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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.

Rivers completed 29 of 40 pass attempts for 378 yards and two touchdowns, but those two interceptions and four total team turnovers were glaring. While Brown’€™s interception was a mistake by Rivers, Wilfork’€™s pick caught the San Diego quarterback off guard.

‘€œThere’€™s no way I’€™m going to ever see [Wilfork] coming. I’€™d throw that again every time,’€ Rivers said. ‘€œYou don’€™t get a pass rusher sitting in the back on free release. He made a great play. I don’€™t know if I’€™d do anything differently on that play.’€

It was the second game in roughly a year that Rivers had his top target, tight end Antonio Gates, perfectly healthy. But the Patriots were apparently aware of that by double-teaming the All-Pro tight end the entire game and holding him to his first zero-catch contest of his 121-game career. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson proved to be Rivers’€™ go-to player,  catching a career-high 10 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns.

Gates was targeted only once the entire game, which is something Chargers head coach Norv Turner wasn’€™t too keen on seeing.

‘€œWe would like to throw the ball to him every down we could,’€ Turner said. ‘€œThey did a great job on him. Actually, in the game, we put Gates at Vincent Jackson’€™s position and Vincent at Gates’€™ position, and that’€™s why he got open because they continued to double Gates, and Vincent got single coverage. That’€™s why he kept getting the ball open in the middle.’€

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