Monday, September 17, 2007

Patriots 38, Chargers 14 (9/17/2007)

Who needs the defensive signals when your offense can move the ball at will without 'em? The Pats dominated the Chargers 38-14, and played as if this game somehow validated their recent successes all by itself. They played with a chip on their shoulders the size of Gillette Stadium, and stuffed LaDainian Tomlinson (last year's MVP gained only 43 yards) and shut down boy-wonder QB Phillip Rivers to the tune of a paltry 74.2 QB rating (compared to Brady's 123.0 QB rating). The win vaulted the Patriots 2-0, and gave them a two-game lead in the division, as all of their AFC East "competitors" dropped to 0-2. Not bad for a night when I thought they might struggle without Rodney Harrison.

The offense was even more impressive this week, because the Chargers have a better defense than the Jets. Brady kicked butt (even though he faced more pressure against San Diego), with 3 touchdowns, 1 interception, and an 80% completion rate. And his main receivers are playing to their strengths perfectly: Wes Welker (8 catches for 91 yards) makes great moves after the catch and always gets extra yards, Randy Moss (8 for 105 and 2 TDs) stretches the field and the constant double-teaming opens things up for the rest of the offense, and Ben Watson (5, for 49 and 1 TD) makes tough catches over the middle and blocks almost as well at Daniel Graham did. And Watson and Moss were both wide, wide open for touchdowns, which tells you the play-call and the protection were both excellent.

The O-line played well enough, although they gave up two sacks and some QB pressures. The Pats spread the field early and the line did a good job holding their blocks as the Pats ran ten consecutive passes to start the game. Once the Chargers were on their heels, Laurence Maroney (15 carries for 77 yards) and Sammy Morris (10 for 51) started running, and when San Diego couldn't stop that, the game was essentially over. At that point, it was 14-0 and time of possession stood at 9:34 to 1:31 and that differential would stand throughout the game.

On defense, my favorite player right now is Mike Vrabel. He's leading the NFL in sacks (3.5), and it's amazing how he can get the edge on a 350 lb. lineman and somehow get to the QB. Adalius Thomas got an INT and returned it down the sideline for a touchdown, out-running a wide receiver in the process -- yikes! He also had several stops for a loss against Tomlinson and another pass defensed. Rosevelt Colvin was a bit more up-and-down, with some great plays and a few bad reads against the run. But thankfully, Tedy Bruschi had a very solid game, and I'm hoping that helps him turn the corner on what's been a run of mediocrity.

The D-line was stout, holding Tomlinson to 2.4 yards a carry and applying nearly continuous pressure to Rivers. It's clear that Jarvis "he could start for a lot of teams" Green is the real deal, and Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork were their normal solid selves. Santonio Thomas played well in relief of Vince, with both Mike Wright and Kareem Brown out. The secondary played a mixed game, with some bad defensive plays (hello Ellis Hobbs and James Sanders) followed by great defensive plays (hello Ellis Hobbs and James Sanders again). Eugene Wilson, Asante Samuel, and Randall Gay were more in the "no bad plays and no great plays" category. Fortunately, the Chargers wideouts just aren't that dangerous.

As for special teams, I think they've got some work to do. Ellis Hobbs fumbled a kickoff return and Stephen Gostkowski had only average distance on his kickoffs and he missed a 40-yard field goal. Also, there are too many guys trying to do too much on kickoff coverage, and if not for two saving tackles by Eric Alexander, they would have given up huge kickoff returns. On the plus side, they also had some nifty punt returns and stopped the Chargers cold in punt coverage. Overall... like I said, they have some work to do.

On coaching, it was all Patriots all the time. They barely beat the Chargers last year, and San Diego hired a new coaching staff in the off-season. The result was utter domination by the Patriots, from the brilliant offensive gameplan to the near perfect defensive execution. Head coach Bill Belichick thanked the fans in his post-game comments, but it's really us who should thank him. He is one of the greatest minds in the history of the game, and we're lucky to have him on our side. Bob Kraft recognized that when he (reportedly) extended BB's contract for another six-years. Videotape or none, there is no coach I'd rather have on my sideline.

So where does that leave us? Well, at 2-0 and 2 games ahead in the division, things couldn't be going much better. Next week's opponent is the division rival Buffalo Bills, who are reeling from a last-minute loss to Denver and a destruction at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bills are certain to be desperate for a win, and they almost pulled off an upset win in Foxboro last year. But I don't think they have the talent to challenge the Patriots, so 3-0 is a strong possibility.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: The Patriots played games that ended with the exact same score two weeks in a row (38-14). The last time that happened was 30 years ago, in weeks 2 and 3 of the 1977 season, when they lost back-to-back road games to Cleveland and the New York Jets (30-27).

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Did you know the Pats are on pace to score over 600 points this year? And I think this offense is just getting started!"

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 2-0!

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