Week 4 Game Recap: San Diego Chargers 41, New England Patriots 17
What you need to know
The Chargers dominated the entire second half of this game. The offense moved the ball, both on the ground and through the air, with ease. The defense clamped down and didn’t allow a single point to the Patriot offense in the second half, either.
QB Drew Brees played about as perfect a game as can be played. His numbers are impressive enough, but watching the game, one got the sense that he was never going to make a mistake. His throws were just about perfect, every time, and he didn’t make any mental errors, either. If he continues to play like this, the Chargers will have no other choice but to bring him back next season.
RB LaDainian Tomlinson carved up the Patriots’ vaunted defense, which sorely missed safety Rodney Harrison. Tomlinson ran roughshod over New England to the tune of 134 yards, the highest total against the Patriots since Edgerrin James’ 144 on opening day of 2004. Tomlinson scored another rushing touchdown, two in fact, extending his NFL record to sixteen consecutive games with at least one score. In other words, it was a typical game for Tomlinson.
TE Antonio Gates simply could not be covered by one person. He is a man amongst boys, and runs routes like a wide receiver. Time after time, he was able to gain separation either in front of or behind his man.
After a fairly even first half, the Patriots fell apart in the second. In the process, their consecutive home game winning streak came to a halt at 21 games. San Diego’s 41 points was the most scored by a New England opponent in the history of Gillette Stadium, and the Chargers seemed to move the ball at will at times against an injury-depleted Patriots defense.
RB Corey Dillon again finished with respectable statistics, but he’s not doing it on a consistent basis from carry to carry. He did finish with 86 total yards and a score, but breaking it down it is not quite as impressive. He had a 23 yard reception and a 29 yard run. Outside of those two big plays, Dillon had just 34 total yards on his other 14 carries.
WR David Givens emerged as the primary receiving threat for the Patriots in this game. He out-targeted fellow receiver Deion Branch ten to six, and caught six balls for a team high 66 yards.
FB Patrick Pass was utilized an inordinate amount of times. Pass entered the game with just one reception for the season, yet caught a whopping eight passes against San Diego.
What you ought to know
|QB Drew Brees, Pass: 19 - 24 - 248 - 2 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 1 - -1 - 0|
Drew Brees had another stellar outing, this time against one of the league’s better (but injury depleted) units. Brees constantly made crisp, accurate passes all afternoon, and picked apart the Patriots’ secondary with precision. Brees’ touchdown passes were things of beauty, especially the one to Reche Caldwell. He didn’t seem to lock onto any one receiver, and spread the ball around fairly evenly. During the second half, Brees converted so many third downs it seemed as if San Diego would never be stopped. At one point in the telecast, CBS commentator Phil Simms said about Brees, “He looks a lot like Tom Brady out there.” High praise indeed, but it was warranted after the performance Brees put on. If this keeps up for Brees, he’ll force the Chargers into keeping him around. And if they should choose to deal him, he would certainly net a lot in return. Brees lost four yards passing on a play called back due to penalty.
Rivers came out firing early, leading a touchdown drive that he capped with a 31 yard strike to a wide open Malcolm Floyd. The Chargers eventually grew that lead to 13-7 by halftime, but HC Marty Schottenheimer put the clamp on the passing game in the second half. Rivers threw just eight second half passes, with four of those coming on the final desperation drive. San Diego ran the ball twice on third and long situations, opting to play for the field goals rather than trying to move the ball downfield. There were a couple of opportunities for Rivers to boost his stats late in the contest, however. He just missed a streaking Vincent Jackson down the seam for what would have been a 34 yard touchdown pass, with the ball falling just out of reach. And as unlikely as it would have been, Rivers put the team in position for a Hail Mary attempt to end the game. The pass never got off, however, as Rivers was sacked to end the contest. It was the first time he had been sacked all season. Rivers didn’t play flawlessly, as he made a terrible read on an early attempt to TE Antonio Gates that was intercepted by Bart Scott. Rivers clearly never saw Scott break off into Gates’ route to get the ball. Additionally, Rivers should have been intercepted by S Ed Reed on the desperation drive, but Reed dropped the ball.
