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Patriots Playbook Thu Dec 03 | 02:00 PM - 04:00 PM

Random Thoughts: Defense prevails in playoff atmosphere

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Rock fight –** For the past several years I've been rather outspoken in my belief that the Patriots haven't possessed the ability to win a game when the offense doesn't perform up to snuff. On Sunday night in San Diego they did just that, and the defense showed it was more than capable to leading the way if necessary. The offense never really got in gear but it didn't matter because the defense kept giving it the ball back in favorable positions. The special teams chipped in with a huge blocked punt, and despite going against the Chargers impressive offense they consistently held Philip Rivers in check. San Diego entered the game as one of the best teams in the league converting third downs but New England allowed just 4 of 13 (31 percent). Considering the game was on the road against a quality, playoff-worthy opponent and the game was played in true playoff, grind-it-out fashion, the performance on defense was outstanding.

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Block party –The biggest play of the game may have been Brandon Bolden's blocked punt in the first half. The Patriots were trailing 14-6 and the offense was having some trouble scoring in the red zone when Bolden came off the edge and blocked Mike Scifres'punt. Bolden beatDonald Brown** off the edge, and Scifres appeared to take a little extra time getting the kick off, which allowed Bolden to get there in plenty of time. The ball rolled out of bounds at the San Diego 25, and soon thereafter Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown to get New England back within a point at 14-13.

Jumbo package – The Patriots got off to a good start with the ground game and the use of multiple tight ends was a big part of that. On New England's opening possession of the night the offense used three tight ends on six plays and seven more included two. Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui and Tim Wright were part of those formations and LeGarrette Blount rushed seven times for 39 yards as the Patriots moved the length of the field. That series consisted of 17 plays and traveled 89 yards, but surprisinglyJosh McDaniels got away from the run after Blount set up the offense with a second-and-goal from the 2. An incomplete pass was followed by a sack and the Patriots were forced to settle for a field goal. Given the success the Patriots were having at the time, the two passes from the 1 were curious.

Solder struggles – The first drive ended whenMelvin Ingram blew past Nate Solder off the edge to sack Brady on third-and-goal. It was one of several plays Solder struggled on throughout the night. Both Ingram and veteranDwight Freeney got past him consistently and made plays in the pass rush and against the run as well. Ingram in particular was tough to handle as he buried Blount in the backfield on several failed runs. Solder appeared to have a lot of trouble with spin moves and was often turned around facing Brady as the rusher had eluded him. Solder was a little better in the second half but Ingram still made his share of plays against the run after the break.

Sealver medalist – The Patriots welcomed back Sealver Siliga after the defensive lineman was activated off short-term injured reserve. Siliga made an impact in his first game, burying Ryan Mathews with a big hit early before sharing a sack with Chris Jones late. Siliga is known more as a run stopper but he was able to provide some pressure on the pocket and did not allow Philip Rivers to step up and threw in his customary fashion. He was a key figure in the Patriots run defense down the stretch in 2013 and based on his first game back it looks like he may emerge as a contributor again.

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Questionable call –There was a potentially huge penalty called against Brandon Browner in the third quarter when the cornerback buriedLadarius Green** as the tight end was bobbling a pass. Green had a potential big play but couldn't handle Rivers' pass, and Browner came in with a high shoulder to knock the ball away. Devin McCourty caught the deflection for an interception but Browner was called for unnecessary roughness, although replays showed Browner hit Green with his shoulder and not his helmet. The hit was admittedly up around the neck area but did not appear to be a penalty, and it negated what would have been a long return as well. Fortunately Akeem Ayers intercepted Rivers later in the drive to keep the deficit at 1, thus eliminating the Chargers chance to capitalize on the break.

Seeing red – For the second week in a row the offense was not at its best. Unlike last week in Green Bay when the Patriots scored touchdowns on all three trips into the red zone, the offense was a disaster inside the 20 in San Diego. New England went 1-for-4 in the red zone and failed to find the end zone on both of its goal-to-goal situations. The offensive struggles were even more pronounced to open the second half when the Patriots didn't record a first down until the final play of the third quarter. What made the poor performance even worse was the outstanding field position the Patriots enjoyed over a stretch of possessions from the second through third quarters when they took over at their 39, 48 and 44 and came away from those three drives with no points.

Extra points – The Patriots recorded their 10th win for the 12th straight season, the second-longest streak in NFL history, trailing only San Francisco's 16-season streak from 1983-98. They also improved to 81-21 after Thanksgiving since 2001. … New England is now 37-4 following a loss since 2003. … Gronkowski made his 10th touchdown catch of the season, becoming the first tight end in history to have four seasons of 10 or more touchdown receptions. … Jamie Collins registered his first two-sack game of his career. … Julian Edelman's 69-yard touchdown was the longest reception of his career. … Brady passed for 317 yards to move him past Dan Marino into sole possession of third place all-time with 64 300-yard games. … Brady threw a pair of touchdowns to give him 30 for the season. It's the fifth time Brady has thrown 30 or more touchdowns in a season.

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