Rapid Reaction: Patriots 35, Chargers 21
September, 18, 2011
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction after the New England Patriots topped the San Diego Chargers 35-21 Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium:
What it means: Tom Brady was great again, and while the defense gave up a bunch of yards, it forced four turnovers to lead the Patriots to a perfect 2-0 start. New England has scored 72 points and put up more than 1,100 yards off offense in its first two games.
Another big day for Brady: It might not have been another 500-yard performance, but Brady put together another monster effort. Brady completed 31 of 40 passes for 423 yards and three touchdowns. It was the third 400-yard game of Brady's career and tied a mark by Drew Bledsoe -- honored at halftime after being inducted into the Patriots' Hall of Fame on Saturday -- for the third most single-game passing yards in Patriots history. Bledsoe also passed for 423 yards in a 1998 win over Miami.
Tight ends continue to thrive: Patriots second-year tight ends Aaron Hernandez (7 catches, 62 yards, TD) and Rob Gronkowski (4 catches, 86 yards, 2 TD) combined to catch all three passing touchdowns and were absolutely immense for the second straight week. Brady continues to look for those players at crucial moments, including inside the red zone.
Goal line stand; Pats march 99 yards: With the Patriots out front, 10-7, the Chargers seemed poised to score, boasting first-and-goal at the Patriots 5 midway through the second quarter. The Patriots stopped four straight rushing plays, culminating with Jerod Mayo -- aided by Devin McCourty taking on the fullback -- tackling Mike Tolbert for no gain on a fourth-and-goal from the 1. The Patriots' offense turned around and marched 99 yards on 10 plays over 5:25 capped with Rob Gronkowski catching a 10-yard touchdown pass from Brady for a 17-7 advantage.
Giving it away: The Chargers gave away the ball three times on the Patriots' side of the field (interceptions by Vince Wilfork and Sergio Brown). But none hurt more than when Tolbert fumbled the ball away at the Patriots 34 and Rob Ninkovich recovered for New England. The Chargers were on the move in a 20-14 game, but the Patriots made it hurt when Gronkowski hauled in a 17-yard touchdown pass -- his second of the game -- and the two-point conversion rush by Danny Woodhead put New England up by two touchdowns.
Ochocinco gets involved: The center of much scrutiny this week, Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco didn't have a loud performance, but he responded by catching two first-half passes for 45 yards. His first grab -- a third-down catch on which he was interfered -- drew a monster ovation from the crowd and set up New England's first score of the game. Later in the half, he made a 30-yard catch in the center of the field to aid another touchdown drive.
Branch's big day: Remember all that hubbub entering the regular season after Deion Branch didn't make a single preseason catch. That looks foolish now after the veteran wide receiver caught a team-high eight passes for 129 yards Sunday, emerging as Brady's favorite target.
Big man running with the ball: Wilfork made one of the game's more spectacular plays, showing off his athleticism when he picked off a Rivers pass late in the second quarter and rumbled 28 yards the other way to set up a crucial field goal before the intermission. Wilfork brought back thoughts of offensive lineman Dan Connolly's big kick return last season as he trudged down the field with two arms securing the ball after his first career interception.
Injuries in focus: The Patriots emerged with the win, but hardly unscathed. While most of those injured during the game returned to the field, there will still be maladies to monitor moving forward. During the game, Hernandez; safeties Patrick Chung and James Ihedigbo; cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Ras-I Dowling; punter Zoltan Mesko; and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth all needed medical attention at one point during the game.
What's next: The Patriots head to Buffalo against the also undefeated Bills. The Bills have actually scored more points than the Patriots, putting up 79 points in their first two games.