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Poll: Who gets most credit for Patriots’ win?

12.07.14 at 11:50 pm ET
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Poll: Who deserves the most credit for the Patriots' 23-14 win over the Chargers?

  • The defense. It held San Diego to no points in the second half and just one offensive touchdown. Jamie Collins was the key with two sacks, and Darrelle Revis held Keenan Allen in check. (93%, 473 Votes)
  • Special teams. Brandon Bolden blocked a punt -- the first in franchise history since 2010, which gave New England great field position for its first TD -- and Stephen Gostkowski had three field goals. (4%, 20 Votes)
  • The offense. Julian Edelman was nails, with eight catches for 141 yards and a touchdown, while Rob Gronkowski had eight catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. (3%, 17 Votes)

Total Voters: 510

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What we learned: Patriots roll over Chargers, 23-14

12.07.14 at 11:39 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski caught his 10th touchdown of the season in the Patriots' win. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski caught his 10th touchdown of the season in the Patriots’ win. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

The Patriots completed their six-game gauntlet in style, knocking off the Chargers in San Diego Sunday night, 23-14. Tom Brady finished 28-for-44 for 317 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Meanwhile, Julian Edelman had eight catches for 141 yards and a touchdown, and LeGarrette Blount had 20 carries for 66 yards.

On the other side of the ball, Philip Rivers helped spark the Chargers to a 14-3 lead, but couldn’t put the ball in the end zone after that. The San Diego quarterback ended the game 20-for-33 for 189 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Malcom Floyd had three catches for 54 yards and a touchdown and Ryan Mathews had 11 carries for 44 yards.

The Patriots spotted the Chargers an 11-point lead — thanks in large part to a pair of early turnovers from New England. But while the Patriots offense struggled at times (including four straight 3-and-outs in the third quarter), the defense was spectacular. The Chargers were unable to do anything at all in the second half, as San Diego was held scoreless over the third and fourth quarter.

New England improved to 10-3, and holds on to the top spot in the AFC playoff race. The Patriots will face the Dolphins next week in Foxboro. Meanwhile, San Diego saw a three-game winning streak snapped, and dropped to 8-5 with the defeat. The Chargers will host the Broncos next Sunday in Southern California.

Here’s what we learned about the Patriots Sunday night:

They won despite a miserable performance by the offense for the better part of the second and third quarters.

The Patriots, who came into the game with a 100-point advantage in second-quarter scoring over the course of the season (their 156-56 edge was the greatest point differential in the league for any team in any quarter this season), were outscored 14-10 in the second against the Chargers. It was a quarter that ended with a really bad throw from Brady for Gronkowski that was picked in the red zone. It was part of a miserable sequence for Brady and the Patriots, who went 3-and-out on their first four drives of the third quarter and picked up their first first down of the third in the last play from scrimmage.

Their special teams are among the best in the game.

Their second-quarter touchdown came as a result of a terrific blocked punt by Brandon Bolden, who busted through and knocked down a Mike Scifres punt with just over five minutes left in the second quarter. (Scifres was knocked out of the game.) It was the first blocked punt of the season for the Patriots, and first since Pat Chung did it in 2010. The Patriots cashed in four plays later when Brady found Rob Gronkowski in a 14-yard pass play to give New England its first touchdown of the night. (With the touchdown, Gronkowski became the first tight end to have four seasons of 10-plus touchdowns.) Gostkowski connected on three field goals for the Patriots on the night (two from 22 and another from 38).

They’re still not confident in anyone other than LeGarrette Blount running the football.

The Patriots were able to run the ball really consistently in the early going, as Blount accounted for 50 yards on New England’s first drive as the Patriots powered the ball all the way down to the San Diego 1-yard line. But that was pretty much it for Blount, who was a nonfactor for most of the rest of the evening. (Part of that could be scheme, part of it could be situational. Either way, another look at the film is warranted for what was some curious play-calling at some key moments.) No other back was much of a factor on the night.

Julian Edelman is feeling OK.

The wide receiver, who has been banged up the last couple of weeks (he left the Packers game early) was a difference-maker much on the evening for the Patriots. He was able to consistently move the chains and pick up key yardage throughout the night, and had the 69-yard touchdown catch that effectively ended things against the Chargers. Edelman, who appeared to disappear into the background for a few games over the course of the last six games, (he had one catch against the Bears and five against the Colts) is now well-positioned to be a go-to guy down the stretch and into the playoffs for the Patriots.

