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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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This BenJarvus Green-Ellis touchdown helped the Patriots build up just enough of a lead to withstand the Chargers' fourth-quarter comeback. (AP)

This BenJarvus Green-Ellis touchdown helped the Patriots build up just enough of a lead to withstand the Chargers' fourth-quarter comeback. (AP)

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
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