By Michael Felger
Four from Felger following the Patriots' near-collapse in San Diego . . .
Overall a very good win. It didn't feel that way in the immediate aftermath of the Pats' fourth-quarter collapse, of course, but when you step back, you have to be pleased. The Pats were ripe for a letdown following last week's war with Baltimore (see how the Ravens struggled at home against winless Buffalo?) while the Chargers were poised for their usual October breakout. The Pats had schlepped cross country and the Chargers were back at home playing for their season. Then Tom Brady and the offense came out and played like crap for most of the early going. It was just shaping up as one of those days.
So to come out of that circumstance with a victory and remain tied for the best record in football . . . take it and run.
Yes, the Chargers are pathetic. With any sort of coaching or composure they win that game going away. But this is nothing new. AFC teams have been taking advantage of Charger ineptness dating well back into the Marty Schottenheimer Era. The Pats used it to make the AFC title game in 2006. The Jets did the exact same thing last year. It's what the Chargers do.
The Pats just aren't talented enough to go on a deep playoff run this year without some luck. In fact, there may not be a single team in the NFL this year that is. So the Pats were handed some good fortune on Sunday.
In hindsight, given the opponent, that wasn't all that surprising.
New England Patriots
Bill Belichick dodged the biggest bullet, of course. He never got past the fourth-and-2 in Indianapolis last season (the Pats went 4-5 after the call, including the Colts loss), and the comparisons to what happened in San Diego are just too hard to ignore.
Once again he showed little faith in the defense. Once again, he put the game in the hands of the offense. Once again, the move backfired (thanks in large part to BenJarvus Green-Ellis missing the hole), only this time he was saved by San Diego's ineptitude.
I would have punted, because I think at some point the defense is going to have to win you a game. But it wasn't a terrible decision; just a questionable one. And if the Pats had lost it would have been questioned hard.
Or at least harder. Something tells me I'll still be getting a few calls on it.
To me, the bigger coaching faux pas came when the Pats were caught napping on San Diego's fourth-quarter onside kick. It was hardly an automatic situation, but it was close enough (San Diego down 10 points with 7:23 remaining) that the Pats should have been more alert.
If it was too early for the hands team, then fine. But the up-men should have been waiting for it. Instead, the front line began its retreat as Kris Brown approached the ball -- and it cost them.
Call it a teachable moment for special-teams coach Scott O'Brien and Belichick. And once again, thank the football gods it came against Norv Turner.
The first half was the worst 30 minutes of football I've seen Tom Brady play in a long time. He was 6-of-16 for 35 yards while the Pats offense was 0-for-6 on third down, numbers that accurately portray the futility. Yes, the protection was bad (three sacks in the first half). And yes, his receivers weren't exactly getting separation (Deion Branch's bus must have been late). But Brady still threw some balls that just defied explanation.
He threw flat on a double-reverse to Branch on the first series. He made a bad decision going to a blanketed Sammy Morris on the second series, then drilled a ball at Brandon Tate's feet the next snap. He knuckled a hellacious little pass to Wes Welker early in the second quarter, after which he sailed one wide to Hernandez over the middle. He threw way behind Welker just before the half. Even the balls he completed, such as the touchdown to Rob Gronkowski and an earlier ball to the big tight end, were off the mark.
But as was the case last week, Brady and the offense got better as the game went on. They marched down the field and reached the end zone on a 17-play drive to open the third quarter and again went down the field (nine plays, 59 yards) to kick a field goal early in the fourth. Their third series ended in the failed Green-Ellis run.
And, once again, Branch didn't turtle. He kept working to get open and eventually broke through for four catches for 39 yards, all in the second half.
Meanwhile, Randy Moss caught three balls in the Vikings' loss at Green Bay.
The Vikings are now 1-2 since Moss got there while the Pats are 2-0 since the trade.
Felger's report card will post Tuesday morning. E-mail him HERE and read the mailbag on Thursday. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.