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Halftime analysis: Patriots 20, Chargers 7

09.18.11 at 5:42 pm ET
By

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.

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