Fired up. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
1. Who Stops Antonio Gates? - So "Gates is much, much better than Fasano." Well, Sergio Brown and the defense took Gates out of the game. Gates is Philip Rivers' safety blanket, so removing him from the game was feat the equivalent of taking out Wes Welker. Since Gary Guyton sat out the game, the Patriots used Brown and defensive looks to take away all attempts to Gates. Rivers threw one pass to Gates the entire game and it was intercepted by Brown. Patriots win this match-up.
2. Can Tom Brady Thrive? - A big question was if the Chargers would be able to stifle Brady like they did last season. While the Patriots put up plenty of points and Brady put up large numbers, there was a period of time (the entire third quarter and part of the fourth) where it seemed as if the Patriots couldn't move the ball on offense. So I'll give the Patriots a 75% victory on this match-up since the Patriots left plenty of points on the field.
As for the weapons, three receivers had 7+ catches (Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez) and four receivers (add in Rob Gronkowski) had 60+ yards. Tom Brady managed to spread the ball and prevented the Chargers from eliminating any of his targets.
3. Can Special Teams Be Special? - The non-story of the Special Teams could be a story. The Patriots were unable to make many plays in the return game as the Chargers looked competent on special teams. On the other side, Zoltan Mesko was fantastic with two punts before being injured. He dropped one punt on the 5 yard line and kicked the other one 54 yards where Matthew Slater took the return man down immediately. Stephen Gostkowski made all of his kicks and kickoffs, which should be expected. I'd say this point was a push since neither team really won this battle.
4. How Will The Patriots' Secondary Play? - While some would say that the Patriots are testing Ras-I Dowling by fire by starting him as a rookie, others could look at Devin McCourty and say the same. The Patriots are throwing McCourty pretty much on an island against the opposing teams #1 receiver. Those who are expecting McCourty to perform like Darrelle Revis as a sophomore will be let down, but McCourty never looked out of place (other than on the touchdown to Vincent Jackson). He was always in the correct position, but sometimes an elite quarterback like Rivers can make every throw to a large receivers like Malcom Floyd and Vincent Jackson.
While Rivers was throwing the ball where only his receivers could make the play, he made a point of picking on Kyle Arrington when he was on the field. That said, Rivers was completing passes to Jackson in triple and quadruple coverage. Since Floyd was out with an injury, Jackson was his only receiver to put up numbers. The other two top receivers were his running backs Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews. Because of that, I'd say the secondary did a pretty good job. They took away Gates and every other receiver. The running backs fall to the coverage of the linebackers. I'd give the Patriots 50% of this point for removing every part of the field, except for where Vincent Jackson was standing.
I believe a healthy Dowling will go extremely far this season and most reports say that he could have played if needed. He'll most likely have a safe week and prepare for Buffalo.
5. Who Will Spy The Backfield? - The Patriots lost this battle. No question. The goal was to remove Tolbert and Mathews from being productive receivers out of the back field. While Guyton was inactive, I thought that either Dane Fletcher or Rob Ninkovich would be used in coverage. Instead, it seemed as if the Patriots were so focused on removing the pass to Gates and the other receivers down the field, they let the Chargers pick up as many yards underneath as they wanted. While Tolbert ran 9 times for only 10 yards, he caught 8 passes for 73 yards. Mathews ran 12 times for 64 yards and a touchdown, and caught 7 passes for 62 yards. Patriots lost this battle and they need to find a way to stop dangerous weapons from leaving the backfield.