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Patriots Avoid Collapse and Somehow Beat Chargers 23-20

I started this post-game recap without a title.  How do you summarize a game as good and bad as nearly heartbreaking  as the one the Patriots played today in their 23-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers? If you can come up with something other than "high blood pressure" or "near heart attack," I'll give you some major brownie points.

Defensively, the Patriots played very well for the first three and a half quarters.  The main way they succeeded: creating turnovers and capitalizing on Charger mistakes.  While the bone-headed fumbles by the Chargers could be considered "lucky" by the casual NFL fan, it's plays like those that separate 2-5 teams like the Chargers and 5-1 teams like the Patriots.  While the Patriots didn't generate a consistent pass rush,  they limited the yards after the catch by Chargers receivers, and made the big stops and created turnovers when it mattered most.  The team was also solid against the run, holding Ryan Mathews to just 15 yards on eight carries.  The longest run of the day for the Chargers was a meager six yard run by Darren Sproles.

Players who played well defensively included Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, Brandon Meriweather, and Jermaine Cunningham.  Rookie free agents Sergio Brown and Dane Fletcher both got some extended action, and both played very well.  Fletcher forced a key fumble, and Sergio Brown (who saw time after a 1st half knee injury to Pat Chung) made some very nice open field tackles, including the one that forced a Chargers field goal (that was ultimately missed) on the very last defensive drive of the game).  Rookie 7th round pick Brandon Deaderick also played well in his second career start, picking up a sack after shedding a double team.

The final two drives were a different story.  The Patriots couldn't generate a rush, and were letting Philip Rivers pick apart the zone.  The Chargers also found second half success by throwing to check down receivers.  While the fourth quarter nearly gave every Patriots fan a heart attack, I definitely think there were some positives to take away on the defensive side of the ball.

On offense, the first half was a half to forget.  The Patriots couldn't run the ball.  They couldn't throw, nor did they have the time to throw.  They couldn't convert third downs.  There's not much else to say.  Had the offense been able to execute on a consistent basis, this game would have been a blowout by halftime.  There were so many points left on the board.  I felt the Patriots could have benefited from a deep threat like Randy Moss in this half.  The Chargers kept bringing a heavy rush, and sitting on the underneath routes.  The Patriots tried a couple of deep balls, included a flea flicker to Deion Branch, but have yet to establish the threat of a deep attack since Moss' departure.

In the 2nd half, the offense did get some big drives going.  Tom Brady went 13 for 16 in the second half, as he made good quick reads and slowly but surely drove the team down the field. After all, the team did open with a 17 play, 79 yard drive that was capped off with a one yard BenJarvus Green-Ellis touchdown run.  The drive opened up the score (20-3), and took up more than half the quarter for the Patriots.  The Patriots also got rolling their second drive of the second half.  Up 20-6, they moved the ball quickly and efficiently down the field with passes to Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez.  Still, the drive stalled and the team had to settle for a 35 yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal.

Overall, I'm just glad the team escaped with the win.  A loss would have been demoralizing.  However, in nearly blowing the game, I think that the defense may have experienced the humbling experience that they needed... without the team suffering the loss.