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Halftime analysis: Chargers 14, Patriots 13

12.07.14 at 10:03 pm ET
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Two quarters are in the books in San Diego, and the Patriots trail the Chargers, 14-13. Here are a few quick notes:

Tom Brady is 14-for-25 for 171 yards with one touchdown and one interception. However, he threw a bad ball at the end of the first half that resulted in a pick. Meanwhile, Rob Gronkowski has three catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. The best Chargers defender of the first half was Melvin Ingram, who has one sack, one pass defensed and one quarterback hit, and has done a good job putting pressure on the New England offensive line.

— Meanwhile, Philip Rivers is 8-for-14 for 77 yards and a touchdown, and running back Ryan Mathews has nine carries for 52 yards. Darrelle Revis has taken away Keenan Allen — the Chargers’ No. 1 option in the passing game was not targeted at all in the first half.

— The Patriots were likely to play more nickel because of the Chargers’ overt emphasis on throwing the ball, but the fact that they were without Dont’a Hightower made for an easier transition. New England came out in a 4-2-5, with Jamie Collins and Jonathan Casillas at linebacker. Collins stopped San Diego’s first drive of the game with a third-down sack when he shot through the A gap to take down Rivers, forcing a punt. (Akeem Ayers appeared to get some work as an outside linebacker/defensive end for a portion of the first half as well.)

— The Patriots responded with one of their longest scoring drives of the year, a 17-play sequence that stalled out in the red zone and led to a 22-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski to make it 3-0 midway through the first quarter. (It tied the 17-play drive New England had against Chicago earlier in the season.) On the sequence — which took 7:56 — the Patriots were able to run the ball consistently, but went away from it in the shadow of the San Diego goal line, and ended up settling for three. (It wasn’t without drama, however, as the first field goal attempt was blocked. However, there was a flag on the play — defensive offsides — and Gostkowski got a second chance. He connected on that one.)

— The Chargers got their first score of the game at the end of an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 15-yard pass from Rivers to Malcom Floyd on a play where Floyd beat Brandon Browner to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. That made it 7-3 early in the second quarter.

— The low point of the first half came when Brandon LaFell fumbled a pass from Brady early in the second quarter. (Jahleel Addae poked the ball away.) Brandon Stuckey scooped up the ball and took it all the way back for the touchdown, a 53-yard return to give the Chargers a 14-3 advantage. It was just the fourth lost fumble of the year for the Patriots, and the first one that didn’t come from Brady.

— The Patriots added another field goal in the second quarter when Gostkowski connected on a 22-yarder to make it 14-6 with just over seven minutes remaining in the half. The drive was highlighted by a 30-yard pass to Gronkowski on a play where the big fella was covered initially by defensive end/linebacker Dwight Freeney. The Patriots steered clear of the run for the most part on the drive, preferring to pass on 11 of the 12 plays from scrimmage.

— The best play in the first half for the Patriots likely came relatively late in the second quarter when Brandon Bolden blocked a Mike Scifres punt, setting New England up with terrific field position at the Chargers’ 25-yard line. (It was the first blocked punt of the season for the Patriots, and first since Patrick Chung did it in 2010.) The Patriots made them pay with a quick sequence that ended with a 14-yard pass play to Gronkowski to make it 14-13. With the touchdown, Gronkowski became the first tight end to have four seasons of 10-plus touchdowns.

— The Patriots were able to exploit the soft spots in the Chargers offensive line on a few occasions, particularly when Collins picked up two sacks on blitzes up the gut. Expect more of that in the second half.

Chandler Jones (hip) inactive for 6th straight game, Dont’a Hightower (shoulder) also inactive

12.07.14 at 7:03 pm ET
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Dont'a Hightower will miss his third game of season Sunday night in San Diego. (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Dont’a Hightower will miss his third game of season Sunday night in San Diego. (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO — Chandler Jones will miss his sixth straight game with a hip injury. Jones is one of the seven inactives for Sunday night’s game here at Qualcomm Stadium.

Also inactive is linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who is nursing a right shoulder injury suffered last week in the second half of the loss at Green Bay. This could mean much more significant playing time for Jonathan Casillas, acquired in a mid-October trade with the Buccaneers.

This is the third game missed for Hightower, who didn’t play against the Bengals and Bills with a knee injury.

