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SAN DIEGO -- What a glorious opportunity Sunday night for the New England Patriots to declare they would not fade away, that they very much remain viable contenders.
The Patriots resurfaced from their Week 4 bye to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in a game that brought much relief to their fretting fans. Next up were their cross-country rivals, the San Diego Chargers.
No, this wasn't the same matchup it has been in recent years, but it was a convergence of two teams eager to make a statement.
To carry out that analogy, the Chargers went on a filibuster with a loud and rambling 30-10 victory in Qualcomm Stadium.
The Patriots either couldn't get a word in edgewise or simply had no response at all. Their only touchdown came in garbage time.
"They did a better job than we did," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "I would say that about the players, the coaches, the whole works. The San Diego Chargers were better than the New England Patriots tonight. That's across the board."
The Patriots never had lost two games by 20 or more points in the same season under Belichick. Until now.
Here are five storylines that emerged for New England in their setback.
|Christopher Hanewickel/US Presswire|
|New England Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel is sacked by the San Diego Chargers defensive end Igor Olshansky during the first quarter Sunday.|
The Patriots' offense and Matt Cassel failed to follow up.
The Patriots scored a season-high 30 points against the San Francisco 49ers, generating optimism the Patriots just might be able to cope without Tom Brady. In their previous games they managed only 17, 19 and 13 points.
With running backs Laurence Maroney and LaMont Jordan injured, more of the responsibility fell on Cassel's right arm. But the Chargers fell on him, too.
Cassel completed 22 of 38 passes for 203 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He had a 61.6 passer rating. The Chargers sacked him four times.
"He did more moving around than Brady, and with experience he'll become better with that," Chargers safety Clinton Hart said. "He held the ball a lot more than Brady would've. That's inexperience.
"We put pressure on him and gave him looks that I'm pretty sure that he wasn't confident in seeing because we were moving around back there."
The Patriots also failed to get Randy Moss involved. They threw at him, but connected only three times for 26 yards. At halftime, Moss had one catch for 6 yards.
"When you remove the best quarterback in the National Football League, of course, they're [licking] their lips," Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said of opposing defenses. "They're excited because they feel like we lost an integral part or the most important part of our team.
"But we realize that's over and done with. We can't harp on that. This year is totally different than last year. We're not going to score 38 points a game. We're not going to blow people out by 25 points at halftime. It's just not going to happen.
"We don't have that type of team. So we're going to have to go back to ways of fighting, scrapping and just fighting for every single bit of yardage, every single bit of victory that we can get."
The Patriots' cornerbacks were awful.
Three weeks back, Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington owned the middle of the field. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers went after the Patriots' cornerbacks. He targeted Deltha O'Neal early and then victimized Ellis Hobbs.
Asante Samuel has never been so missed.
"When the ball's in the air, it's all about who makes the play," Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "Today, they threw them well and they caught them well and we didn't defend them well."
Last season, Rivers' longest pass play was 49 yards. He had only three games with a completion of 40 yards or more.
Rivers completed a 48-yard pass to Vincent Jackson on the opening play and a 49-yard touchdown toss to Malcolm Floyd late in the first quarter. Rivers hooked up with Jackson on a 59-yard play in the third quarter. Rivers also hit Antonio Gates for 22 yards and teamed up with LaDainian Tomlinson on a 28-yard catch and run.
"When they come out and strike you early and keep striking you and different things happen in the course of the game, we just couldn't recover," Harrison said.
The Patriots' offensive line looked shaky.
Cassel has been sacked 19 times already. Brady last year was sacked 21 times.
The Patriots also failed to punch in a touchdown on four straight plays from the Chargers' 1-yard line on the opening drive of the second half that would have made the score 17-10.
"I'm sure we'll get a heavy dose of that tomorrow when we look at the film," Cassel said. "That was a big series in the game that would have put us within a score and it didn't happen."
Injuries keep coming.
The Patriots didn't have their top two running backs. They lost starting right tackle Nick Kaczur and defensive lineman Jarvis Green in the first quarter with ankle injuries.
There weren't any updates on Kaczur or Green after the game, but Kaczur's absence will hurt if he's out an extended period. His replacement, Mark LeVoir, had played only four NFL games in his three seasons.
What will the long-term implications be for both teams?
Harrison: "There's still a lot of football to be played. We're not the Patriots of last year, of old. We just have to keep finding different ways of winning and we'll be back."
Hobbs: "We've got to come together as a team. There's going to be speculation. There's going to be down talk. But the thing is we've just got to stay focused. There's some pluses out of this game. What they are? I've got to look at the film. But, especially the life of a DB, just block it out and keep playing. You know what you've got to do. Just do it better."
Rivers: "It was that game we kinda been waiting on, where we're at our best, just leaning on one another. In the past [the Chargers defense] would get a stop, then we'd go three and out. Or we'd get in a rhythm and then they have a seven-minute drive. We haven't brother-in-lawed it very well. Tonight we back-and-forthed it."