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Jerod Mayo and Patrick Chung make sure goal line is Patriots property

09.18.11 at 10:19 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For the second straight week, the Patriots defense made a key, game-changing goal line stand. And for the second week in a row, the offense responded with a 99-yard touchdown scoring drive after Jerod Mayo and Patrick Chung stopped Mike Tolbert at the Patriots 1 in the second quarter.

“We said ever since training camp that the goal line has to be ours,” Mayo said. “That mental toughness really shows up down there.”

Last week, the Patriots stopped the Dolphins at the 1 in the fourth quarter and Tom Brady hit Wes Welker for a 99-yard touchdown pass on the next play. This week was Mayo reading a key in the Chargers’ defense.

“[Randy McMichael] motioned over and he’s their run-blocking tight end and they had a heavy guy on that side as well, so I knew if they we’re going play-action, they would play-action to Gates’ side and throw the ball to him but on that side there really was no pass threat so I played the run real hard,” Mayo said.

The Patriots allowed 378 yards passing to Philip Rivers, including 10 catches by Vincent Jackson for 172 yards.

“We still have to work on the yardage and third-down defense and things like that but we showed great mental toughness by coming up with turnovers, huge turnovers and playing complimentary football,” Mayo said. “Just stopping the run and doing things on the goal line really shows toughness and I think the defense really showed that tonight.”

Read More: Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots, nfl, Patrick Chung

Chargers left frustrated by turnovers, lack of Gates

09.18.11 at 9:37 pm ET
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FOXBORO — An offensive shootout was expected between the Patriots and the Chargers at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, but what ultimately led to New England’€™s 35-21 victory was a few heads-up plays by the defense in crucial moments.

Chargers running back Mike Tolbert was stopped on a fourth-and-one at the Patriot goal line in the first half, and fumbled the ball on a critical drive while San Diego was trailing by a touchdown. After the game, Tolbert said that he was just trying to do too much to help his team get back in it, to no avail.

‘€œ[It was] a big loss. It’€™s football; you’€™ve got to learn from it and move on,’€ Tolbert said. ‘€œI can’€™t let the ball go, and we’€™ve just got to do better. ‘€¦ We had a good drive going, and could’€™ve taken the lead, and I put the ball on the ground, and I can’€™t do that. I owe my coaches and my teammates better.’€

Tolbert finished the game with nine carries for 10 yards and the fumble. He also had eight receptions for 73 yards.

But the blame wasn’€™t at all squarely on the shoulders of Tolbert in the Chargers locker room. Quarterback Philip Rivers threw two interceptions to the Patriots defense, both deep within the Patriots’€™ zone. Lineman Vince Wilfork deflected one of Rivers’€™ passes into the air and hauled it in while the Chargers threatened to score. It was the same scenario later on in the third quarter when Rivers was picked by safety Sergio Brown inside the 5-yard-line.

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Key Moment: Vince Wilfork takes command with an interception

09.18.11 at 8:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Down 17-7 with 19 seconds left in the first half, the Chargers were at the New England 19-yard line, driving for a touchdown that could pull them to within three as the second quarter came to a close. Operating out of the shotgun, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers dropped back to pass and tried to shoot one right for running back Mike Tolbert, who was a threat all afternoon in the passing game (he finished with 73 yards receiving in eight catches).

But the pass was tipped up in the air by Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, who gathered the ball in and went rumbling down the San Diego sideline, all the way to the Chargers 29-yard line. Three plays later, Stephen Gostkowski banged home a 47-yard field goal to make it 20-7 at the half.

“I’m a cover two guy,” joked Wilfork after the game when talking about his style as a defensive back. “I like to come up and get my hands on the receiver. I’m physical at the line of scrimmage. I can’t play off (the line) — I have to be in someone’s face. … That’s where I make my living.”

“Vince is a tremendous athlete. People don’t realize that,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Wilfork. “He can throw it, catch it, return punts. He’s a terrific athlete.”

“Vince runs with the wide receivers,” linebacker Jerod Mayo said with a laugh. “Vince is a great athlete. He’s always been a great athlete. He ran the ball pretty well today.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Jerod Mayo, Mike Tolbert, Philip Rivers

Snap Judgments: Patriots 35, Chargers 21

09.18.11 at 7:19 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots moved to 2-0 on the season with a 28-21 victory over the Chargers, a win highlighted by a brilliant Tom Brady (again) and a host of standout defensive plays, including a pair by Jerod Mayo, another by Vince Wilfork and a key interception by Sergio Brown.

