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Snap Judgments: Patriots escape with 23-20 win over Chargers

10.24.10 at 7:26 pm ET
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After building a 20-3 lead, the Patriots withstood a furious late Chargers charge to claim a 23-20 victory in San Diego on Sunday afternoon. The win was not secure until there were 23 seconds left in regulation, when San Diego kicker Kris Brown knocked a potential game-tying, 50-yard field goal attempt off the right upright.

The win moved the Patriots to 5-1, and with the victory, they now hold a share of first place in the AFC East.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

–Takeaways. New England was able to force turnovers in the first half, including the first interception of Devin McCourty‘€™s NFL career, which came on a pass meant for Chargers receiver Patrick Crayton. The Patriots also had a forced fumble by linebacker Dane Fletcher, as well as two boneheaded unforced errors that allowed New England to take control of the football. The Patriots weren’€™t able to do much with them, at least early on, but the ability to force takeaways is another positive sign for a young and rapidly improving New England defense. The turnovers allowed the Pats to win on a day when the Chargers had more than twice as many total yards (363-179) as New England.

Special teams. The Patriots, who went into the game with what seemed like a big special teams edge, were just a little bit better than the Chargers. Brown was 1-for-2 on on-sides attempts, and ended up booting a fourth-quarter kickoff out of bounds that gave the Patriots the ball at their own 40-yard line. Brown initially lined up for a 45-yard attempt at the end of the game, but a false start penalty pushed it back to a 50-yard attempt, which ended up going off the upright. Meanwhile, Stephen Gostkowski booted three field goals (and has now converted on nine straight) and Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman were solid in the return game. (Points were deducted for long snapper Jake Ingram, who was flagged for holding and looked shaky throughout the afternoon.)

Consistent, complimentary football to start the second half. As sluggish as the New England offense looked in the first half, it answered with a killer drive at the start of the third quarter. In what was maybe its finest offensive sequence of the season, Tom Brady and New England went 79 yards in 17 plays, a drive that consumed 8:35 and made it 20-3 midway through the third quarter. The key yardage came on a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness against former BC product Antonio Garay, as well as a 16-yard gain on a pass play to running back Danny Woodhead on second-and-17. It was the drive of the game, as it featured two third-down conversions and a fourth-and-1 conversion as well.

Winning late. The Patriots nearly coughed up a 17-point second half lead, but held on for the win. The Chargers are not what they once were, but the Patriots ability to win away from Gillette Stadium ‘€” 3,000 miles away from home in a place where they have suffered some bad losses ‘€” cannot be overlooked. For the third straight game (and second consecutive road contest) the Patriots won away from home. Several Patriots talked this week about wanting to differentiate themselves from last year’€™s team, and impressive road victories are a big step in the right direction.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Despite the fact that the Chargers kept giving them the football, the Patriots offense struggled to put together any sort of sustained offensive attack throughout the first two quarters. New England was stuffed on several occasions by the San Diego defense, including a back-to-back sequence in the first half where the Patriots got the ball on the Chargers’€™ eight-yard line, but were forced to settle for a 40-yard field goal after sacks from Antwan Barnes and Shaun Phillips. There are all sorts of problems with San Diego, but the pass-defense ‘€” the best in the league entering Sunday’€™s game ‘€” isn’€™t one of them.

Against the best pass defense in the league, Tom Brady was clearly not at his best. The Patriots quarterback was 6-for-16 for 35 yards and one touchdown through the first two quarters, and finished 19-for-32 for 159 yards and a touchdown. The Patriots were also able to run the football for large stretches, as BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead had just 24 yards each and Green-Ellis was stopped on a key fourth-and-1 play that gave the ball back to the Chargers on downs and set the stage for the dramatic finish.

