By Art Martone
FOXBORO -- In basketball, they call it the transition game. It's when the team switches from defense to offense, and successful teams do it well.
The Patriots demonstrated that skill to perfection in the second quarter Sunday.
The New England defense completed its second successful goal-line stand of the young season, as linebacker Jerod Mayo stopped Mike Tolbert at the 1-yard on a fourth-and-goal from the 1, preventing the Chargers from scoring and allowing New England to maintain its 10-7 lead.
The Pats then went on offense, and within two plays -- a 12-yard pass from Tom Brady to Wes Welker, and a 30-yard completion from Brady to Chad Ochocinco -- were near midfield. From there,they marched implacably downfield until Brady hit Rob Gronkowski with a 10-yard touchdown pass that put the Pats in front, 17-7.
The Chargers had driven to the New England 29 in the final minute of the half, but Vince Wilfork deflected and intercepted a Philip Rivers pass -- his first career interception - and rumbled 28 yards into San Diego territory. A block-in-the-back penalty pushed the ball back to San Diego 47, but Brady hit two quick passes to Deion Branch, of 11 and 7 yards, that moved the Pats to the 29 with one second left. Stephen Gostkowski then drilled a 47-yard field goal as time expired, giving New England a 20-7 lead.
Brady completed 20 of 23 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns in the half.
New England had broken a 7-7 tie on a 23-yard Gostkowski field early in the second quarter to move ahead, 10-7. The Pats had a first-and-goal of their own, at the San Diego 4, but were unable to punch it in.
The teams had traded long scoring drives in the first quarter.
A 14-yard Brady-to-Aaron Hernandez touchdown pass with 6:16 to play in the period capped a 12-play, 92-yard drive that gave the Patriots a 7-0 lead. But San Diego tied it on its next possession, with a pair of acrobatic third-down catches by Malcom Floyd -- one for 23 yards over the middle of the field that put the ball on the New England 40, and the other a 36-yarder down the sideline that moved San Diego to the Pats' 10 -- set up a 10-yard touchdown run by Ryan Mathews, finishing off an 80-yard march.
Art Martone can be reached at email@example.com.