Backup linebacker and special teams core player Chris White (ankle) will miss his second straight game. The other four inactives are offensive lineman Cameron Fleming, running back James White, defensive back Alfonzo Dennard and offensive lineman Jordan Devey.

Defensive lineman Sealver Siliga is active and will play after being activated on Saturday from the short term injured reserve list. Siliga injured his foot in the Week 3 win over the Raiders.

For the Chargers, rookie center Chris Watt (calf) is active and expected to start for the Chargers. Right tackle D.J. Fluker suffered a concussion on Wednesday in practice and passed testing protocols after missing practice Thursday. He returned to practice Friday and is active for the game.

Read More: chandler jones, Chris Watt, D.J. Fluker, Dont'a Hightower

Live blog: Tom Brady’s Patriots take on Philip Rivers’ Chargers in San Diego

12.07.14 at 5:50 pm ET
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The Patriots are looking to bounce back after last week’s loss in Green Bay, while the Chargers are seeking their fourth straight win — a game which will go a long way in the shaping of the AFC playoff picture. Follow the game through tweets before, during and after.

Live Blog Patriots vs. Chargers, live blog
 

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Setting the scene from San Diego as Patriots take on Chargers

12.07.14 at 12:39 pm ET
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Qualcomm Stadium will be lit up for Sunday night football between the Patriots and Chargers. (Photo: San Diego Chargers)

Qualcomm Stadium will be lit up for Sunday night football between the Patriots and Chargers. (Photo: San Diego Chargers)

SAN DIEGO — Weather should not be a factor as the Patriots battle the Chargers here at Qualcomm Stadium in a huge AFC matchup with significant playoff seeding implications.

Sunny skies for warmups will give way to a clear sunset and temperatures in the mid-to-upper 60s for the 5:30 local time kickoff. Wind will also not be a factor as there will be only a light breeze of 8 MPH out of the northwest. Unlike earlier in the week, when heavy rains pelted the Southern California coast, there is no rain in the forecast.

The Patriots (9-3) come into the game trying to start a new winning streak after having their seven-game streak ended last week in Green Bay. The Chargers (8-4) are one of the hotter teams in the AFC, having won three straight, including last week’s 34-33 win over the Ravens in Baltimore.

The Patriots have a two-game lead on the Dolphins and Bills in AFC East, but the more pressing matter is the overall AFC playoff picture. The Patriots are tied with the Broncos atop the AFC at 9-3 while the AFC North-leading Bengals enter the day with an 8-3-1 mark.

Since the start of the 2003 season, the Patriots are a remarkable 36-4 following a loss, including nine straight wins in such a spot since the 2012 season. Tom Brady is 37-8 in his career following a loss.

This game also marks the start of the final quarter of the season for both teams. Appropriately, the matchup features the top two quarterbacks who excel in the final four games of the regular season since the merger in 1970. Brady is 40-8 in his career in the four-game race to the playoffs while Philip Rivers is 29-3 in such games.

As for coaching, Bill Belichick is coaching his first game in December this season. This is usually his time of year. He is 51-9 in December in his previous 14 seasons in New England. That .850 mark is the best in NFL history (minimum 25 games) for a coach with one team. Former 49ers coach George Seifert is second at 27-6.

After failing last week, the Patriots are again searching for their 10th win of the season. If they leave Southern California victorious, it will be the 12th straight season of double-digit wins, just four seasons shy of San Francisco’s mark of 16 straight from 1983-1998.

As for injuries, Chandler Jones (hip) and Dont’a Hightower (shoulder) are among 10 questionable Patriots. Jones has missed the last five games since injuring the hip in the Oct. 16 win over the Jets. Hightower received treatment all week and is expected to give it a try. Long snapper Danny Aiken (concussion) missed last week and is questionable for the game. If he can’t go, Rob Ninkovich will get the call, as he did last week against the Packers. Backup linebacker and special teams core player Chris White (ankle) was the only player not to practice all week and is officially doubtful for the game.
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Read More: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

Week 14 Fantasy Football Live Chat, 11 a.m.

12.07.14 at 9:03 am ET
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Join Pete Davidson of WEEI.com and Rotobahn.com for a live chat, starting at 11 a.m. Davidson will help you set your lineups for all the all-important Week 13 of the fantasy football season. Get your questions in now.

Live Blog Week 14 Fantasy Football Live Chat
 

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