In the post game press conference after the New England Patriots skirted away with a close 23-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers, quarterback Tom Brady discussed one thing that head coach Bill Belichick tells the team on game days:
Eliminate bad football.
The definition of ‘bad football’ varies from team to team, but in the case of the Patriots, who have one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, minor mistakes equate to bad football.
When asked what his thoughts were on the offense in the first half, Brady confessed, “What offense?” The Patriots undoubtedly struggled on every aspect offensively against the commanding Chargers defense. With several overthrown balls and the Chargers defense smothering the Patriots receivers, it’s almost hard to imagine how they came away with a win.
Tom Brady knows the reality of the Patriots notable record so far, “...Wouldn’t say that we’re in playoff form or anything like that, but we’re 5-1,” Brady said. ”We played some tough teams and some tough defenses and tough offenses and we’re just trying to improve.”
At the end of the day, the Patriots improved to 5-1 and the Chargers continue to struggle at 2-5.
The Out of Sync Offense
Tom Brady is arguably having one his best starts this season and his numbers prove it. As of the first six games, Brady has thrown 11 touchdowns, has an average quarterback rating of 114 and so far has completed 66.2 percent of his passes.
Examining Brady’s numbers at the end of the Chargers game, it’s difficult to find too many positives. Brady completed 19 of 32 passes for a meager 159 yards. He was also sacked four times with a total loss of 31 yards.
Although Brady struggled with moving the ball, the offense was able to construct some successful drives down the field. One of which was late in the first quarter when Brady incorporated two rushing plays to running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis for a total of eleven yards. Running back/wide receiver Danny Woodhead also contributed to the drive that ended with an exceptional catch deep in the end zone by rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, who now has three touchdowns for the season.
More impressively was the early third quarter play where Brady led the offense on a 17-play, 79-yard drive down the field. The entire drive took up 8:35 of the quarter and ended with a one yard rushing touchdown by BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
The overall production of the Patriots offense was not superb as they were held just 210 total rushing and passing yards. Green-Ellis led the ground attack with 11 carries for 24 yards and a single touchdown.
When asked about the offensive performance, Brady admitted, “We couldn't get into a rhythm at all,” he said, “ The second half was better, I don't think it was great by any stretch but it feels good to win and to see the defense play the way they did and get those turnovers, we certainly can play at lot better offensively.”
The play that raised questions of the Bill Belichick and the Patriots decision-making was a fourth and one call made late in the fourth quarter. Although the Patriots were holding onto a small lead over the Chargers, the failed fourth down conversion was hard to ignore.
Tom Brady discussed the play in the post game press conference, “If we get the first down, the game is pretty much over. You punt it back to them, they got three timeouts with two minutes left...if you get the yard, than it’s going to be tough for them to win the game.”
The gutsy call to go for it on fourth down was unsuccessful as BenJarvus Green-Ellis was stopped by Chargers outside linebacker Antwan Applewhite. While it was unsuccessful, when he was asked if there was ever a question about going for it, Brady confidently responded, “Heck no, I’d go for it every time.”
A Struggling but Persistent Defense
On the defensive side, the Patriots proved that they were slowly beginning to get back to the ‘bend but not break’ unit that they once were before.
Facing a quarterback like that of Philip Rivers of the Chargers, the need for a pass rush and deep field coverage was a major factor for the Patriots defense. While Rivers was able to complete 34 of 50 passes for 336 yards, he was hit four times, threw an interception and was also sacked twice.
Philip Rivers faced his own frustrations on the offense. “It’s unfortunate because we put our defense in such tough situations and they kept stopping them and stopping them,” Rivers said.
While there wasn’t the presence of a dominant pass rusher, the combination of efficient play by the rest of the defense that forced four turnovers by the Chargers in the first half alone.
Rookie cornerback Devin McCourty continued to play consistently well against the Chargers as we recorded his first career interception.
Undrafted free agents continue to show promise as defensive lineman Mike Wright recorded his third straight game with a sack and linebacker Dane Fletcher had a forced fumble early in the game and recovered a failed squib kick attempt by the Chargers.
To the Chargers defense, both of their top receivers, Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee, were out with injuries and tight end Antonio Gates was used quite sparingly. Gates only had four catches for 50 yards and a touchdown. The tight end who was questionable due a toe injury, played a major role in the fourth quarter comeback attempt the for San Diego.
After coming off another close game, it’s clear that the Patriots are nowhere near perfect. As the 5-1 record can portray a sense of false confidence, the Patriots know that the Minnesota Vikings are not easy opponents.
The Vikings are now 2-4 and have recently discovered two fractures in starting quarterback Brett Favre’s left ankle. Head coach Brad Childress has not ruled out Favre to play against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Even if Favre doesn’t play, the Patriots defense are left with the task of covering their former teammate wide receiver Randy Moss and stopping the dominating running attack of Adrian Peterson, who already has 684 rushing yards and five touchdowns this season. Since the Patriots are well aware of the tendencies of the Vikings’ greatest deep threat, open field coverage should be somewhat easier to execute.
The Patriots offense must utilize the tight ends and be more dedicated in their running attack as the Vikings defense is ranked 11th in rushing yards. Tom Brady must do a better job at finding the open receiver and between his options among the receivers and tight ends. The more variety the offense has, the greater the chance of the Patriots advancing to 6-1.
The Patriots will face the Minnesota Vikings at home in Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on Sunday, October 31, 2010. Kickoff is set for 4:15 p.m.
Kisha Tapangan is a contributing writer for PatriotsInsider.com She also maintains her personal blog Necessary Roughness and can be found on Twitter @KishaT. Be sure to check back for regular updates by Kisha