackle Vince Wilfork said the goal-line stand was big for the entire defense.

“Jerod made a hell of a play,’’ Wilfork said. “That’s why he is one of the top linebackers in the game. He showed it [yesterday]. That play he made was a good tackle and everybody was playing their assignment, and he was free to run to the ball. Any time you can get a goal-line stand is big for a defense.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @monwalker.

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