Patriots Pound Chargers, 38-14

The San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts are the consensus top-three teams in the NFL. To steal a phrase from Sesame Street: one of these teams is not like the others; one of these teams just doesn't belong. The Chargers were outplayed and out-coached in a 38-14 defeat.

The New England Patriots proved their superiority right out of the gates. Tom Brady needed just seven plays and less than three minutes to march 69 yards and put seven points up on the board. Benjamin Watson was the recipient of the 7-yard scoring strike, getting wide open in the back of the end zone complements of a busted coverage.

Brady kept his hot hand throughout the evening. He completed 25 of 31 passes (81 percent) for 279 yards and three touchdowns.

Bill Belichick devised a number of schemes to neutralize the Chargers pass rush and facilitate Brady's monster performance. The Patriots spread the field with three and four receivers, forcing Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips to drop into coverage rather than drop quarterbacks. Merriman still managed a big outing, recording two sacks, but Phillips was unable to make an impact.

Brady used three- and five-step drops almost exclusively, getting the ball out of his hand before the pressure could get to him.

Devoid a spirited pass rush, the San Diego secondary never had a chance. Quentin Jammer was routinely beaten by Randy Moss, who finished with eight catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Jammer played passively and conceded all underneath routes. His primary responsibility was outside containment, so the Patriots routinely sent Moss on skinny posts and exposed Marlon McCree's lack of range in support.

The Patriots used their passing game to build a healthy lead and then turned to the running to keep the clock rolling. Led by Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris, the Pats rushed for 144 yards on 32 carries (4.5-yard average). It helped that Jamal Williams was limited by a left arm injury, as he was unable to take on double teams with his typical veracity.

In the opening-day victory over the Chicago Bears, the defense carried the load when the offense struggled. When the defense was getting manhandled against the Patriots, the offense was unable to return the favor.

Philip Rivers suffered through one of the worst outings of his professional career. He was sacked thrice and turned the ball over four times, with two interceptions and two fumbles. On both interceptions, he threw right into the arms of a defender as he failed to recognize what the defense was doing.

On the first, he was picked off by Roosevelt Colvin, who lined up as a defensive end before dropping back and undercutting the attempt to Craig Davis. On the second, he threw into the waiting arms of Adalius Thomas, who floated from his middle linebacker position out into the flat and in front of the pass meant for Malcom Floyd.

LaDainian Tomlinson was held in check for the second consecutive week, and the reigning MVP will have to get back on track in a hurry if he is to defend his crown. Tomlinson finished with 43 yards on 18 carries (2.4-yard average) and failed to put any points on the board. It didn't help that Shane Olivea was knocked out of the game with a back injury in the first quarter. His replacement, Jeromey Clary, held up well in pass protection by failed to finish his blocks or generate much movement in the running game.

Although L.T struggled, he doesn't deserve the blunt of the blame. That falls on Norv Turner, whose team was vastly unprepared. It is too early to make comparisons between Turner and Schottenheimer, but there is no way the Chargers lose by 24 points with Schottenheimer at the helm. Over the last three years, there was no game the Chargers were out of entering the fourth quarter, as was the case against the Patriots.

There was only one point in the fourth quarter where the game verged on competitive, when Kassim Osgood forced Ellis Hobbs to fumble a kickoff return, which was recovered by Jammer. Unfortunately, Turner submarined any comeback hopes by abandoning the short-passing game and calling for Rivers to look deep on three consecutive plays, resulting in two sacks and an incompletion, dropping the Bolts out of field goal range.

Turner's play calling was also questionable on the preceding score, when he decided not to go for two after a 12-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Antonio Gates. The extra point cut the lead to 17, meaning the Chargers needed three more fourth-quarter scores to get back in the game. Why not go for two, which could have made it a two-possession game?

There is nothing wrong with going 1-1 against two of the best teams in the league, but it is the manner in which the Chargers have done it that causes concern. The Chargers have scored 28 points in two games, less than their per-game average from 2006.

The Chargers have been careless with the football. They have committed too many penalties, including seven for 75 yards in New England. They have been flustered early in games and unable to find any rhythm.

The Chargers must protect the ball, play smarter and focus on one play at a time. If only there was a coach to drill that into their heads. Oh well…at least A.J. Smith is happy.


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