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Patriots vs. Chargers: Fan Notes from the Game

Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots' 23-14 victory over the San Diego Chargers.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Nice try, Justin Bieber.

I'm not going to lie: when I learned that the New England Patriots had encountered that skinny, tattooed, whiny, obnoxious pile of yuck in the locker room while attending an LA Clippers game over this past week, I got extremely nervous. Everything that Bieber has ever touched has turned to steaming crap, and that goes double for sports teams. The Bieber curse is alive and well, and New England was almost the latest team to fall victim to it.

Luckily for us, he wasn't there to visit the Patriots, and because of that the team didn't receive full brunt of whatever filmy residue rubs off on the poor athletes he decides to suddenly root for that week. Because of that, the Patriots were able to go into San Diego and knock off the Chargers in a game where the offense struggled, but the defense and special teams stepped up and ensured that Bill Belichick's streak of not losing back-to-back games remained alive and well. Not only did the defense keep this one close until the offense was able to figure San Diego out, but they held Philip Rivers to a single touchdown and shut San Diego out in the second half altogether. That's impressive enough as it is, but they did it on the road against a very good team without their best pass rusher and  best inside linebacker (not to mention the quarterback of the defense).

  • I don't think that I can overstate how glad I am that last night represented the last of the primetime games the Patriots will have to play in the regular season. It's all 1 PM from here on out, and that's just fine with me. I know that when you're good, you get the games that attract the ratings, but five night games in one season is plenty for me, thanks.
  • And it's not even like the primetime games mean better commercials either. I lost track of how many times I saw that Subway ad with those two guys in a warehouse fighting over a Subway pastrami sandwich. I can say with absolute certainty that if that sandwich just fell out of the sky while I was working in a warehouse somewhere, I wouldn't eat it. And given my dietary habits, that's saying something.
  • I also no longer know how I feel about that Bud Light commercial where the Bucs fan gets to meet Warren Sapp after they transformed his living room and built a pirate ship in his back yard.On one hand, it would be pretty sweet to have a war galleon in your back yard. On the other hand, you immediately become the most obnoxious person on your block, the property value of your home takes a hit, and I don't even want to know what cannons do to insurance premiums.
  • But on to the game. When I heard that Hightower was out and Jonathan Casillas would be wearing the green dot, I was extremely confused. Casillas has been a nice addition as a sub-package linebacker and special teamer, but I never saw him as a signal caller. Luckily for me, the reports were wrong about that one and Jamie Collins got the nod. And he followed with what might have been his best game as a Patriot, wreaking havoc along the line with perfectly timed blitzes, fierce pass rush moves, and run stuffing tackles.
  • Maybe it had something to do with the mouth full of gold teeth.
  • Julian Edelman, in a post-game interview with Willie McGinnest and Marshall Faulk, said that Collins is the most athletic guy he has ever seen, and that "he's starting to learn the game." That's spot-on, I think, as many of the plays Collins made were based off of pre-snap read and gap adjustments.
  • Great example: towards the middle of the second quarter, San Diego came out in a strong 21 formation with Malcolm Floyd and Eddie Royal lined up on the outside and Antonio Gates on the strong side, showing block. Collins brought everyone up close to the line, showing blitz, which forced Rivers to audible into a shotgun and switch the play to a Ryan Matthews draw, hoping that the Patriots would all harness their inner Brandon Spikes and overcommit to the rush while Matthews blew right by him. Collins, switched the defensive shift from outside pressure to inside pressure, motioned Kyle Arrington closer to the line, and blasted through the A-gap to stop Matthews in the backfield for a two yard loss. Collins dictated what happened on both sides of the ball on that play and having him and Hightower in the middle of the field for the foreseeable future is making my days merry and bright.
  • Oh, and Chandler Jones seems ready to come back any day now. So that ain't too bad either.
  • Nor is the return of Sealver Siliga, who seemed to jump right into midseason form as a run stuffer and pocket collapser. Once again, no-names and castoffs are getting it done.
  • As are the players New England traded for. Akeem Ayers registered a huge, possibly karmic interception four plays after that absurd Brandon Browner penalty, on a throw that was forced because Casillas stunted around center Chris Watt and forced Rivers to throw before he had effectively diagnosed the coverage.
  • While I'm on the topic of the Browner foul - that Browner is going to get flagged with defensive holding, illegal hands to the face, and a personal foul at least once per game is OK by me. It's just the way he plays, he usually draws the penalty early to test how flag-happy the officiating crew is going to be, and adjusts his game accordingly after that. It's simply an occupational hazard. But what we saw from the refs on the play that negated the interception and possibly could have cost the Patriots the game was nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to seeing a player's head get thrown back by a guy with a reputation. We saw it a fair amount in the Rodney Harrison days as well and it's inexcusable. Certain players never get the benefit of the doubt regarding penalties, and Browner is one of them.