It was a typical day for Tomlinson, who once again scored a touchdown to extend his NFL record to 16 straight games with at least one rushing score. The touchdown that did it was an incredible display of strength and determination, as Tomlinson simply refused to be tackled until he was in the end zone. He also displayed his trademark shiftiness in the backfield, and almost always made the first defender miss. Tomlinson lost three yards rushing called back for a penalty.
Turner turned quite a few heads with his performance in this game. His carries weren’t simply “garbage time” rushes, either. He was in there during crunch time as well, and performed extremely well. He took the handoff and simply ran over the Patriots on his way upfield. It was in these instances when the loss of Rodney Harrison for New England was especially felt. On one run in particular, Turner ran over Harrison’s replacement, Guss Scott, en route to an 18 yard run. This type of physicality really helped set the tone for the second half. Most importantly, Tomlinson owners got a glimpse of how Turner would do in the event that Tomlinson were to miss any time. While he’s clearly no Tomlinson, Turner showed he could hold his own when given a shot. It is unlikely that anyone in any league was starting Turner, but it should be noted that late in the game with San Diego running out the clock, Turner received two carries from inside the five yard line and was stuffed each time. Turner had a 44 yard touchdown run late in the game negated due to a San Diego penalty.
Sproles’ involvement in the game was limited to a few early touches, but the big story with him is that he left the game with an injury suffered in the fourth quarter. He walked off under his own power, but was later seen being carted from the sidelines into the locker room.
Neal got a couple of short yardage carries, but nothing near the goal line. He also fumbled a carry in the shadow of his own end zone, which could curtail any future carries he may see. Neal’s worth is obviously as a blocker, as his rushing totals are few and far between. On a classic Neal play, he took a screen pass up the right side from Philip Rivers into the open field. When he found himself in space, he actually ran laterally to his left to seek out a defender and try to initiate contact when he probably could have just run forward and gained few more yards.
Brown had the highest number of offensive touches of any skill player for San Diego, but seemed to do the least with the opportunities. Following serious injuries to both Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead, Brown is expected to carry the load for San Diego at least in the short term. But his ineffectiveness in this game led to the Chargers taking to the air early and often. Brown had four touches on the first eight plays of the game, then just three on the next sixteen. He wasn't given a ton of room to work with, but neither were Mathews and Woodhead when they played the first three games. Yet they were much more effective. Brown just doesn't look to have much burst to him. He was wrapped up pretty much immediately on most of his attempts, with his long going for just five yards. Backup Brandon Oliver didn't fare much better, but was a little better nonetheless. On the receiving end, Brown did a nice job out in the flat on a handful of passes. On one play in particular, he bailed out Rivers who was under duress, turning around just in time to give Rivers an outlet to dump a pass off at the last second.
Mathews was supposedly not quite 100% going into this game, so Mike Tolbert saw the majority of the first team work. Well if this was Mathews at less than 100%, then he’s got a great career ahead of him. Showing no ill effects of his sprained ankle, Mathews ran hard every time he touched the ball. He hit the hole, was able to bounce it outside, pretty much whatever the team needed from him. He showed nice hands on a floating screen pass, and showed an all-around ability later for his first career NFL touchdown run. Following an Arizona fumble, Mathews took the very next carry to the outside. He beat the defender to the corner, shook off a couple of weak tacklers at the five yard line, and showed nice agility in diving for the pylon at the end of the run. He later turned a simple run off left tackle into a 20 yard gain by cutting back against the grain of the defense. It remains to be seen how the Chargers will divvy up the running back share moving forward, but this game has at least got to given them confidence in Mathews’ health.