Read More: Chargers, Dane Fletcher, Devin McCourty, kris brown

Halftime analysis: Patriots 13, Chargers 3

10.24.10 at 5:47 pm ET
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The Patriots hold a 13-3 lead on the Chargers after two quarters in San Diego. Here are a few quick notes:

–The first half was an excellent microcosm as to why, despite the fact that they are leading the league in offense and defense, the Chargers have won just two of their six games. San Diego gave away the ball on multiple occasions, and at one point midway through the second quarter, the Chargers have 136 total yards and the Patriots had 26. In all, San Diego turned the ball over four times in the first half, and was lucky to only be trailing by 10 at the end of the second quarter.

–Defensively, the Patriots utilized the same lineup they went with against the Ravens, which included Brandon Deaderick at end, Gerard Warren at nose and Vince Wilfork at end. The pressure on Rivers was good early, with Jermaine Cunningham and Mike Wright getting after him and flushing him out of the pocket. And for what it’s worth, Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather delivered a fundamentally sound, big hit early on San Diego’€™s Patrick Crayton, knocking him sideways and saluting the New England sideline after the hit.

–Two of the four San Diego turnovers came as the result of unforced errors. On San Diego’€™s third series, the Patriots were able to knock the ball away from the Chargers’€™ Kris Brown (thanks to a hit from Dane Fletcher) and took over on San Diego’€™s 22-yard line. The Patriots flipped that around five plays later when Tom Brady found Rob Gronkowski for a 1-yard touchdown pass, giving New England a 7-3 lead shortly before the end of the first quarter.

There were two brutal Chargers errors to follow. First, San Diego receiver Richard Goodman made a classic rookie mistake, falling to the ground after his first NFL catch and leaving the ball there. He celebrated, and safety James Sanders came in and scooped up the ball. And midway through the second quarter, the Patriots took advantage when a pass was ruled a fumble ‘€” New England linebacker Rob Ninkovich picked up the ball and took it all the way down to the San Diego eight-yard line.

The fourth turnover was easily the most impressive of the afternoon. New England rookie cornerback Devin McCourty went high and picked off a ball meant for Crayton down the Patriots’€™ sideline late in the second quarter.

–On the other side, the New England offense has had almost zero ability to create any sort of sustainable offensive attack. The Chargers have done an excellent job blunting the Patriots, including one second-quarter sequence in the San Diego red zone where Brady was sacked on back-to-back plays ‘€” once by Shaun Phillips and once from Antwan Barnes ‘€” forcing New England to settle for a field goal from Stephen Gostkowski.

–On paper, the game was billed as a special teams mismatch, but the Chargers were able to keep it competitive in this department early, thanks in large part to New England long snapper Jake Ingram. In the first quarter, Ingram was flagged for defensive holding on a Zoltan Mesko punt. On San Diego’€™s next possession, the Chargers were able to get an early field goal from Kris Brown on their second drive (a 32-yarder), and on the ensuing kickoff, they tried a strange pooch kick that was recovered by Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher. There was also a 40-yard field goal from Gostkowski that came midway through the second that made it 10-3, New England. There was also a 35-yarder right before the end of the half to make it 13-3 and give Gostkowski his eighth straight field goal. But Ingram has been shaky at best through the early stages of the game.

Tom Brady is 6-for-16 for 35 yards and one touchdown, while BenJarvus Green-Ellis has six carries for 20 yards and Rob Gronkowski has two catches for 10 yards and a touchdown for the Patriots. On the other side of the ball, Philip Rivers is 14-for-22 for 123 yards and Buster Davis has four catches for 35 yards.

Read More: Chargers, halftime analysis, Patriots,

Gates is active for Chargers

10.24.10 at 3:22 pm ET
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San Diego tight end Antonio Gates is not among the inactives for the Chargers for today’s game against the Patriots. Gates, who has started 85 consecutive games for San Diego, has been hobbled by a toe injury lately, and did not practice all week for the Chargers. Among those who are listed as inactives for San Diego include outside linebacker Larry English and wide receiver Malcom Floyd.

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Inactive analysis: Does no Brace mean more Deaderick?

10.24.10 at 3:01 pm ET
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The Patriots inactives for Sunday’s game against the Chargers are as follows: defensive lineman Ron Brace, offensive lineman Mark LeVoir, offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger, defensive lineman Kyle Love, safety Jarrad Page, wide receiver Taylor Price, running back Fred Taylor and cornerback Terrence Wheatley.

