PATRIOTS RECAP: Team unravels in second half

The New England Patriots completely unraveled in the second half against the San Diego Chargers, allowing 24 unanswered points. In fact things were so bad in the second half, the Patriots are questioning themselves and have others wondering if this team has any chance of making the playoffs, let alone returning to the Super Bowl.

PHOTO: San Diego Chargers' Antonio Gates (85) carries the ball on a pass reception as New England Patriots' Chad Brown (98) closes in, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2005, in Foxborough, Mass. The Chargers won, 41-17. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

PATRIOTS RECAP: Team unravels in second half
By Site Staff

For the first time in quite some time, probably dating back to the middle of the 2002 season, the Patriots are facing questions about their overall status as a team. Following Sunday's disappointing 41-17 loss to the Chargers at Gillette Stadium, the two-time defending Super Bowl champions are a .500 team at the quarter point of the season.

Injuries, a tough schedule to open the year and stretches of poor production in all three phases of the game leave the Patriots as a middle-of-the pack team in the NFL. For a team that went 14-2 over each of the last two regular seasons, sitting 2-2 after four weeks is unsettling.

"We won a game, we lost a game. We won a game, we lost a game. It's just not going to be good enough," defensive captain Richard Seymour said. "We just have to get better as a team. That's an 8-8 season if we keep going the way we are going. So there is going to have to be a lot of work, starting with looking at yourself in the mirror. It's not looking at the next guy, Richard Seymour has to get better and on down the line."

Through four games, it hasn't been just one area that has consistently let down the champs. The running game has struggled, as Corey Dillon has just 223 yards on 73 carries for a 3.1-yard average. To compound the ground problems, the offensive line is now without starting left tackle Matt Light. In his absence, New England has a rookie left side, with Nick Kaczur taking Light's spot alongside rookie starting left guard Logan Mankins.

Defensively, New England had been playing well enough to win up until last week's collapse against San Diego in which the unit couldn't stop the run, cover the pass or pressure the quarterback. The dismal performance left the usually fundamentally sound, confident Patriots defenders searching for answers.

And it's not just one loss that has them worried. Teams that ride a roller coaster up and down through the schedule generally don't make it to the postseason. While it's still rather early to start looking toward January, September and October's problems don't just go away on their own as the season rolls on.

"Hopefully that's not a trend that continues," linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said of the inconsistent start, "because if you go win-loss, then you end up 8-8 and the chances of making the playoffs are not great. But right now we are just focused on the next week."

But in focusing on a tough road matchup with the Falcons, the defending champs seem to lack a confidence that has always run deep in the locker room in recent years.

"I always say that's when you determine character, when you face adversity, and we are at a crossroads right now," Seymour said. "We can either continue to push forward or ... I don't know."

Not knowing what kind of team will show up on any given week or what the future may hold is not something the Patriots are used to. And it's certainly not a feeling that's led the team to Super Bowl glory in three of the last four seasons.

SECOND LOOK

In losing to the Chargers 41-10 at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots were dominated in a way New England fans hadn't witnessed firsthand in years. After the game hit halftime tied at 17, the Chargers made all the second-half plays to run away with the win and snap the Patriots' 21-game home winning streak.

The New England defense couldn't stop any of the Chargers' key offensive weapons, Drew Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates, at any point. Brees was his usual efficient self, hitting on 19-of-24 passes for 248 yards with two scores for a 137.5 rating. Tomlinson rushed for 134 yards on 25 carries (5.4 average), numbers that are even more impressive considering his longest run of the afternoon was 11 yards. And Gates led all Chargers receivers with six receptions for 108 yards.

The Chargers dominated the game in nearly every statistical category from time of possession (36:38 to 23:22) and third-down conversions (58 percent to 36 percent) to total second-half yards (243 to 61). And while the Patriots couldn't stay on the field offensively to help take pressure of the defense, San Diego put together second-half drives of 4:38, 4:17 and 8:55 en route to 24 unanswered points and an easy win.

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Corey Dillon had his most productive game of the season in terms of yards per carry against the Chargers, although based on the standards he set in his record-breaking first season in New England in 2004, the numbers still weren't overly impressive. Dillon picked up just 63 yards on 14 carries (4.5 avg.) against San Diego with one short first-half touchdown. For the season, Dillon now has a disappointing 233 yards on 73 carries (3.1 avg.), although he does have five touchdowns.

--WR Tim Dwight caught his second touchdown pass of the season, a diving 30-yard catch in the second quarter against the Chargers. Used primarily as a punt returner in the first month of the season with an impressive 10.7-yard average, Dwight now has five receptions for 78 yards and two scores.

--S Guss Scott got the start in place of Rodney Harrison, who was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury last week. Scott finished with seven tackles against the Chargers, but the fact that LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates went wild statistically doesn't speak well for the second-year player's performance.

--RB Patrick Pass got off to a solid start filing in for third-down back Kevin Faulk, who is expected to miss six to eight weeks with a foot injury. After spending the first three games as mostly a special teamer and occasional fullback, Pass served as the Patriots' lone back in a variety spread formations Sunday against San Diego, finishing with one carry for 6 yards and a team-high eight receptions for 55 yards. He made the catch of the game at the end of the second quarter for a 19-yard reception, keeping his toes in bounds down the right sideline. The reception was upheld by replay review and set up New England's game-tying field goal that sent the teams to the locker room at 17-17.

--WR/KR Bethel Johnson had his biggest impact of the season against the Chargers after missing time in the early weeks with a leg injury. Against San Diego, Johnson returned five kickoffs for 143 yards for a 28.6-yard average, including a 54-yarder that got New England on a touchdown-scoring drive in the second quarter.


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