With recent injuries to Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead, Oliver is going to see an increase in activity over the next several weeks. In this game, Donald Brown got the lion's share of the workload early in the contest. But as the game went on, Oliver was mixed in more and more. By the end of the game, Brown had 14 total touches to Oliver's 13 so the distribution of work was fairly split (although in fairness, a lot of Oliver's work came in the second half when the game was mostly in-hand). But he looked good with the ball in his hands, very spry after the catch and showing an ability to get to full speed very quickly (much like a Darren Sproles or Danny Woodhead type of player). Oliver is pretty shifty and elusive after the catch, and even got some tough yardage on the game-clinching drive, fighting up the middle for a first down on short yardage.
Woodhead’s ten offensive touches were second on the team behind RB Ryan Mathews, but Woodhead was much more efficient with his activity. Averaging over 10 yards per reception and over six yards per rush, Woodhead also managed to find the end zone twice. The two plays were similar routes, except on the first one he was very well-covered and did a nice job to run underneath the ball. On the second one, he leaked out into the left flat and was basically uncovered, waltzing in for the score. Woodhead also showed very nice hands on a laserbeam pass thrown right near his feet. He went down and picked it almost off the turf, and turned upfield for a nice gain. Even on the ground, he was effective. He slithered his way through a mass of would-be tacklers to pick up nine tough yards, and later found a gaping hole off the left side after a misdirection handoff to the left side. Woodhead had a shot at a third score when he was given a red zone carry up the middle, but he was hit just as he reached the second level of the defense. It would appear that Mathews is still going to get the majority of the carries, but Woodhead is certainly going to have a significant role in the offense the rest of the way.
|WR Eric Parker, Rush: 1 - -2 - 0, Rec: 4 - 51 - 0 (5 targets)|
Parker was solid all game, and in fact made a huge play in drawing a long pass interference penalty on S Eugene Wilson in the second quarter. That play helped set up Tomlinson’s first touchdown run of the game. Most of Parker’s action came in the first half and enabled the team to sustain drives, and he was only thrown to once in the second half.
Caldwell caught a huge touchdown in the back corner of the end zone late in the third quarter. He ran an excellent route, and cut nicely on his surgically-repaired knee. He isn’t start worthy in fantasy until he at least cracks the Chargers’ starting lineup. But today was definitely a positive step in his return.
McCardell wasn’t heard from very much after his early touchdown reception. In fact, he wasn’t thrown to again for the rest of the game. His game demonstrated two truths about McCardell. 1) McCardell can be relied upon for solid scoring on most weeks during the season, and 2) McCardell cannot be relied upon to post very many big scoring weeks, so use him only when you need those several extra points. McCardell lost four yards receiving on a play that was called back due to a penalty.
Allen quietly had a very solid game, overshadowed by the feats of TE Antonio Gates. On San Diego’s first drive, Allen made a terrific adjustment to go up high for a back shoulder fade pass to convert a third down pass play for a 31-yard gain. He later added a phenomenal sideline catch, which was one of the better catches you will likely see this season from a skills perspective. While leaning forward, he hauled it in and dragged his toes while maintaining possession, showing off great coordination and concentration, as well as some remarkable agility. The play wasn’t necessarily noteworthy except to illustrate Allen’s ball skills. Allen later got free in the end zone for a possible score along the back line of the end zone, but Rivers was under some heavy duress and had to throw the ball away instead of trying for the score.
Floyd was the recipient of the early touchdown pass from Philip Rivers. A wide open Floyd managed to get behind the Ravens’ last line of defense, and waltzed into the end zone following a quick cut-back. He saw one more deep ball in the game, but that was the extent of his involvement after the score.
Royal didn’t see a heavy volume of passes in his direction, but he made it count when they did come his way. Royal caught just three passes in the game, but the first one was a quick strike slant for an early touchdown. Another target came in the end zone when Rivers was rolling out right and tried forcing one to Royal in traffic, but it was batted away for an incompletion. Royal also saw a fair amount of third down work out of the slot, which is pretty much what everyone expects his role to be.
