San Diego – While New England has lived by the pass this season, they are starting to get killed by the run – not theirs, their opponents'. For the second consecutive week, a Patriot foe gained massive yards on the ground, this time to the tune of 239.
By the end of the first half, San Diego had already gained 103 yards on the ground, yet the game was tied at 14.
The second half began with more of the same for the Patriots run defense. A 58-yard LaDainian Tomlinson touchdown run gave the Chargers the lead, and as it turned out, for good.
After a pick-up of 9 yards, Tomlinson made a nice move to avoid Tedy Bruschi and Anthony Pleasant up the middle, cut right and followed a convoy down the sideline to give his team their first lead of the game at 21-14.
Each time the Patriots had the ball in the third quarter, it looked like they might wind up with points, but on third and 6 from the Chargers 30, Brady was forced to throw a little higher than he might have wanted due to a Junior Seau blitz and the Chargers Ryan McNeil intercepted the pass over the middle.
On another series, New England once again moved the ball into Chargers territory. This time Brady looked for the end zone from the 22-yard line but was again picked off, by Donnie Edwards on the 1-yard line who returned it 46 yards to the 47. The Patriots escaped being down by two scores when Steve Christie's 50-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
By this time, the Chargers had rushed for 210 yards, yet the Patriots were still in it, down by 7.
Challenges were a big part of the game. The Chargers expended their two in the first half. In the fourth quarter, it was the Patriots turn to question the referees. On a crucial fourth and 1 on the San Diego 37, New England chose to go for the first down, trailing by 7. The call was to Marc Edwards. He was hit immediately and the call on the field was no gain. The Patriots challenged the spot but the play stood as called. Again, a Patriots drive fell short.
Meanwhile, the Patriots defense, led by Richard Seymour, had begun to minimize the damage being done by Tomlinson, giving the offense numerous attempts to tie the game. Like the three prior in the second half, the Patriots fourth drive of the half was stopped, this time on the Chargers 41.
Now, with the clock running down, Tomlinson picked up his game again. Starting at their own 11 after a Ken Walter punt, the Chargers let No. 21 do the work. He did enough to get his team out to the 42-yard line, but a third and 5 pass from Brees to McCreary was short of the stick and the Chargers were forced to punt at the two-minute warning.
Unfortunately for New England, it was a good one. Darren Bennett nailed a 52-yarder, pinning the Patriots at their own 4-yard line.
Tom Brady had one time out to work with and 96 yards to go. A 24-yard completion to Christian Fauria over the middle started the drive, but other than a David Patten reception that took an official challenge to call it as such, it was not New England's day.
New England impressively moved the ball downfield to start the game. Mixing pass and run, Brady was four of five, the last completion being a nice play-action to Christian Fauria in the end zone for the score. That play was set up by some hard running by Antowain Smith between the tackles. Smith had 26 yards on four carries.
But after sputtering at first with two fumbles (one overturned and the other standing as a Patriots recovery) the Chargers offense got on track led by Tomlinson. The Patriots run defense woes continued as he had runs of 6, 4, 7 and then a big 24-yarder to put San Diego at their own 48 (Tomlinson had 94 yards on the ground in the first half). On first and 10 and the Patriots playing close to the line, Drew Brees let one fly down the left sideline to Curtis Conway for a 52-yard score to tie the game at 7.
The defense got into the action for the Patriots second score of the game. No, it wasn't a defensive touchdown, per say. After marching from their own 35 with runs and underneath passing, New England found themselves on the Chargers 8-yard line to start the second quarter. Brady hit Deion Branch for 7 yards to the 1 and then on third and goal, linebacker Mike Vrabel entered the game and lined up at the left end. He broke free in the end zone where Brady found him for the score. It was Vrabel's first career touchdown of any form.
New England looked like they might tack on three more with their next possession. Thirteen plays had them on the Chargers 23 where Adam Vinatieri lined up for a 41-yard field goal. Kicking from the dirt of the Padres infield, he missed his first field goal of the season going wide right.
The miss especially stung since San Diego took over and proceeded to tie the game at 14. The drive was sparked by a Brees run for a first down on third and 10 from his own 45. Tomlinson did the most damage, taking it in from 37 yards out for the score.
On the day Tom Brady was 36 of 53 for 353 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The loss by the Patriots came on a day when the Miami Dolphins also lost. The two 3-1 teams will battle for sole possession of first place next Sunday in Miami