  • In the post-game show on NFL Network, Deion Sanders called that play the "worst call of the season. When a guy gets hit hard, they just assume it's wrong. That's the worst call of the year."Couldn't agree more. This is why you need to make these plays reviewable. If that call had resulted in a loss, and the Patriots last the 1 seed because of it...well, I better stop now before I blow a gasket.
  • The last thing I'll say about that penalty is something I wouldn't be saying if the Patriots had in fact dropped this one because it would make me sound like a whiny sore loser, but since they won I can present myself objectively: this year has really been the tipping point for me in terms of my overall enjoyment of the game. I have been trying to ignore it for some time now, but I think last night's game made it so I just can't deny it. I don't enjoy watching football nearly as much as I used to. It just isn't as fun anymore. Every play is just a flag waiting to happen and it's just a different game. Literally every single play I find myself waiting several seconds to make sure there is no laundry on the field before I celebrate or swear audibly. Granted, the scale is still tipped very heavily in favor of me tuning in each and every week, but the way things have been going I can now, for the first time, legitimately envision a future in which I stop watching football.
  • Speaking of flags - I don't think that any Chargers should be allowed to wear yellow shoes and sleeves. I'm already angry enough as it is without thinking that the flag thrown on every play is actually multiple flags thrown on every play.
  • This secondary is absolutely absurd. Other than the Floyd touchdown and a few spectacular catches, nobody was able to get anything going. Kyle Arrington did a great job on Eddie Royal, Pat Chung was relatively lights out on Antonio Gates, and Kennan Allen's family is still in the waiting room at the San Diego police department waiting for their missing persons claim to come through so the cops can send a squad car to Darrelle Revis's house. Combine that with a limited running game, and the result is 0 second half points and one offensive touchdown allowed.
  • How does Philip Rivers throw like that? I know it works, but honestly he looks like I imagine I do whenever I'm just about to fall asleep at night and out of nowhere my entire body convulses and I have to lie there waiting for my belly to stop jiggling before I can get comfy again.
  • I'd love to see some kind of metric breaking down the relationship between a positive first play for the Patriots and their overall performance. It wouldn't be all that hard to do - but I'm lazy and don't feel like doing it.
  • Football is the only entity where I actually root for injuries to other human beings. I never want it to be serious, but when an opposing player is down the first two things I think are "I hope it's somebody good" and "I hope he's out for the game." I could pretend I don't feel that way, but at this point it's not like any of you don't think I'm kind of an ass anyway, so screw it.
  • One position in which I never root for an injury, though, is punter. Watching Mike Scifres, get his punt blocked, his lunch money stolen, and his underwear pulled directly over his helmet by Brandon Bolden was both awesome and terrifying, because punters are a fragile bunch (as evidenced by the 72 rolls of tape they used immediately to immobilize Scifre's shoulder).
  • But that right there is exactly why Bolden is still on this team. He's having one of his better seasons as a special teamer and I can think of several other plays where he has made a definitive impact on the kick/punt unit.
  • When Ryan Allen got hurt last season and Ghost had to assume punting duties, he crushed it. Just sayin...
  • Did LeGarrette Blount look really, really slow last night, or is that just the way every 250 lb monster looks while running? And along those lines, why didn't we see more of Jonas Gray last night? His running style - hard first step, one cut and go, then fall forward - seems more conducive to countering the defensive front that San Diego presented as opposed to Blount's more patient, wait for the hole to develop then rumble through it approach.
  • I was actually somewhat baffled by the commitment to both Blount and the stretch run play. In a game where the run game just isn't working, the run they ran the most was the one that was the not workingest.
  • Although they didn't run much at all once their first few attempts got stuffed, which is something of a theme in the McOffense and something that needs to be fixed. You can't abandon the run and become one-dimensional, even if you don't have success early - especially when you have a QB who is one of the best playaction passers in the league.
  • Speaking of one of the best playaction passers in the league - not Tommy B's best game last night. Not his worst by a longshot, but I saw some hints of September Brady as opposed to November Brady in terms of reads, rushed throws, and panicky inaccuracy. Some of that has been there since the beginning, as a rattled Brady tends to stay rattled longer than he should, but a more legitimate concern is whether or not Brady is back to not trusting his offensive line as much.
  • Note to self: when Tommy B and I move in together and decide to adopt a child, November Brady is a good name.
  • Good showing from Patriots fans at Qualcomm last night. They were almost as loud as Foxboro gets when the stadium is chock full of Pats fans - not that that's saying much.