The Patriots travel to Buffalo to battle the 2-0 Bills next week.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– Brady — who passed for 517 yards in the Monday night win over the Dolphins — completed 31-of-40 passes for 423 yards and three TD passes. He finished the game with a 135.7 passer rating, the ninth straight regular-season game he has topped the 100.0 mark. He was at his best on the 99-yard TD drive following the Mayo tackle, completing passes to five different receivers, including a 10-yard scoring strike to Rob Gronkowski. Brady also authored a 92-yard TD drive in the first quarter.

– The defense again allowed the opposing quarterback to put up big yardage (Philip Rivers finished with 364 yards passing) but made key plays when it counted. Mayo stopped Mike Tolbert at the NE one-yard line on fourth-and-goal to end a second-quarter drive, and Sergio Brown (with Patrick Chung in the locker room with an arm injury) stepped in front of Antonio Gates at the NE 17 for a first-down interception to halt another promising San Diego drive. And after the Patriots failed to convert a fourth-and-4 at midfield in the fourth quarter, Mayo stripped Tolbert in the backfield. Rob Ninkovich recovered, setting up the second Gronkowski TD that put the game away.

– But it was Wilfork with the signature defensive play of the early season for the Patriots, tipping and then intercepting a Rivers pass at the NE 29. Wilfork returned the pick 28 yards (though 10 yards were wiped out by a Devin McCourty penalty), Brady hit Branch with a pair of passes for 18 yards, and Gostkowski converted on a 47-yard field goal to end the first half.

– Both tight ends caught touchdown passes for the second straight week, as Aaron Hernandez capped the first New England drive of the game with a catch over Bob Sanders and Gronkowski put the finishing touches on the 99-yard drive. Gronkowski also caught a fourth-quarter TD and now has seven scores in his last six regular-season games.

– Branch did not catch a touchdown pass, but did finish with eight catches for 129 yards to lead all Patriots players.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for a 16-yard TD with 1:54 left in the game to finish off a 80-yard drive that put the Patriots up 35-21. Ellis finished the game with 68 yards on 16 carries as he served as the lead back (Danny Woodhead had only four carries).

Chad Ochocinco still wasn’t a featured player in the offense, but did make a key third-down catch on the opening drive and hauled in a 30-yard grab on the second play of the 99-yard TD drive.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– Injuries. Chung (hand), Ras-I Dowling (thigh)and Zoltan Mesko all left the game in the third quarter. Aaron Hernandez left (knee) in the fourth quarter and was not on the field for New England’s final drive.

– Danny Woodhead was virtually a non-factor (just four carries for 12 yards, though he did run in the two-point conversion to put the Patriots up 28-14) in the offense and struggled blocking, failing to pick up a pair of blitz pickups.

– The secondary had another shaky outing. Devin McCourty has his second straight up-and-down game, allowing several big plays against Vincent Jackson (career-high 10 catches, 172 yards). Kyle Arrington also had troubles in matchups with Jackson and Malcom Floyd.

Halftime analysis: Patriots 20, Chargers 7

09.18.11 at 5:42 pm ET
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FOXBORO — There are two quarters in the books here at Gillette Stadium, and the Patriots hold a 20-7 lead. Here are a few notes:

‘€¢The New England offense looks very smooth — Zoltan Mesko has been the loneliest man on the sidelines, as the Patriots have not punted the ball away while putting together scoring drives of 92 and 99 yards on the way to the first-half lead. Tom Brady was 20 for 23 for 240 yards, while Chad Ochocinco had catches of 15 and 30 yards in the first half. In addition, Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch and Wes Welker were all active throughout the first two quarters, all catching at least three passes in the first half. Meanwhile, BenJarvus Green-Ellis finished the first half with 22 rushing yards.

‘€¢The Patriots were able to keep the chains moving on their 92-yard opening drive. New England was three-for-three on third-down opportunities and punching the ball in with a 14-yard pass from Brady to Hernandez where Hernandez went up and over smallish safety Bob Sanders, pulling the ball down from its highest point and, after a brief bobble, holding on for the touchdown to make it 7-0 midway through the first quarter. They added to that on their second scoring drive when they got down to the San Diego four, but passes for Hernandez and Branch went incomplete, and settled for a 22-yard field goal that made it 10-7 with 13:20 left in the first half. New England pushed out to a 10-point lead on a 99-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard pass from Brady to Gronkowski to make it 17-7 with 2:49 left in the half.

‘€¢Patriots opened frequently with three tight ends on the field, as Nate Solder reported in as a tight end three times on New England’s first scoring drive of the afternoon, and several times over the course of the first half. When it comes to the tight ends, it was a bit of a mixed bag on the day, as Shaun Phillips beat Gronkowski badly off the edge for the Chargers first sack of the game midway through the first quarter. (Running back Danny Woodhead appeared to struggle on occasion with blitz pickup in the first half, getting beaten by San Diego linebacker Donald Butler.) In addition, Gronkowski was also whistled for a hold late in the first quarter that negated a New England gain. (Cornerback Leigh Bodden also picked up an ill-timed whistle when he was flagged for a hold late in the first half, keeping a San Diego drive alive.) Of course, all was made right when Brady found Gronkowski on a 10-yard touchdown pass with 2:49 left in the first half.