Gates had himself another monster game. In addition to being almost completely uncoverable underneath, Gates also broke downfield for a 38 yard reception down to the New England one yard line. LaDainian Tomlinson scored from that spot on the next play, so Gates’ game could have been even better had he managed to snag that one extra yard. In any case, he had a stellar afternoon, and is as good a bet at the tight end position as there is out there.
Green was active, but did not play a sizeable role in the offense in this one. It is not known how much his injury had to do with his lack of involvement.
McMichael is no Gates, and shouldn’t be a hot waiver pickup for your team. McMichael is an adequate fill-in for the Chargers, and can still be useful on third downs and goalline situations, but doesn’t play a major part of things in their offense. He did have 3 receptions including a 17 yard downfield reception, but doesn’t have the wheels to make much happen.
Kaeding had an uneventful game, which is good news for Kaeding owners. He connected easily on all of his kick attempts.
After allowing Corey Dillon an early 29 yard run, this unit really clamped down and stifled the Patriots’ rushing attack. Dillon gained just 63 yards for the game on 14 carries, meaning he had just 34 yards on his other 13 carries. The Patriots fell behind big in the second half, and the running game was pretty much abandoned.
In the early going, San Diego had a very tough time getting any kind of pressure on QB Tom Brady. He had just about all day long to throw the ball, and the Patriots were able to convert numerous third and long situations simply because of how much time he had to find an open man. Sammy Davis was beaten badly on the Tim Dwight 30 yard touchdown reception, and the Chargers’ pass defense looked to be in trouble once more. However, as the game progressed, the Chargers began getting a little more pressure on Brady and much better coverage on the New England receivers. Statistically, the Chargers weren’t having a very impressive fantasy game with only one sack and one interception late in the fourth quarter. But Donnie Edwards intercepted a batted ball in the air and pitched it immediately to Clinton Hart, who returned it 40 yards for a San Diego score. Bhawoh Jue had the other San Diego interception earlier in the fourth quarter. Jue nearly had an earlier interception, but had the ball go off his fingertips. Drayton Florence also nearly had an interception earlier in the game as the Patriots were trying to score, but the ball went off his fingertips as well. Steve Foley could have had a sack early in the first half, but completely missed Brady, who ducked underneath the would-be tackler.
|QB Tom Brady, Pass: 19 - 32 - 224 - 1 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 2 - 4 - 0|
Brady looked solid early in the game. It should come as no surprise, then, that that time period is when he had ample time to throw the ball and step in the pocket. In the second half, Brady’s receivers had a hard time gaining separation and the Chargers did an excellent job of pushing the Patriots back out of manageable passing downs. Often, Corey Dillon would be bottled up for a loss on first and/or second down, resulting in long third downs for New England. In the first half, they were able to convert those, but in the second half it just proved to be too much. Brady made a beautiful pass on the touchdown to Tim Dwight, but long completions like that one were few and far between in this game. He looked to David Givens a lot, and wasn’t able to get in synch with Deion Branch very often. The one time the two came close to hooking up on a touchdown wasn’t even intentional; Brady’s pass was nearly intercepted by Drayton Florence at the goal line, but it deflected to the back of the end zone, where Branch was waiting. It zipped past him and fell incomplete, and would have been a remarkable catch had Branch been able to haul it in. Brady came out of the game late when the outcome was well in hand.
