Patriots escape San Diego with 23-20 victory

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Patriots escape San Diego with 23-20 victory

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

It's been said -- by Vince Lombardi, among others -- that winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.

As proof, may we present the New England Patriots.

Summary and statistics Play by play

The final score -- New England 23, San Diego 20 -- wasabout the only thing the Patriots can really feel good about Sunday,considering how the game played:

In the first half, they managed 34 total yards, their fewest number offirst-half yards in a game since Oct. 12, 2003. Despite that, they led athalftime, 13-3 . . . but couldn't shake the feeling they'd letopportunity slip away, as the Chargers committed a mind-boggling total of four turnovers. It was only a 10-point lead because the Pats cameaway with field goals -- including once when they took over on the SanDiego 8-yard line -- or nothing instead of touchdowns after most of the turnovers.

In the second half, their offense finally got in gear and gave them aseemingly comfortable 23-6 lead with 11:27 to play. Then it was thedefense's turn to fold up, allowing two touchdown drives in a span of 3minutes and 20 seconds that narrowed the lead to 23-20.

In a horrifying flashback to Indianapolis 2009, the Pats were stuffedon a fourth-and-1 at their own 49 with two minutes to go, giving SanDiego the ball with a short field to tie or win the game.

(And those flashbacks weren't limited to the stands, the press box, and living rooms across New England. "Shoot, it was like the Colts game all over again," Jerod Mayo said when asked when he thought of the decision to go for it.)

And in the end, it was the last of San Diego's suicidal mistakes --this one a false start on a 45-yard field-goal attempt by Kris Brown --more than anything New England did that enabled the Pats to escape with thewin. The five-yard penalty made it a 50-yard try, and Brown hit theright upright with the kick.

So instead of heading into overtime, the Pats are heading home in a tie for first place in the AFC East and also tied for having the best record in the NFL at 5-1.

"I wouldn't say we're in playoff form," said Tom Brady, "but I would say we're 5-1 and we've played some pretty tough teams."

Do the Chargers qualify as one of those tough teams? Well . . .

A 32-yard field goal by Brown had given them a 3-0 lead with 5:23 to play in the first quarter, and then the San Diego self-destruction began.

First it was a fumble by Kris Wilson that was recovered by Mayo at the San Diego 22. The Pats -- helped a little by an illegal-use-of-the-hands penalty that gave them a first-and-goal at the 5 -- went in on a one-yard, Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski touchdown that put them ahead, 7-3.

On the Chargers' next drive, rookie Richard Goodman committed their second turnover of the game, and it was one for the ages. After catching a 25-yard pass from Philip Rivers, he happily flipped the ball to the ground . . . except that he hadn't yet been touched and the play was still alive. James Sanders scooped up the ball and the Pats got possession on their own 41.

They were forced to punt, and San Diego moved from its 19 to the Pats' 32. But then came Turnover Number 3 and it was a doozy, too. Rivers threw behind Jacob Hester on a screen pass, and Hester made no attempt to retrieve the ball after it hit the ground. Linebacker Rob Ninkovich grabbed it and went 63 yards down the left sideline to the San Diego 8.

"We're not capable of taking care of the football," said a visibly perturbed Chargers coach Norv Turner.

They're capable of playing defense, though, as they pushed the Patriots' offense -- "What offense?" asked Brady sarcastically about New England's first-half efforts -- back to the 23 before a 40-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski gave New England a 10-3 lead.

Turnover Number 4 -- a Devin McCourty interception on a third-and-17 pass down the right sideline -- proved harmless, but a pass-interference penalty on Antoine Cason in the final two minutes put the ball on the San Diego 21. That eventually led to a 35-yard Gostkowski field goal that had the Pats in front, 13-3, at the half.

Yes, a 13-3 lead. Even though Brady was 6-for-16 for 35 yards and had been sacked three times. Even though they'd been outgained 146-34. Even though they only held the ball for about 12 12 minutes.

"We had a hard time moving at all," said Brady. "We couldn't get intoa rhythm at all. The second half was better, but I don't think it wasgreat by any stretch."

The first drive was. The Pats went to a no-huddle -- Deion Branch credited the move with changing the rhythm of the game and jumpstarting New England's attack -- and put together a 17-play, 79-yard drive that consumed 8 minutes and 35 seconds. It culminated with a one-yard touchdown run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, his fourth straight game with a rushing TD, that put New England in front, 20-3.

The teams traded field goals -- a 28-yarder by Brown on the first play of the fourth quarter, and another 35-yarder by Gostkowski -- and New England led, 23-6, with 11:27 to play.

And then the fun began.

First the Chargers went 67 yards and scored on a four-yard pass from Rivers to Antonio Gates with 7:21 left, making it 23-13. Then San Diego recovered an onside kick and went 60 yards -- key plays: consecutive passes by Rivers of 20 yards to Seyi Ajitotutu and 26 yards to Gates -- for the touchdown (three-yard run by Mike Tolbert) that cut New England's lead to 23-20 with 4:01 left.

The Pats caught a break when Brown sent the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, giving them the ball at the 40. A nine-yard Brady-to-Wes Welker pass made it second-and-1, but Danny Woodhead lost two yards on the next play. Another Brady-to-Welker pass gained two yards -- hearts were in New England mouths when the ball came loose and the Chargers gathered it up and began racing toward the end zone, but officials (correctly) ruled that the ball was down by contact -- and made it fourth-and-1 at the two-minute warning.

Fourth-and-1.