  • Courtesy of Nate Solder, football coaches everywhere at all levels now have some great video to show their defensive line how and why to get low on a blocker in order to push him directly backwards and into the quarterback. So glad that Melvin Ingram chose last night, after three full years of anonymity, to show the Chargers why they drafted him.
  • One area where New England continues to get lit up is on the shallow crossing routes. Hightower or no Hightower, a slot receiver running over the middle has been successful against this defense all season.
  • Stop and go routes as well. The best way to beat press man.
  • Sometimes I feel like the Patriots defense has one of those McDonald's Monopoly boards in their locker room, but instead of stickers of properties to put on it every time they buy some fries they have all the possible penalties they can be flagged for every time they take the field. They got one step closer last night by drawing a tripping penalty, which I'm guessing is the football equivalent of Pennsylvania Avenue. They have more Baltic Avenues - illegal block in the back on a punt return - than I care to admit, and let's hope they never find a Boardwalk - running into the kicker - at any point.
  • Man - Chris Collinsworth really, really likes Eric Weddle. I get it, to be honest; he's a great player, looks like an extra in Sons of Anarchy, and his last name is fun to say. but man, Chris, give it a rest.
  • As Rich Hill pointed out this morning, you can almost always see a Tommy B pick coming the second the ball is released. For such a great quarterback, it's hard to figure out why every once in a while he will make an absolutely boneheaded decision accompanied by a horrible throw. That INT he threw to close out the first half was one of the worst throws he has ever made. He did have Gronk open if he had put more under it, and he had time to step up before taking the hit, but he heard footsteps early and couldn't put enough on it. The man is human, so he's entitled to make mistake, but jeez.Very indicative of what happens to Brady when you hit him a few times in a row.
  • New England opened the third quarter looking like they spent the entire half completely unable to figure out how to stop the Chargers defense. Came out with some weird looks, odd playcalls, and tentativeness.
  • Having recently watched Home Alone, all I could think after New England's fourth straight three and out was, "Tom, your offense! Woof!"
  • I think what it was was that they became predictable. And that's a legit knock on this team: if you can rattle Brady early, it becomes much, much easier to figure out what they're going to do.
  • Would have liked to see more Shane Vereen draw plays to counter the jailbreak blitzes. When the tackles are struggling and much of the pressure is coming from the edge, it seems that a draw up the middle with a shifty back is more effective than an off-tackle run with a bruiser.
  • The obvious play of the game was the Edelman TD set up by a playaction that Brady sold beautifully. I was a bit surprised that so many Chargers fell for it, to be honest, until I saw the replay and noticed that Gronk stayed in to block and Edelman actually ran an exact replica of Gronkowski's signature route. That playaction to Gronk up the seam has been this team's bread and butter for years now, and that they were able to do it with Edelman was genius.
  • Double proof that Edelman ran Gronk's route - that was a 69 yard TD. Heh.
  • Oh, Tommy. So mobile. Two huge third down conversions on the ground.
  • Speaking to my above point on how football is getting less and less fun to watch and to show it's not just when a flag doesn't go New England's way - as the Patriots were trying to milk the clock and seal the game, Brady sent Vereen out on a wheel route on 2nd and 12 with about four minutes left. The pass was a soft floater that I was almost sure was going to get picked off, but ended up thankfully falling incomplete. Then a flag on Andrew Gachkar for illegal contact gave New England a new set of downs. Not only was that an awful call, but it's just an awful penalty - light contact after five yards as two athletes are jockeying for position results in an automatic first down? Are you kidding me?
  • A huge pet peeve of mine is when the punter punts with more than 5 seconds left when you're in clock kill mode. Those few seconds can be huge.
  • That said - it's a pretty nice pet peeve to have.
  • No home field advantage? No Chandler Jones? No Dont'a Hightower? No problem.
  • Seriously - that the Patriots were not only without their best pass rusher, but also without their best linebacker and defensive signal caller, is absolutely huge.
  • Seeing Tommy B fired up on the sidelines is even more huge. The Boston Globe should have a field day with this one.

What a great win. Ugly road victories are the kind that can really define a team, and that's exactly what this was. Red zone inefficiency, offensive line problems, an inept running game, but production from the D and special teams to give the offense enough time to figure themselves out is something that simply didn't happen in weeks past. San Diego was the best team left on the schedule, and the Patriots now have two of their last three at home with their only road game being a short trip to New Jersey to face what's left of the New York Jets. A W next week against the Dolphins clinches yet another AFC East title, and the 1 seed is still New England's to do with as they see fit. 12 straight 10-win seasons puts them next to only the 49ers of the 80s, and given the state of the NFL being built specifically to avoid this kind of sustained success...there really aren't words to describe how amazing that is.