SAN DIEGO – It was a game low on scoring but high on energy.
And momentum swings.
From even before the opening kickoff, it was evident the Chargers were treating this game like a Super Bowl. Throughout the week in San Diego, where the Patriots stayed and practiced, locals were admitting to visitors that the city and their football team had been anxiously waiting for the Patriots game for months. And to be fair, there were serious AFC playoff implications in the balance with the outcome of this game, given that just one game separated the Patriots and Chargers coming into the contest.
The New England Patriots take on the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday, December 7, 2014.
There was a buzz about this game that grew louder each passing day of the week, hitting its crescendo with the over-the-top pyrotechnics during pregame festivities. Even the fans did their part, making Qualcomm Stadium feel like a Super Bowl crowd. At times, it was hard to determine which was the home team, so sizeable was the New England supporter contingent that traveled to San Diego.
Once the game kicked off, loud roars erupted whenever either team did something positive. Charger fans clearly outnumbered their Patriots counterparts, as you would expect, but the entire first half was – pardon the pun – super-charged with an energy that's normally reserved for playoff or Super Bowl atmospheres.
When New England marched nearly the entire field to the Chargers' 1-yard line and had to settle for a field goal, the entire lower section behind the Patriots' bench made it sound like the game was at Gillette. But after a Charger TD and subsequent scoop-and-score by the San Diego defense on a Brandon LaFell fumble, the decibel level surged to can't-hear-yourself-think heights.
New England fans responded when tight end Rob Gronkowski made a great catch-and-run in the second quarter, a sack of Phillip Rivers, and a Brandon Bolden punt block that set the Patriots' offense up with the ball at the Charger 25. The energy only got stronger and louder thereafter, even while Charger punter Mike Scifres was writhing on the ground in obvious pain after the blocked kick. The Qualcomm sound system continued to blare ear-splitting music to keep the crowd fired up.
A couple of plays later, when Tom Brady hit Gronk for a touchdown, then just before the half, when he threw an interception to Manti Te'o, Brady gave the stadium a jolt. The game was as much a battle of fans drowning each other out as it was players out-doing one another on the field. It was an evenly matched prize fight by halftime, and the 14-13 score indicated as much.
The game seemed to reach a turning point when the Patriots appeared to run back an interception for a touchdown, but cornerback Brandon Browner was charged with a striking the intended receiver in the head before the INT. He was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit, but in-stadium replays seemed to show he led with his shoulder.
That seemed to fire up the Patriots defense, which protested vehemently to the officials, but the call stood.
Yet, no sooner had the Chargers regained momentum than Akeem Ayers came up with an interception for New England. That wound up leading to a Stephen Gostkowski field goal that put the Patriots back on top, 16-14, with 10 minutes left in the game.
After that, Brady and the offense gave San Diego quite a jolt with a 1-play, 12-second, 69-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman. It was a shock from which the Chargers couldn't recover.
San Diego may have treated this game like a Super Bowl, but to the Patriots, it was just another game. Another big game on a schedule packed with them. It was a great win on the road. A road they hope ends at the real Super Bowl not far away in Arizona.