Tom Brady Still "Tom Terrific"
After a record breaking performance a week ago against the Dolphins, Tom Brady once again played top notch football. Brady was a little slow to begin the second half, but besides that stretch, was nearly perfect on the night. Brady finished 31 for 40 for 423 yards and three touchdowns.
Patriots Pass Rush and Third Down Defense Struggle
Last week, a lot of Patriots fans were encouraged by the strong pass rush and third down defense that the team showed. This afternoon against the Chargers, the Patriots really couldn't have played much worse in both areas. The Patriots allowed the Chargers to go 12/14 on third downs. The Patriots couldn't generate much of a rush either, with a fourth quarter strip sack by Mark Anderson being the only real highlight in that area.
Red Zone Defense Continues Prowess
The Patriots were terrific defensively in the red zone yet again today, as the Patriots stopped the Chargers from scoring twice. The first was a momentum changing defensive stop on fourth down by Jerod Mayo on the one yard line. The Patriots turned that opportunity into a beautiful 99 yard touchdown drive that was capped with a Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski touchdown. The second big red zone turnover came in the second half, when second year player Sergio Brown stepped in front of a Philip Rivers pass and made a key interception.
Patriots Win the Turnover Battle
The Patriots defense was very opportunistic. In addition to the Sergio Brown interception described above, the Patriots also had two fumble recoveries in the fourth quarter as the Chargers tried to play catch up. Jerod Mayo had a beautiful strip on Mike Tolbert, with the Patriots up just six and the Chargers driving to potentially take the lead. Then, Mark Anderson took away all hopes of a Charger comeback with a strip sack just prior to the conclusion of the game. The turnover of the night was of course the Vince Wilfork interception and return. It was actually a really heads-up play, with Wilfork stepping in front of the intended receiver and getting a solid return that helped set up the Patriots for a last second field goal.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots didn't give up a single turnover. When a team wins the turnover battle 4-0, they are likely to win the game.
Tight Ends Continue to Dominate
So far, one of the best storylines of the 2011 season has been the domination of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez finished with seven grabs for 62 yards and a touchdown, while Gronkowski finished with four grabs for 86 yards and a pair of touchdowns. I don't think the NFL has ever seen a tight end combo as dynamic as these two, and I don't expect them to slow down anytime soon.
Branch and Welker Continue Solid Play
Deion Branch and Wes Welker have both had extremely solid starts to their respective 2011 campaigns. Deion came up with 129 yards on eight grabs, while Welker finished with seven catches for 81 yards. Both Branch and Welker have seen time lining up on the outside and beating man coverage, proving that they aren't just "slot" guys.
Patriots Shut Down Antonio Gates
The Patriots clearly saw tight end Antonio Gates as the player to stop on the Chargers offense, and they did a great job doing that. With Pat Chung in coverage, Antonio wasn't even targeted once in the first half. In the second half, when he finally was targeted, Sergio Brown came up with the big-time interception.
Drew Bledsoe, Jon Morris Honored at Halftime
At halftime, the Patriots honored quarterback Drew Bledsoe and center Jon Morris as the newest member of the Patriots Hall of Fame. It was really nice to see Bledsoe honored this weekend. I'm not sure how much Bledsoe will be in the spotlight going forward, but I always love hearing what he has to say. Growing up in the 1990's, I can still proudly say that Bledsoe was one of my favorite Patriots players of all-time (if not my favorite). Bledsoe turned around the New England franchise, and helped the team become competitive after the lowest point in the franchise's history. Bledsoe is underrated in the national spotlight. He was tough as nails. He had one of the greatest arms I have personally ever seen. He was a gunslinger - gunslingers throw interceptions. He played behind a terrible offensive line for many years. He led the Patriots to a Super Bowl in 1996. And for those that say he never had that crowning "moment," I would disagree. His performance in the 2001 AFC Championship wasn't anywhere close to perfect. However, that drive... that was nothing short of heroic. I would like to one day see Bledsoe in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but only time will tell.