Entering with roughly 10 minutes to play in the game, Jimmy Garoppolo certainly looked the part of NFL quarterback, though the sample size was small and a couple Chiefs starters were sitting. Garoppolo’s touchdown was a slant to Rob Gronkowski, who ‘Gronk’d’ three defenders into the endzone in garbage time. Garoppolo displayed a quick release, good decision making and didn’t seem too rattled by pressure. His 37 yard completion to Brandon Lafell was a simple screen where Lafell did most of the work. Though the sample size was only 7 attempts, the 6 completions were probably the highlight of an abysmal Patriots offense.
|RB Corey Dillon, Rush: 14 - 63 - 1, Rec: 1 - 23 - 0 (1 targets)|
Once again, Dillon found the end zone. Yet once again, his overall rushing stats left a lot to be desired. Dillon had a hard time getting untracked, save for one big gain up the right side. Excluding that one run, Dillon carried 13 times for just 34 yards. Obviously, that run cannot merely be tossed aside. But it is very telling that half of his production came on just one run. Dillon simply wasn’t consistent enough to enable New England to sustain very many drives in the game. His role in the passing game was, as usual, limited, as he only saw one target come his way (on a well-executed screen pass).
|RB Patrick Pass, Rush: 1 - 6 - 0, Rec: 8 - 55 - 0 (9 targets)|
Patrick Pass may want to change his name to Patrick Catch after the game he turned in. With a career-high 55 receiving yards, Pass was much more involved than any outside observer could have imagined. Pass didn’t simply get garbage time receptions, either, as evidenced by his three catches in the first half and three more in the second before Brady left the game. The absence of the injured Kevin Faulk likely had a lot to do with Pass’s heavy involvement in the passing game. When recently signed Amos Zereoue gets on board with the offensive schemes and patterns, expect Pass’s eight catch games to be much fewer and further between. Still, Pass showed tremendous ability on one fantastic grab along the sidelines. After the ball was deflected up in the air, Pass displayed incredible concentration in cradling the ball as it came down, keeping both feet inbounds, and hauling in the catch. Additionally, Pass got two red zone carries to replace a tired Dillon after Dillon’s 29 yard run in the first half, but Pass was unable to find the end zone. Dillon scored soon thereafter.
If there was ever a performance to support the notion of not drafting running backs early, it was this one. Undrafted rookie Bolden repeatedly ripped off big gains against the Bills by taking advantage of the good work of his offensive line. Bolden combined good awareness, tough running and some explosion to notch 137 yards rushing. He wasn't involved much as a receiver and failed to make an impression on sweeps or outside runs, but attacked holes and beat secondary defenders repeatedly. His touchdown run late in the game saw him power into the endzone over Stephon Gilmore. It was a fitting score on a day when Bolden simply ran over the Bills defense.
The Patriots’ third down and long yardage back wasn’t needed much in this game. He caught one of his two targets for 18 yards.
Ridley looked fantastic today. He ran with a full head of steam on all of his carries and looked to be the most dynamic runner on the team. Patriots did block very well for both running backs but Ridley was able to do more with his carries because he has more speed and also has more wiggle to his game. He had 3 runs of 20+ yards and was electric on the field. On Ridley’s 33 yd TD run he got to the outside quickly and broke a few tackles as he went in for the score. Funny how 5 months ago everybody was questioning the use of the Patriot’s 2nd & 3rd round selections on running backs but the Patriots are proving once again how good they are with personnel.
Vereen was involved early on, as he caught a pass coming out of backfield for five yards with two defenders hitting him instantly, before making one defender miss on a run for no gain. From then on however, he played second fiddle for Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley.
In garbage time, James White saw his first regular season NFL touches, and didn’t look too shabby with them. He almost led the team in rush yards despite only having 3 carries, and showed passing game chops with steady hands. Other than that, since he played limited snaps, there wasn’t much to glean from his performance.
Givens played the role of #1 receiver, though he failed to make many impact plays. Most of his receptions were of the nickel and dime variety, never breaking any deep balls or scoring plays. Still, ten targets on a day when most of the other receivers were very quiet shows that on any given day, Givens can step into the role of “the guy” and perform reasonably well.
Brown’s impact on the passing game was minimal. He caught just two balls, and wasn’t looked to very often as the game progressed (just one target from Brady in the second half).
Dwight wasn’t a big factor outside of his lone touchdown grab. Of course, that reception proved huge at that point in the game, because it regained the lead and momentum for the Patriots. Dwight isn’t a reliable fantasy option, and his few scores will be very scattered and random throughout the season.
