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.

How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

Ever since Derek Carr signed a five-year, $125 million extension with the Raiders to give him the highest average annual contract value in league history, some version of the same question has been posed over and over again. 

What does this mean for other quarterbacks looking for new deals? 

Despite the fact that Carr's average annual value surpasses the previous high set by Andrew Luck ($24.6 million), and despite the fact that Carr's contract provides him the security that alluded him while he was on his rookie contract, his recent haul may not mean much for the likes of Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins and other top-end quarterbacks.

They were already expecting monster paydays down the road that would hit (or eclipse) the $25 million range, and Carr's record-setting contract may not even serve as a suitable baseline for them, as ESPN's Dan Graziano lays out.

So if Carr's contract did little more for upper-echelon quarterbacks than confirm for them where the market was already headed, then does it mean anything for someone like Jimmy Garoppolo? 

Carr and Garoppolo were both second-round picks in 2014, but from that point, they've obviously taken very different roads as pros. Carr started 47 consecutive games in his first three years and by last season he had established himself as one of the most valuable players in the league. Garoppolo, by comparison, has started two games. 

Both players still hold loads of promise, but unless Garoppolo sees substantial playing time in 2017 and then hits the open market, he won't approach Carr's deal when his rookie contract is up.  

ESPN's Mike Reiss projected that a fair deal for Garoppolo on the open market might fall between the $19 million that was guaranteed to Chicago's Mike Glennon and Carr's contract, which includes $40 million fully guaranteed and $70 million in total guarantees, per NFL Media.

Perhaps something in the range of what Brock Osweiler received from the Texans after Osweiler started seven games for the Broncos in 2015 would be considered fair: four years, with $37 million guaranteed. Because Osweiler (before his deal or since) never seemed as polished as Garoppolo was in his two games as a starter in 2016, and because the salary cap continues to soar, the argument could be made that Garoppolo deserves something even richer. 

Though Garoppolo is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency following the 2017 season, there is a chance he doesn't get there quite that quickly. The Patriots could try to come to some kind of agreement with their backup quarterback on an extension that would keep him in New England, or they could place the franchise tag on him following the season. 

Either way, Garoppolo will get paid. But until he sees more time on the field, a deal that would pay him in the same range as his draft classmate will probably be out of reach.

Patriots release camp dates; open practices begin July 27

Patriots release camp dates; open practices begin July 27

Football is coming.

The Patriots announced on Thursday that veterans will report to training camp on Wednesday, July 26 and that the first public practice will take place the following day.

Each of the team's first four practices -- from July 27-30 -- are scheduled to take place on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium "in the nine o'clock hour," according to the Patriots. Updates to the training camp schedule, including more specific start times for practices, can be found at patriots.com/trainingcamp.

The Patriots Hall of Fame will hold its induction ceremony for former corner Raymond Clayborn on Saturday, July 29 around midday following that morning's training camp practice. Held on the plaza outside the Hall at Patriot Place, the ceremony will be free and open to the public.

The Patriots will host the Jaguars for two days of joint practices open to the public on Monday, Aug. 7 and Tuesday, Aug. 8. The preseason opener for both clubs will take place at Gillette Stadium on Aug. 10.