BOSTON (CBS) -- The Patriots went into Qualcomm Stadium, a loud and at least partially hostile environment, to face a desperate team fighting for its playoff life. Tom Brady, the team's most important player, was not at his best. Nate Solder, the man tasked with protecting Brady, was getting spun around with regularity. Brandon LaFell coughed up a football that gave San Diego seven points in a matter of seconds. The offense fell completely flat for the entirety of the third quarter. The ground game wasn't going anywhere. Brady threw an interception before halftime that cost the team points. Brandon Browner was called for a bogus penalty that erased a defensive touchdown and gave San Diego 15 free yards.
All of this took place ... and yet the Patriots won. Quite comfortably, actually.
Whether that victory is a testament to the Patriots, an indictment of the Chargers or a combination of both, the fact remains that the Patriots displayed yet another way they can win a football game.
While this one certainly had its lowlights, the victory shouldn't be brushed aside as yet another dispatching of yet another unworthy opponent. The Chargers have their faults -- namely, the center of their offensive line -- but they are nevertheless an above-average football team with an above-average quarterback and some good-to-great receiving and rushing options. Entering the night with an 8-4 record and facing the prospect of hosting Peyton Manning and the Broncos next weekend, the Chargers emptied the tank, giving New England everything they could muster.
It was to be expected that the Chargers would land some blows. The ability to withstand San Diego's best shot before pulling away in the fourth quarter is what a very good team should have done, and that's exactly what the Patriots did.
Now, let's jump into some very sleep-deprived leftover thoughts from the Patriots' 23-14 win.
--Jamie Collins had an outstanding game (some more on him here), and he and his defensive mates had to be licking their chops when they learned they'd be going against a center who was still in high school.
When that's the guy you have to employ to handle big Vince Wilfork, your night is kind of over before it begins. (All due respect, and everything like that. I mean, congratulations to Chris Watt for making varsity. Hope he enjoys the homecoming dance.)
--Antonio Gates is the active leader in receiving touchdowns. He's caught nearly 800 passes for nearly 10,000 yards in his 12-year career. He's a living legend, and he's been around forever.
Yet the best thing any broadcast team can come up with when discussing Gates is that he played basketball in college.
Great googily moogily.
Literally every single person who watches football on a weekly basis knows this about Gates. We additionally know that Jimmy Graham also played college basketball. It's almost as if ... great ... athletes ... aren't just good ... at doing one athletic thing. It's like ... they can ... do ... multiple athletic things.
Oh, and we also know that Robbie Gould was a construction worker and that Julian Edelman was a quarterback in college. All broadcasters should be zapped for mentioning any of these facts during a broadcast.
(I was stunned that Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth didn't connect the dot that Gates and Edelman both played their alternate sports/positions at Kent State. THEY WENT TO THE SAME SCHOOL! I have little doubt that if broadcasters were told of this development, there would be brains exploding all around America.)
--Manti Te'o is still a detestable human being. Anyone who fakes grief over the loss of a fake loved one in order to garner national sympathy and attention is morally bankrupt and a garbage person.
Just letting you know.
--Here is your weekly "Julian Edelman Gets His Body Contorted/Ripped Apart" screen shot:
--And here is your weekly "Robert Gronkowski Carries Several Adult Men On His Back" photo:
--I'm not sure I can add much to the discussion on the Brandon Browner penalty. The officials blew the call, plain and simple. Anyone arguing otherwise either A) has a Chargers tattoo on his or her body, B) is trying way to hard to not be considered a Patriots honk, or C) is just a contrarian. It was shoulder-to-shoulder. Causing whiplash is not a penalty. And frankly, it's Ladarius Green's fault for not catching the ball cleanly. How long is Browner supposed to wait for the tight end to finish his bobbling routine before attempting to hit the man with the football?
It was silly, and it cost the Patriots seven points, but fortunately for them, Phil Rivers is Phil Rivers and he gave the ball to Akeem Ayers a few minutes later.
--Plus, if an officiating crew is just dishing out personal foul penalties all willy-nilly, didn't Jahleel Addae's diving late hit on Rob Gronkowski warrant a 15-yarder?
Gronkowski caught his touchdown on the 1-yard line before stepping into the end zone. He was about two yards deep when he began preparing for his spike, but instead of celebrating, he absorbed a shot directly to his back.
The sequence went catch ...
... waltz into end zone ...
... get torso torpedoed right in the spine:
Now, Gronk's a big boy and he can handle such hits (I once witnessed him wobble to his feet and spike the football after legitimately dying for a few seconds), but again: If you're casually tossing out flags for 15 yards, how does that not draw one?
--I'm feeling you, Bill Belichick. Feelin' you!
--The game was delayed for at least five minutes so that trainers could tend to punter Mike Scifres. Here is my recommendation for all NFL teams if their punter is ever injured during a game: Make him get off the damn football field.
Yes, he apparently broke his collarbone. Ouch. Sure. But his legs still worked. Get off the field, guy. The football players are trying to play football.
--Tom Brady's interception was quite obviously a bad pass. He had plenty of room to drop in a touchdown pass to Gronk but instead came up a full five yards short, hitting Manti Te'o (bad person) right in the chest.