No colossal surprises ‘€” most of the decisions were either injury (Page and Taylor) or simple numbers (LeVoir, Ohrnberger, Love and Price). The biggest name that stands out for me is the inclusion of Brace among the inactives. The second-year defensive limeman out of Boston College was not on the injury report during the week. With no Brace and no Love, expect more of rookie Brandon Deaderick, who drew his first start last week against the Ravens and played well.

In addition, the fact that wide receiver Julian Edelman is not on the list is a good sign for the New England offense. Edelman was on the injury report for much of the week because of a concussion he suffered last week against the Ravens. And the news that cornerback Kyle Arrington (who has been slowed by a groin injury) is good to go likely means he’ll get the start at corner this week against San Diego.

Read More: inactive analysis, Patriots,

Brace among inactives for Patriots against Chargers

10.24.10 at 2:50 pm ET
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The Patriots inactives for Sunday’s game against the Chargers are defensive lineman Ron Brace, offensive lineman Mark LeVoir, offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger, defensive lineman Kyle Love, safety Jarrad Page, wide receiver Taylor Price, running back Fred Taylor and cornerback Terrence Wheatley.

Read More: inactives, Patriots,

Patriots add Sergio Brown to active roster

10.23.10 at 5:48 pm ET
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The Patriots on Saturday signed safety Sergio Brown to the 53-man roster from the practice squad. To make room on the 53-man roster for Brown, they released running back Thomas Clayton.

Brown, 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, was originally signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of Notre Dame on April 29. He was released by the Patriots on Sept. 4 and signed to the practice squad on Sept. 6.

Clayton, 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, was signed by the Patriots from the Cleveland Browns‘€™ practice squad on Sept. 30. He originally signed with New England on June 11 and was released on Sept. 4. Clayton spent the 2007 and 2008 seasons on the San Francisco practice squad and 2009 on injured reserve with the 49ers after originally joining the team as a sixth round draft choice out of Kansas State in 2007. He was inactive during his two games on the New England 53-man roster.

Read More: Sergio Brown, Thomas Clayton,

Vic Carruci on The Big Show: “The Pats come out with at least one touchdown return”

10.23.10 at 9:51 am ET
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NFL.com analyst Vic Carruci stopped by The Big Show to discuss the lack of star NFC teams, the new policy on illegal hits, and Rodney Harrison‘€™s comments. Sunday’€™s slates of games seem to be dominated by the discussion of possible fines and suspensions for illegal hits: ‘€œHow many parents took a look of what happened last week and maybe looked at junior and said ‘€˜You know what, I don’€™t know if I want him playing this game.’€™ And that’€™s going to be hurtful to the league down the line.’€

Following are some highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, visit The Big Show audio on demand page here.

On San Diego Chargers: What is a locker room like that going to be like?

It seems to me the biggest thing that won’€™t’€™ show up in those offensive and defensive numbers is their special teams. Those are an utter joke. Those are laughably bad. That’€™s embarrassingly bad .To have a special teams that literally can’€™t cover ever at any time. And I think of this game, coming up. This should be right in their bailiwick. I’€™m thinking the Pats come out of this game with at least one touchdown return.

Dallas Cowboys: If Dallas loses, those people will not only be pissed off about their team but they won’€™t care about the Super Bowl being played in their town:

I think there’€™s a middle ground for those folks. The interesting thing about the Cowboys is the statistical anomaly where they are third in offense overall, fourth in defense, and tenth against the run. They have found weird ways to lose. They have lost all their games by seven or fewer points. They are talented but they are third in the league in penalties, and that’€™s the stat that jumps out at you there. Here’€™s the other thing; five games left, starting with the Giants, within their division. I would not be shocked in the least if we’€™re having a whole different conversation about Dallas in a few weeks.

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Read More: Concussions, Dallas Cowboys, NFL Policy, Rodney Harrison
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