While Branch was very quiet as far as production, he still saw six passes in his direction during the game. Still, one reception against a pass defense that has been abused like San Diego’s has got to be a major disappointment. Branch’s best opportunity for fantasy success actually came on a play where he wasn’t even the intended target. San Diego CB Drayton Florence defended a pass near the goal line, but it went off his fingertips towards the back of the end zone. Branch was in the vicinity of the deflected ball and attempted to make a play on it, but it fell beyond him incomplete. It would have been a fantastic reception had he been able to snag it.
Aaron Dobson had a dud of a day. He had a drop, then had his head snapped backwards at an awkward angle by a defender and didn't play again for the rest of the game. The injury happened in the third quarter, but to that point, Dobson had taken a clear backseat to Kenbrell Thompkins and Julian Edelman in the passing pecking order.
Edelman didn't get many snaps with Wes Welker back, but he did flash great open field running instincts on a quick target that he turned into a 12-yard gain and a first down.
Brandon Lafell was about the only positive thing for the entire Patriots team tonight, with maybe the exception of Matt Slater on special teams. Lafell had a career day from a box score and playmaking standpoint. His two highlights were his 44 yard touchdown grab and his 37 yard screen. On Lafell’s touchdown, he caught a slant and proceeded to break two tackles, displaying solid power and speed. He also broke tackles on his long screen pass, and Tom Brady looked his way several times on the night. The only miscue from Lafell was a drop that could have been secured late in the game, but it didn’t have any effect on the outcome. Overall, the Patriots can only hope he plays like this every week and doesn’t play like he did the first few weeks of the season.
Kenbrell Thompkins had what was probably his best day in his young career, including three key catches. The first was a 50 yard jump ball in which Thompkins simply outjumped Desmond Trufant and plucked the ball out of midair. Tom Brady did a masterful job avoiding a sack on the play, but Thompkins's effort was equally impressive. The second was a conversion on 3rd and 19 for roughly 25 yards that Thompkins caught and held on to over the middle of the field despite knowing he was going to take a lick, and did so. Thompkins's touchdown was also highly impressive, as he dove for a ball at the left edge of the endzone for a highlight catch. He did have two very notable drops, but the improvement as the season has progressed is starting to become notable.
Watson was used sparingly, just like his TE counterpart Daniel Graham. Watson was thrown to just once, but he did turn it into a nice 23 yard reception. Still, with inconsistent performances like this one, one can see why Watson is less than a reliable fantasy option.
Graham started and played the game, but you wouldn’t know looking at his statistics. Not only did Graham not catch a pass – he wasn’t even thrown to once.
Hernandez’s rookie TE mate didn’t make much of a splash this game as he only caught one pass for minimal yardage, but the big target continues to figure into the Pats future game plan down at the goal line.
Vinatieri missed a field goal from 37 yards out in the first quarter. It was the first time he has missed a field goal from less than 50 yards out since the 2000 season. He later connected on a chip shot 24 yarder.
It’s taking the easy way out to say the Patriots struggled in this phase due to the absence of S Rodney Harrison. But that was exactly the case in this game. With no one in the defensive backfield to come up and offer help up front, LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner absolutely had their way with the New England run defense. The pair combined for 178 yards and two scores on 36 carries. They ran left, right, over, and at times, through the Patriots and completely put the game away in the second half. Since we’re talking about the Patriots, we tend to give more of a benefit of the doubt as to their ability to recover, but it will need to happen fairly soon and without several key cogs, if this team is going to make another deep playoff run.
Drew Brees picked this team apart play by play Sunday afternoon. Not only did New England fail to intercept Brees; they didn’t even come close. Add in that they failed to register a single sack, and one can see how tough a day it was for the Patriots. The fact that Brees completed nearly 80% of his passes for over ten yards per attempt tells you just about all you need to know for what kind of a day it was.