A quick check of what we thought were the keys to a Patriots victory yesterday before they took on the Chargers:
Key 1: Control TE Antonio Gates
Verdict: Check plus. The Patriots said, ‘If you’re going to beat us Philip Rivers, it’s not going to be without your favorite target.’ Gates was targeted only once and that pass was completed…to the Patriots when Sergio Brown broke on an underthrown ball.
Key 2: Watch the run fits
Verdict: Even. The Patriots handled Mike Tolbert (nine carries for 10 yards). Ryan Mathews and Jacob Hester (13 for 86 yards and a touchdown) had their moments.
Key 3: Return of the 3-4?
Verdict: Check. Call it whatever you want, but the Patriots played some 3-4 yesterday as part of their attack to thwart Gates.
Key 4: Exploit special teams mismatch
Verdict: No check. Unfortunately the defense only produced one punt or else Julian Edelman could have had a big day. Matthew Slater had a terrific tackle on the Chargers’ only returned put.
Key 5: Make the Chargers go on long drives
Verdict: Check plus. Obviously part of the Patriots’ gameplan was to give the Norv Turnovers enough rope to hang themselves. They turned the ball over four times and were stopped at the one foot line. Mission accomplished. Have to love the Chargers in September.
Bonus key 6: Protect Tom Brady
Verdict: Even. Brady was sacked twice but took more hits. The protection was solid for most of the game, but you have to keep No. 12 as clean as possible. Sometimes he contributes to that by holding onto the ball too long trying to make a play.
Bonus #7: Get Chargers S Bob Sanders isolated on tight ends
Verdict: Check plus. Would have been better if Brady ran a smoke play (continue with the run but the quarterback passes) when he had Aaron Hernandez matched up with Sanders on 2nd-and-4 with 14:04 left in the second quarter. Patriots had to settle for a field goal there.
Pre-game pick: Patriots 37, Chargers 23
Real score: Patriots 35, Chargers 21
Not exactly the way we pictured it happening, but we’ll take it.