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Monday, December 8, 2014

Patriots Bounce Back (Like They Almost Always Do) With Convincing Win at Chargers 23-14

I might be the only person in the world that thought of this but I couldn't help but juxtapose the Revolution with the Patriots after they both played in big games today. While the Revs fell apart in an MLS Cup like they always do, similarly the Pats stayed true to their unique form by winning the week after a loss. It is lazy to just say one team knows how to win while the other doesn't but that's how it feels after the Patriots (10-3 overall, 4-3 away) beat the Chargers (8-5 overall, 5-2 home) 23-14 at Qualcomm Stadium.

Frankly, San Diego had no business being in this game since New England squandered numerous opportunities to put more points on the board in the first half but failed to due to a fumble, brutal interception by Tom Brady (28 of 44 for 317 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) and a pair of 22-yard field goals by Stephen Gostkowski. The good news for the Pats is that unlike any edition from the past decade, they are actually built to withstand performances when Brady and the offense aren't perfect. What a concept!

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that New England's defense dominated San Diego in front of more Patriots fans than Chargers fans (at least they were more vocal so they drowned them out). The Chargers led 14-3 in the second quarter thanks to an amazing 15-yard touchdown catch by Malcolm Floyd and a 53-yard fumble return for a score by Darrell Stuckey after Brandon LaFell inexplicably fumbled. No worries, those were the last points that San Diego would score all night. New England shut them out in the second half as they recorded their 12th straight season of 10+ wins.

Philip Rivers (20 of 33 for 189 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) fell to 0-6 lifetime vs. Brady and he struggled as usual vs. New England. Akeem Ayers had an interception, New England had four sacks and Jamie Collins (9 tackles, 8 solo, 2 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss, 2 quarterback hits) was all over the place at middle linebacker with Dont'a Hightower out and Darrelle Revis erased Keenan Allen (2 catches, 3 yards) like you read about.

The numbers are stunning: the Chargers only had 13 first downs on 216 total yards with 25:27 time of possession. One of the reasons that the Patriots' defense could look so fresh is that they only had to be on the field for 56 snaps (2nd fewest of the season behind 55 vs. Bengals). Did I mention that New England also got completely jobbed out of what would have been one of the top plays of the season? Brandon Browner absolutely demolished poor Ladarius Green coming over the middle and the ball popped up to Devin McCourty who returned it for a touchdown. The incompetent refs ruled it a helmet-to-helmet hit to a defenseless receiver which was a travesty. All I can say is that at least it didn't decide this game.

Brady and the offense finally woke up late in the first half as he found Rob Gronkowski (8 catches, 87 yards) for a 14-yard touchdown that cut it to 14-13 Chargers. They got great field position after Brandon Bolden blocked a Mike Scifres punt. Once again, genius Josh McDaniels completely abandoned the run when it looked like the Pats could do it all night on the Chargers' average defense. That resulted in the rare scoreless NFL quarter (the third).

A 38-yard field goal by Gostkowski early in the fourth quarter gave the Pats their first lead since 3-0 and Julian Edelman (8 catches, 141 yards) had the biggest play of the game in front of his homestate. A simple slant went 69 yards (somewhere Gronk chuckles) as he evaded multiple sorry tackle attempts by the overmatched Chargers.

New England kept pace with Denver (10-3) and they still control their destiny in terms of gaining the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The Pats now wrap up the regular season with three straight games against their Mickey Mouse Division of lightweights aka the AFC (L)East. Miami (7-6) lost 28-13 at home today vs. Baltimore so they are right on schedule for their usual December meltdown. Then the Pats host the Bills (7-6) and they conclude with the Jets (2-11). Probably at least one of those games will be close for whatever reason but I'd be shocked to see the Patriots lose any of them considering what they have to play for.

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