New England Patriots Avoid Defeat With 23-20 Win Over San Diego Chargers

Ryan CookFeatured ColumnistOctober 24, 2010

SAN DIEGO - OCTOBER 24:  Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England points at the defense at the line of scrimmage against the San Diego Chargers during their NFL game on October 24, 2010 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Crisp, cool and fine.  Typical San Diego weather for a football game between two fierce AFC rivals, the New England Patriots and the San Diego Chargers.

In a game that was highlighted by past experiences, the Patriots visiting San Diego on Sunday afternoon marked a monumental trip to the nations west, as Bill Belichick looked to push his team into the "Super Bowl Contenders" argument, that has seemingly forgotten about New England in the past few weeks.

While the Patriots were striving for success over yet another AFC juggernaut, San Diego's 2-4 record on the season appeared almost irrelevant heading into a tight fixture, and although most Charger faithfuls were aware of the dire strait situation - a win over New England certainly would have cleared the tension.

From the game's opening kickoff, most of us got the feeling that this one was going to be an instant classic.  Unfortunately, nobody expected to see a sloppy performance laced with errors and dropped balls from both teams, that seemed almost uncharacteristic in comparison to past occasions.

With the game oozing in the mistakes category, San Diego's defense was also struggling.  During the midway point in the third quarter, quarterback Tom Brady had only passed for 38 yards in the game, although at first sight one wouldn't know it by taking  a look at the scoreboard.

Early in the opening half, the Chargers also struggled on offense.  Running back Ryan Matthews appeared to be out of sync mirroring much of his early rookie season, and the Chargers wide receiver core also appeared to lapse in focus during the beginning stages of the game.

But to the Chargers credit, their second half bounce back in the 4th quarter deserves a tremendous amount of recognition. 

The Patriots' bandwagon of offensive talent had grasped the game firmly by the dying stages, but somehow Norv Turner seemed to respond to criticism that most fans were throwing from their old school recliners, and rally his team to fight back to a 20-23 margin.

For New England, this collapse in structure can purely be blamed on the defense. In the first half, Belichick's linebackers were superb in applying pressure to quarterback Philip Rivers, who fumbled the ball twice overall.  However, at some point in the third quarter, the Patriots defense decided to hit the snooze button, for an extended period of time.

To allow the criticism to flow, the Patriots cornerback structure also took a nap in the second half.  San Diego wide receivers Patrick Crayton and Darren Sproles could be hung out to dry for their constant inconsistencies in the catching game, but their 152 yard combined effort certainly was the sole reason for the Chargers last minute fight back.

In the passing game, Philip Rivers was reasonably solid, minus a handful of mistakes that he made.  The top ranked quarterback in the league threw for 336 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception, while rival Tom Brady also managed to claw back from his poor first half performance to end with 159 yards and a touchdown on the day.

If luck played a factor for the Patriots, than the four leaf clover of the Boston Celtics must have traveled to California with New England.

What was perhaps more controversial than the Patriots lack of concentration in the second half though, was Bill Belichick's brain puzzling call on 4th and 1, to go for it rather than punt.

Those of you that remember (and you should), Bill Belichick has recently made a name for himself with gutsy calls.  Last season in Indianapolis Belichick chose to be a hero on the sidelines by going for it in an unnecessary situation, and although the Charger defense was wobbly today, his play call to send running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis on the outside was far from stellar.

As a result, the Patriots stumbled, Green-Ellis predictably hit the turf short, and now Bill Belichick stands with an 0-2 record on silly 4th down plays.

So what cost the Patriots a large lead in the long run?

All of the above contributed, but it was also due to San Diego's late minute rally that seemed to hurt the Patriots' confidence.

With 23 seconds left in the 4th quarter, Chargers kicker Kris Brown lined up for a 50 yard field goal attempt, and missed to the right by the smallest of scrapes.

San Diego fell to 2-5 on the year, and New England now find themselves with the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons in the "Team of the year talk" at 5-1 on the season.

Love them or hate them, New England strolled into San Diego and won.  It was comfortable to begin with, and rocky to end, but like Vince Lombardi once said, "If winning isn't everything, why do they keep score?".


Ryan Cook is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also an NFL columnist for Real Sports Net and a Green Bay Packers writer for Fan Huddle and PackerChatters. Ryan is also a contributing writer for Detroit Lions Talk, Gack Sports and Generation Y Sports.  Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.