Chargers Are Thunderstruck
Patriots Beat Up 'Top Team' Fair and Square
Special teams was relatively even. That's the only thing that stopped New England from dominating a second straight 2006 playoff team in all three phases of football. The Patriots annihilated San Diego with the identical 38-14 score by which they dismantled the New York Jets last Sunday.
New England is the team that proved its pregame point: The cheating "scandal" is much ado about nothing. Fair and square, under the scrutiny of the league, the Patriots wrecked the team experts called the most talented team in the NFL. Wrecked is an understatement.
The night started with a fan tribute, an overwhelming show of support to New England head coach Bill Belichick. Belichick, who rarely shows emotion or even recognition of such accolades, waved to the crowd, and Gillette Stadium thundered.
"I want to thank the fans for their awesome support," Belichick said in his postgame press conference. "From the time we walked out on the field they showed up tonight. They gave us some energy and we appreciate that. We have great fans and we have a great owner who has been awesome all week. At times it was a tough situation. I'm glad it worked out well for everybody." The crowd chanted "BEL - I -CHICK!" periodically throughout the game.
"What did you see out there tonight?" asked a rhetorical Tedy Bruschi in the locker room. "After all the name-calling and all the accusations: That's who we are."
San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers in the first
quarter of New England's 38-14 romp Sunday night.
Photo courtesy: Boston Herald (Matthew West)
New England, expecting San Diego to blitz relentlessly as the Chargers did in the AFC Division Playoff game in January, passed the ball on all seven opening-drive plays. Tom Brady, a ludicrous 25 of 31 for 279 yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception, connected on six of those passes, the last to Ben Watson, wide open in the corner of the end zone.
On San Diego's first play from scrimmage, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers found nothing but the hands of Rosevelt Colvin, the first of two interceptions Rivers threw to a linebacker. Wes Welker, who made several spectacular plays, but has also dropped several passes, dropped a third down conversion leaving New England to "settle" for a field goal. But in the second goof of the night, kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed wide right. San Diego was still in it.
Brady, meanwhile, had three incompletions -- half of his total for the night.
The Chargers found themselves powerless to move the ball. LaDanian Tomlinson went no where, and Rivers could complete significant passes only to Antonio Gates. San Diego's second possession ended in a three-and-out, which was pretty good considering their first possession.
That was cold comfort as Brady again stampeded the blue, white and red down the field on 10 plays, this time administering a steady dose of Laurence Maroney who had 5 carries for 15 yards on the drive. He would finish with 77 yards on 15 carries (5.1 avg). Brady capped the drive with a 23-yards strike to Randy Moss who was incomprehensibly left uncovered in the right slot.
Sunday in the fourth quarter, chewing up yardage and burning
time. Maroney and Sammy Morris both averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
Photo courtesy: Boston Globe (Barry Chin)
Colvin notched another sack and forced fumble and a defensed pass later in the game.
Another 10 plays later and Gostkowski made up for his earlier miscue with a 24-yard chip shot and a 17-0 lead. The teams traded three-and-outs, but the night was just about to get horribly worse for San Diego.
The Chargers finally appeared ready to move the ball. Rivers hit Vincent Jackson for 21 yards and two plays later Gates for 9. But on 3rd-and-1 from New England's 37, San Diego chose to throw instead of going to the bread and butter. Rivers sought Malcom Floyd and again hit a Patriots linebacker. Six-foot-two, 270-pound Adalius Thomas outran every player on the field, scoring his third interception for a touchdown of his career.
"He really showed his speed on that," Belichick said. "He had guys chasing him. If they made up any ground they didn't make up much." San Diego finally broke their ice in chilly Gillette on their first drive of the second half. It took them 16 plays and burned 8:17 off the clock. That turned out to be a good trade for New England as the Patriots struck back effortlessly on the ensuing drive.
LaDanian Tomlinson could do against New
England. Nothing but tip his hat.
Photo courtesy: Boston Globe / Getty Images (Nick Laham)
Speaking of sick receivers, Welker, who also had 8 receptions but for 91 yards, twice deftly evaded San Diego linebacker Tim Dobbins, leaving the defender on his knees trying to change direction.
The Chargers scored again to start the fourth quarter, but it was way too late. New England sealed the deal with a 15-play, 91-yard clock-draining drive, culminating with a Morris 3-yard dive for six.
"Hey, I got something to say to all the players in the league who wanted to comment on this," Bruschi said. "If you're on past teams -- I saw some of the players, and what they were saying. If you're on past teams, and you got doubts, if you got all these hypotheticals, well, I've got a hypothetical for you: Let's get all the players that played with us and bring them back here. And let's get all the players that you had on your teams and bring them back here, and let's play again.
"We would win again.