It was a bad pass, but it was not without reason.
Two plays prior to the pick, Brady got absolutely flattened by Corey Liuget. Brady looked legitimately deceased:
RIP Tom Brady.
So when faced with the option of getting walloped while stepping into his throw or stepping back and throwing off his back foot, Brady chose option B.
It was not the greatest choice he's ever made.
--It says a lot about Tom Brady that his red zone brain farts are so few and far between that this mistake in 2014 reminded me of his mistake in the Super Bowl in February 2004. Check it out here at the 2:58 mark. Same pick.
I'm sure there was one, maybe two more of those during that time span. But you know, all in all, not a bad decade of work for Brady. I think that kid's going to make it.
--Here's a young man who has much too much time on his hands:
If drawing eyelashes, jewelry and makeup on a giant poster of Tom Brady's head is a hobby that this dude admits to publicly, I shudder to think what he does in private.
--Lots of folks got on Josh McDaniels for abandoning the run at the 1-yard line after LeGarrette Blount had gained 39 yards on seven carries (and 11 more yards on one reception) to get them there. Far be it from me to get in the way of a public stoning of the offensive coordinator, but you know that if they had run it twice and gotten stuffed (something that happened quite a bit throughout the game), people would have been calling McDaniels an idiot for being too predictable. I almost feel bad for the guy. Almost.
Plus, didn't you get the memo last weekend? Bill likes to lose on purpose now!
--I will criticize McDaniels for three more wasted plays. One was a Shane Vereen up the gut which gained one yard. The other was a trap play for Julian Edelman. He gained four yards, but that was all on his own individual effort, as he was hit behind the line of scrimmage. That's a guy who needs to be taking fewer hits from linebackers, not more. And the third was a Tom Brady pump fake left/spin-o-rama/screen right to Rob Gronkowski. That play lost six yards. Do you know how difficult it is to complete a pass to Gronkowski that loses six yards? That speaks to how terrible that play is. Burn it.
It may seem like nit-picking to bemoan three play calls after a victory, but against a better team in the playoffs, when the room for error is that much smaller, silly play calls like those could cost them a game and therefore end their season.
--You've probably heard this by now, but just in case: When the schedule came out, everyone looked at this past six-game stretch as a "gauntlet" of sorts for the Patriots. They were set to face the Bears, Broncos, Colts, Lions, Packers and Chargers, and it was considered optimistic to believe they'd come out of it with a 4-2 record.
Well, they finished with a 5-1 record, outscoring opponents 214-113. They held Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers to seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
This defense can ball, and it proved on Sunday night that it can carry the heaviest workload in a victory.
--Darrelle Revis, by the way. Whoa, Nelly. He made the world forget that Keenan Allen is a member of the Chargers. Allen finished the game with just four yards, the second-lowest total of his career. The only time he finished with fewer yards came in his second NFL game.
--I appreciate NBC trying to create a visual aid to show the difference between Brady and Rivers' throwing motion, I guess. But I don't need orange lines to know that Phil throws the football like a shotput. It's kind of self-evident.
--I listed Brady in my "Downs" for the night (sorry, Tom, I'm sure you're not too shaken up by it), but he still pulled off some winning plays that made a huge difference. And oddly enough, they came with his legs.
Facing a third-and-3 late in the second, he scrambled for four yards, risking getting hit in order to pick up the first down and keep the drive alive.
(By the way, this is what Brady was looking at before that scramble:
I remember back in the Kansas City game, some nerds told me Brady couldn't have run for the first down when he was looking at this:
Stuff it, nerds.)
(No, I never forget anything. Not when nerds say it. Never when nerds say it.)
Brady's second big run helped drain the clock in the fourth. It was a third-and-2 from the New England 19-yard line. If Brady threw incomplete, the Chargers would have been getting the ball back with about 4:40 left with decent field position and three timeouts, needing two scores to win the game. But Brady didn't like his options, so he tucked in, ran for five yards, moved the chains, won the game and celebrated like a madman.
Looks like the old man still has some functioning legs.
--"Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!" -- Julian Edelman
--I hate to get all Gregg Easterbook on you, I really do, but when the Patriots took over at their own 31-yard line, holding onto a two-point lead with 8:53 left in the game, I wrote this down in my notes: "Drive of the game. Forget everything else, you can win the game here."
Then boom. One play, 69 yards, touchdown, ballgame.
Tom Brady went full psychopath on the sidelines while celebrating that one.
--Easterbrook probably would have written in his notebook, too, that Mike McCoy lost the game when he decided to punt the ball, trailing by nine with under seven minutes left. That was embarrassingly bad. McCoy's defiance in his postgame presser was doubly embarrassing.
I said it early Monday morning, and I'll say it again: Coaching an NFL team is hard, but it's not that hard.
--Anyways, that's a whole bunch of words about the New England football team, but nobody in a Patriots uniform can lay claim to being the Kraft-paid employee who delivered the best hit on Sunday. That honor belongs solely to A.J. Soares of the New England Revolution.
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