"Its Bill Belichick," said defensive back Kyle Arrington. "I knew we were going for it."

The 2009 season turned when they failed in a similar circumstance at Indianapolis, and they failed again this time as Green-Ellis was slammed back two yards.

"You've got to be able to think you can get that one yard," said Brady, who later added: "We tried it. We didn't execute it very well. But I'd go for it every time."

"Belichick has enough confidence in us to get it done on defense if they didn't get the first down," said Mayo, "and we got it done."

The first play was a 12-yard Rivers-to-Gates pass that gave the Chargers a first down at the Pats' 35. Rivers then missed on consecutive tosses to Patrick Crayton, and another pass to Gates only gained eight yards.

"Our defense came up big when we needed it," said Brady.

So out came Brown. But the final Chargers boo-boo -- a false start penalty -- pushed it just out of his reach. He clanked it off the right goalpost from 50 yards out, and the Pats had their victory.

"Makes that long ride back a lot easier," said defensive lineman Gerard Warren.

That it does.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com

Report: Brady and Gisele spotted on Italian island of Capri

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Report: Brady and Gisele spotted on Italian island of Capri

Anyone know any good receivers Tom Brady can work out with on Capri?

With a little over a week left before he can return to the Patriots, Brady and wife, model Gisele Bundchen, were spotted in a restaurant on the island of Capri in Italy in photos published by TMZ.

Brady, of course, is serving his NFL-imposed, four-game Deflategate suspension. He will be allowed to return to the Patriots practice facility on Monday, Oct. 3 and is expected to play in the game in Cleveland on Oct. 9.

Last week, Brady traveled to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, to serve as honorary captain for the Wolverines game against Colorado. 

 

Patriots never really practiced play Brissett took for touchdown run

Patriots never really practiced play Brissett took for touchdown run

FOXBORO -- On a short week leading up to a Thursday night game, time is of the essence. Coaches have to be mindful that there is only so much they can install for their upcoming opponent, and players have to sort through a wealth of information on a compressed schedule. Practice time is almost non-existent. 

That's what makes what the Patriots did against the Texans so impressive. Without any real practice reps to speak of -- they held walkthroughs on Tuesday and Wednesday -- they installed plays they had never run before. Not only did they work, but one of them helped break the game open. 

Jacoby Brissett's 27-yard touchdown run in the first quarter came on a play that the team wouldn't call for Tom Brady. And if they felt like Jimmy Garoppolo could run it, it was one they hadn't installed and run for him. But given the combination of Brissett's athleticism, his ablity to execute play-fakes, and the look the Patriots thought they might get from the Texans, Belichick and his staff believed they could make it work.

Even though there was no opportunity to run it in a live practice setting.

When the time came, Brissett faked a run to the left for LeGarrette Blount, the Texans defense bit, and Brissett smoothly changed direction to run around the right edge. Patriots guard Shaq Mason sought out linebacker Bernardrick McKinney, who Belichick has called one of the best young 'backers in football, and cut him down. That cleared more than enough running room for the rookie third-rounder. 

Because Houston corner Jonathan Joseph was in man coverage on receiver Malcolm Mitchell, he turned and ran with Mitchell up the sideline and only finally turned around to see Brissett coming at him when it was too late. Brissett made a move to avoid free safety Andre Hal and dove into the end zone to give the Patriots a two-score lead.

"It was just we felt like we could get what we ended up getting," Belichick said. "We thought we could get outside, and there wasn’t really anybody left out there but the corner who was in man coverage and it’s just a question of – once we got outside – it was just a question of when the free safety would get there or if an inside linebacker would be able to get there quick enough. But because LeGarrette flowed across the formation that dragged the linebackers with him . . . there was, as you saw, nobody left."

Belichick credited players with being able to take the concepts given to them with that play and executing despite their limited time with it.

"The timing of the play between Jacoby and Shaq was really perfect, which is remarkable considering the fact we’ve never run the play other than just a walkthrough," Belichick said. "But Shaq cut McKinney down at the perfect time as Jacoby was getting outside of him. McKinney just didn’t really have a chance to recover."

There were other plays that were new to the Patriots for Thursday's game, both offensively and defensively; the counter option out of a two-back pistol set is one we have not seen from the Patriots this year in a regular-season game or a training camp practice. But they were able to hit on them successfully, which Belichick explained was a nod to the work that both the starters and the scout team did in walkthroughs that week.

"We gave them a lot of new things," Belichick said after the game. "We ran some plays that we haven’t run all year. We put them in and walked through them. We never got a chance to really run them, and a couple of those hit big. Defensively we tried to do some things that we just didn’t even practice them. All we could do was walk through them. It’s just not the same as repping them, but they understood . . . They’re a smart group. They’re an astute group. They understood how it needed to try and fit against the Texans and then we got out there on the field and they executed it very well tonight.

"Just a tremendous credit to those guys – the players on the scout team, our defensive and offensive scout teams, to try and replicate the Texans’ plays so we could at least walk through them. Again, we didn’t really run them at any tempo but at least we walked through and they give us a great look, and some of the communication that we needed to be able to execute those plays was really as a result of the scout team giving us the opportunity to practice it, and if we made a mistake correct it in practice and get it right tonight.

"It was really a great, great team effort over the last four days. The guys that played, a lot of guys that didn’t play, like I said, the coaching staff, not just the coordinators, the assistant coaches. We had a lot of guys really work hard this week. It’s gratifying to see those kinds of results. Not that we don’t work hard every week, but this is a tough week."