‘€¢New England opened in a three-man defensive front and shifted back and forth between four-man and three-man fronts. New England managed to keep the Chargers out of the end zone on San Diego’s first series from scrimmage, but the Chargers converted on their next opportunity, taking the ball 80 yards on seven plays in 3:21 to tie the game at seven. (That series was highlighted by a pair of catches from Malcom Floyd, a sweet 23-yarder and an equally impressive 36-yarder.) On the next series, San Diego made it all the way down to the Patriots one, but Mike Tolbert was stuffed on fourth and goal by linebacker Jerod Mayo on a great stop. That set up the Patriots 99-yard scoring drive that made it 17-7 with 2:49 left in the first half.

‘€¢The defensive highlight of the first half? A 28-yard interception return by Vince Wilfork with less than a minute left in the second quarter. The Patriots turned it into a 47-yard field goal as time expired at the end of the first half.

‘€¢Sebastian Vollmer saw his first action of the 2011 season, getting the start at right tackle, while veteran Matt Light was at left tackle. In addition, Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes were both on the field for the first time during the regular season.

Analysis of the Patriots’ inactives for Sunday

09.18.11 at 3:01 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots will be without quarterback Ryan Mallett, wide receiver Taylor Price, running back Shane Vereen, linebacker Gary Guyton, offensive lineman Ryan Wendell, offensive lineman Dan Koppen and defensive lineman Mike Wright for Sunday’s game against the Chargers.

While Mallett, Koppen and Wright are no surprise (Mallett is the No. 3 quarterback, while Koppen (fibula) and Wright (concussion) were out of practice all week because of injuries suffered in the season-opening win over Miami. In addition, Wendell (calf) and Price (hamstring) have been slowed by hamstring problems and have missed a sizable chunk of time as of later, while Guyton (hamstring) was limited all week. Meanwhile, rookie Vereen has struggled to see the field after suffering a hamstring injury of his own in the preseason.

With no Guyton, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots go about defending San Diego tight end Antonio Gates. The plus-sized Gates, who is fast but also too big for a safety to cover, had been shadowed by Guyton in the past. On Sunday, that role could fall to linebackers Dane Fletcher or A.J. Edds, or the biggest safety New England has in Josh Barrett.

With those seven on the sidelines, it appears that linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham and offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer will all be making their 2011 debuts Sunday afternoon against the Chargers.

Read More: A.J. Edds, Antonio Gates, Brandon Spikes, Dan Koppen

Remember Bob Sanders? Deion Branch does

09.18.11 at 1:57 pm ET
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FOXBORO — One of the biggest nemeses of the Patriots in the 2000s was Colts strong safety Bob Sanders. No one in football was better as a safety in run support than Sanders, whom many of the Patriots considered a linebacker in the secondary.

But Sanders had trouble staying on the field in seven seasons in Indianapolis, especially in his last three.

In Sept. 2008, Sanders missed over a month with a high ankle sprain, suffered in the Colts’ second game of the season against the Minnesota Vikings. Sanders would be replaced by second-year safety Melvin Bullitt.

In 2009, Sanders started two games before being placed on injured reserve on Nov. 6 with an arm injury. He recorded six tackles and one interception in his two games that year.

In 2010, Sanders left the season opener with a torn biceps tendon he tried and tried but on Dec. 8, he was placed on injured reserve, which ended his season. In February, Sanders was released by the Colts after only playing nine games since the start of 2008.

In a team statement he said, “I always will consider myself a Colt. I want to thank the fans also for their great support. They played a big part in making my seven years with the team very rewarding.”

Now, Sanders has new life with the San Diego Chargers, who signed him in the offseason to a one-year, $2 million deal. And after three solo tackles and three assists last week against the Vikings, it appears he’s back to normal. Just ask Deion Branch, the receiver who will be going up against Sanders, free safety Eric Weddle and corners Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason.

“The guy looks good,” Branch said. “It doesn’t look like he missed “X” amount of games, I promise you that. It definitely doesn’t look like he missed all of last year. The guy looks real good. Eric Weddle looks great and the two corners have always been pretty good.”

All four will be in action this afternoon against a Patriots passing attack that hung up 517 yards, four touchdowns and 38 points against the Dolphins six days ago.

Read More: Bob Sanders, Deion Branch, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots
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