Brady dominates; Patriots 2-0
On the bright sunny day when Bob Kraft’s late wife Myra was honored, the New England Patriots won a competitive game against the San Diego Chargers to advance to 2-0, joining the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills in a three-way tie atop the AFC East. In a game that had almost nothing in common with the slaughtering of the Dolphins in Miami last week, the Patriots scored 35 points and the Chargers scored 21.
The Pats rode Tom Brady to another offense-powered victory. Brady was 31 of 40 for 423 yards and three touchdowns, becoming the sixth player in NFL history to throw for at least 400 yards in two consecutive games. Six receivers caught multiple passes. Deion Branch led the pack in catches and yards with eight and 129, respectively. All three of Brady’s touchdowns were caught by tight ends—Rob Gronkowski nabbed two and Aaron ‘Randy who?’ Hernandez grabbed the other. The two tight ends combined for 11 catches and 148 yards as—no surprise—they shredded yet another defense. Chad Ochocinco began to prove his critics wrong with a two catch game for 45 yards, including a 30-yard catch-and-run.
The Pats’ defense lives and dies by the turnover. They forced four turnovers against the Chargers, including a pair of picks, a fumble recovery and a turnover on downs on an epic goal line stand. That was the finest display of early-Belichickian “bend but don’t break” defense that was able to just barely contain Phillip Rivers and the Chargers’ offense that finished second in scoring only to the Pats last year. The secondary kept Rivers—who is capable of 450 yards on any given Sunday—to 378 yards passing, no small task against the number-one quarterback in passing yards last year and picked him off twice, both times inside the red zone.
The defensive line was strong again keeping the Chargers’ backs under 100 yards and limiting them to only one score. After a multi-touchdown performance by SD’s Mike Tolbert last week, the front seven of the Pats played very well, except for Jerod ‘the human tackling machine’ Mayo over-pursuing a draw play inside the 10 and then watching Ryan Matthews scamper into the Patriots’ end zone. (Here’s betting that’s the last time he makes that mistake all year.) The secondary was good enough against Rivers and his big, talented receivers Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates.
The defensive highlight of the game was definitely watching Big Daddy Vince Wilfork return an interception 28 yards, although that was after 15 or so were taken back on an illegal block by Devon McCourty (hey, it’s not like that’s what they pay him to do, right?). Anything that involves me getting to watch a 6’2”, 325-pound (more like 350) man run like his next meal was on the line for an extended period is generally awesome.
Ras-I Dowling, a rookie starter, went down in the first quarter with a leg injury. Kyle Arrington left late in the game with what I’m guessing is a concussion, leaving the secondary depleted against the powerful San Diego attack. The injury bug wasn’t limited to the defense, as Hernandez left the game after an injury on one of the Pats’ scoring drives, and punter Zoltan Mesko hit his knee when a teammate was blocked into him.
This win actually told us a lot more about the strength of the Pats; the Chargers are a very tough team and will be there near the end, and the Patriots won a somewhat close game with a total team effort, a very positive sign even after the stomping in week one.
Next week the Patriots take on the surprisingly 2-0 Bills in Buffalo. We’ll soon see whether the division foe is actually a contender with the big dogs from New York and Foxboro.