Games against the Chargers always make me nervous. For whatever reason, the Patriots rarely seem to have "normal" game against them, and today's game certainly didn't buck that trend. All week long I felt a bit uneasy about this one. It was a classic trap game. We had a big "feel good" win against Baltimore last week and our matchup with Randy Moss next week. The Chargers had looked incredibly disjointed and I could easily see our young team getting overconfident and blowing the game. Tie in the fact that this game was on the road and that San Diego had the firepower to potentially carve up our secondary, and I was optimistic, but preparing for the worst.
As it turns out, except for a solid third quarter drive in which the Patriots killed some serious clock and extended their lead to 20-3, there werent' many moments where the Patriots looked all that good. Thankfully, on a day where San Diego was flat-out awful, "not that good" was enough for a win. Some observations...
Special Teams comes up big again - Obviously the big story will be the Chargers' false start penalty which turned a 45 yard field goal into a 50 yarder, which was subsequently missed. However, enough can't be said for New England's special teams. The Ghost came up big, nailing all three of his field goals. While they didn't have any big "game changing" plays like in weeks past, this continues to be an area of strength for the Pats.
Heads in the game - There were certainly a plethora of mistakes by the Chargers, but to the Patriots' credit, they were alert enough to capitalize on those opportunities. The Bolts fumbled four times, and the Patriots recovered all three that they had a legitimate chance at. When Richard Goodman thoughtlessly tossed the ball away after making his catch, James Sanders was all over it. When Jacob Hester didn't think to go after the botched lateral pass, Rob NInkovich did. Again, a lot will be made of San Diego's utter stupidity, but New England deserves some credit for being alert enough to make the Chargers pay for those mistakes.
Merriweather not backing down - Brandon Merriweather certainly doesn't seem to be intimidated by his $50k fine from last week's hit against Todd Heap. Merriweather absolutely nailed (cleanly) Patrick Crayton in the 1st quarter when he caught a ball over the middle.
Tight Ends make a difference - When the Patriots needed to move the ball down field, Aaron Hernandez was once again Brady's man. When New England needed a big play in the red zone, it was Big Rob Gronk hauling in the team's first TD pass. In a game in which Welker and Branch largely struggled, it was the rookies who kept the offense alive.
O-line Exposed - Brady had managed to keep his jersey clean for most of the first five games. In fact, the offensive line had done such a good job, that I had actually begun contemplating whether or not the Patriots should even play Logan Mankins should he sign his tender in a few weeks. Needless to say, after the mauling that Brady received today, I'll be very happy to see Mankins back on the field, regardless of whether I think he's a whiner.
Pass Rush looking strong - Perhaps the biggest concern heading into this season was New England's ability to generate a pass rush. This was an area that the team really struggled at last year and there didn't seem to be much done to address it. Well, it turns out that even without Ty Warren, the Patriots front seven have been able to pressure opposing QB's. Today they looked especially good, piling up two sacks and lots of hurries on Philip Rivers. Now if only the supposedly "strong" secondary that this team was supposed to have would show up...
Yet another blown 4th and short - After New England's 4th and 2 debacle against the Colts last season, I thought Belichick's decision to go for the kill on 4th and 1 from his own 49 was interesting. On one hand, if the Patriots get that yard, the game is essentially over. If they punt, there's a decent chance that the Chargers move down the field and tie the game on a field goal. If they went for it and failed to convert, there was the very scary possibility that San Diego could go 49 yards in two minutes and score the game-winning touchdown.
Personally, I was totally for the decision to go for it on 4th and 1 , just like I was for the Indy 4th and 2. However, like last season I did not like the play call at all. In today's situation, moving the ball backwards to BJGE essentially meant that he would have to gain about three yards on the play. San Diego was all over him and actually knocked him for a loss. I also didn't particularly like the decision to have Woodhead run the ball on 2nd and 2 on that same drive. I'm a huge fan of Danny, but in that situation, I think going to a power back in that situation would have been more effective than the 5' 7 and 3/4" Woodhead. Thankfully, the Pats won and none of this matters.
The big question - The Pats escaped San Diego with a win and are sitting pretty at 5-1, tied with the Jets atop the AFC East and AFC in general. What's really got me worried though is Patrick Chung's knee injury. Chung has been a huge playmaker for this team and losing him would be a big blow to both this season and his development as a player. Fingers crossed, my friends.