Patriots' defense stands tall in 35-21 victory

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Patriots' defense stands tall in 35-21 victory

By ArtMartone
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Yes, they gave up 21 points. Yes, they gave up 470 yards. Yes, they probably made things a little more interesting than they'd have liked.

But don't let it be said that the Patriots' defense didn't have a hand -- a big one -- in Sunday's 35-21 victory over the Chargers at Gillette Stadium.

They had their second goal-line stand in two weeks -- stopping San Diego on a first-and-goal from the 4, with Jerod Mayo stuffing Mike Tolbert on fourth down from the 1 -- to protect a 10-7 lead in the second quarter.

Vince Wilfork's first career interception set up a last-play-of-the-first-half Stephen Gostkowski field goal that put the Pats in front, 20-7.

An interception by Sergio Brown, his first since high school, on the New England 7 stopped a Chargers scoring chance in the third quarter.

And after the Pats had turned the ball over after a failed fourth-and-four from the San Diego 49 in the fourth quarter with a slim 20-14 lead -- a decision made in part because punter Zoltan Mesko suffered a knee injury earlier in the period -- Mayo forced a Tolbert fumble that was recovered by Rob Ninkovich. The Pats then went down and scored, making it 28-14 and, even though the Chargers would score again, tipping the game in their favor.

The defense put the exclamation point on the victory when Mark Anderson recovered a Philip Rivers fumble -- the fourth San Diego turnover of the game -- with 1:02 to play.

The turnovers led directly to 10 points, and the goal-line stand led to seven more for a total of 17 . . . in a 14-point victory.

"If the defense makes a big stop like that (goal-line stand), you got to do something with it," said quarterback Tom Brady. "If the defense gets you the ball (via turnovers), you got to do something with it."

The teams had traded scores in the first quarter. A 14-yard Brady-to-Aaron Hernandez touchdown pass capped a 12-play, 92-yard drive that gave the Patriots a 7-0 lead. Then a pair of acrobaticthird-down catches by Malcom Floyd -- one for 23 yards over the middleof the field that put the ball on the New England 40, and the other a36-yarder down the sideline that moved San Diego to the Pats' 10 -- setup a 10-yard touchdown run by Ryan Mathews, finishing off an 80-yardmarch.

The Pats went ahead, 20-7, in the second quarter when, after a Gostkowski chip-shot field goal made it 10-7, they scored on a pair of defense-to-offense scoring drives.

After Mayo stopped Tolbert and the Pats took over on their own 1, two plays -- a 12-yard pass from Brady to WesWelker, and a 30-yard completion from Brady to Chad Ochocinco -- put them near midfield. From there, they marched implacably downfield until Bradyhit Rob Gronkowski with a 10-yard touchdown pass that put the Pats infront, 17-7.

TheChargers drove to the New England 29 in the final minute of thehalf, but Wilfork deflected and intercepted a Rivers pass and rumbled 28 yards into San Diegoterritory.

"There isn't a fat guy who doesn't like to run the ball," joked offensive lineman Matt Light.

A block-in-the-back penalty returned the ball to SanDiego 47, but Brady hit two quick passes to Deion Branch, of 11 and 7yards, that moved the Pats to the 29 with one second left. Gostkowski then drilled a 47-yard field goal as time expired, givingNew England a 20-7 lead.

The Chargers narrowed it to 20-14 on a three-yard pass from Rivers to Vincent Jackson early in the fourth quarter, which finished off a 10-play, 64-yard drive. Then they got the ball back at the 49 after the missed fourth-and-four Brady-to-Branch pass attempt, and quickly moved to the 34 on a pair of Rivers passes to Ryan Mathews.

But Tolbert was stripped of the ball by Mayo and Ninkovich recovered on the 39. It took Brady four plays -- a one-yard loss by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, followed by completions of 33 yards to Branch, 12 yards to Welker and 17 yards (and a touchdown) to Gronkowski -- to convert the fumble into a score. A two-point conversion run by Danny Woodhead made the score 28-14.

The Chargers got back to 28-21 on a 26-yard Rivers scoring pass to Jackson, but Green-Ellis made it a 14-point game again with 1:54 to play, capping a nine-play, 80-yard drive with a 16-yard scoring run.

Brady had another 400-yard passing day (423, to be exact), completing 31 of 40 attempts. Branch caught 8 passes for 129 yards, and Welker and Hernandez each had seven receptions. Overall, the Pats had 504 yards total offense.

"I'm excited," said Branch. "I'm excited to see what this offense will look like once we put everything together."

If it looks as good as the defense looked when it counted on Sunday, they'll be in good shape.

ArtMartone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Ohio State LB on Belichick: 'When you first meet him, you're scared'

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Ohio State LB on Belichick: 'When you first meet him, you're scared'

Even for some of the nation's top athletes, confident 20-somethings with the rest of their (perhaps very lucrative) lives ahead of them, there's a feeling you just can't shake when Bill Belichick walks into the room. 

"When you first meet him, you're scared," said Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan, per WBZ. "He's quizzing you. It's like a little test. But after you get done with the test, the quiz or whatever, drawing up the defense, it's pretty cool. They're real down to earth people. Really cool."

Belichick was spotted at Ohio State's pro day getting a closer look at McMillan and his teammates on Thursday. He then headed off to Ann Arbor, Michigan for the Wolverines showcase Friday.

During various scouting trips across the country, the Patriots appear to be showing significant interest in the incoming class of linebackers. Belichick spent some extra time with Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham -- who's projected to be a first-rounder -- at his pro day. The team reportedly scheduled a meeting with a speedy linebacker from Cincinnati. And Matt Patricia caught up with Notre Dame linebacker James Onwualu once his workouts finished up on Thursday. 

As for McMillan, the 6-2, 240-pounder was a second-team All-American and a first-team All-Big Ten choice. He's instinctive, but there's some question as to whether or not he has the strength to hold up inside at the next level.

PODCAST: Dan Wetzel on the Aaron Hernandez double-murder trial

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PODCAST: Dan Wetzel on the Aaron Hernandez double-murder trial

Tom E. Curran has Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports as a guest to discuss the Aaron Hernandez double homicide trial. Wetzel has been in the courtroom, and wrote this piece about the day Hernandez’s former friend Alexander Bradley testified in court. 

After speaking with Wetzel, Curran has Tim Rohan of MMQB.com on to discuss his day with ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

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