Poised Chargers deal Super Bowl champions first home loss si

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LT teh ghost

Well-Known Member
Aug 18, 2005

FOXBORO, Mass. – It was dominant and spectacular and thoroughly businesslike.

A week ago the Chargers salvaged a season. Yesterday the Chargers sizzled, stunning the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots 41-17 and once again inflating a season with possibility.

Yet they walked from the Gillette Stadium sod, the first visiting team to do so victoriously in 1,015 days, with the slightly preoccupied expressions and deliberate strides of men on a mission just begun.

"We beat a team that's the world champions," fullback Lorenzo Neal said. "But we have to realize they lost Rodney Harrison, they lost their starting guard, they had a lot of injuries.

"It's a huge win. Let's not downplay it. They're a great team. Was it a big win for us? Heck, yeah. But how long can you dwell on it? You can't, or next week you're going to get hit in the mouth. We took care of this one. We have a long way to go."

This focus is an ode to the leadership in the locker room, and it is a nod to the rest of this month, which has the Chargers hosting Pittsburgh next Monday and then traveling in successive weeks to Oakland and Philadelphia.

For all their concentration on what is ahead, the Chargers did pause to acknowledge yesterday's victory as uplifting.

They scored on five consecutive drives in the middle of the game. They allowed the Patriots no points and just 61 yards in the second half.

New England quarterback Tom Brady, widely held to be Joe Montana reincarnate, completed just five passes on nine attempts after halftime.

"Probably one of the most enjoyable games I've ever been a part of," linebacker Ben Leber said.

General Manager A.J. Smith stood at the entrance to the locker room after the game, congratulating players and coaches as they passed. He even smiled.

"It was a measuring stick," Smith said later. "And I think we feel pretty good about ourselves."

The victory further validated the Chargers' belief that they can contend as New England's replacement atop the football world.

"If we can beat the New England Patriots, that's saying a lot," tight end Antonio Gates said.

And after stumbling in the second half to give away their first two games, the Chargers have clearly healed, outscoring their past two opponents 48-3 in the second half. Their 86 points over the past two games is their highest two-game total in 20 years. Their 41 points yesterday were the most scored on the Patriots since 1998.

How could it not be affirming? Everywhere they looked yesterday they saw reminders of who they were playing, gigantic banners proclaiming the Patriots winners of the last two and three of the past four Super Bowls. They knew well that the Patriots had won 21 straight at home and lost just five times in their past 42 games overall.

"It's everywhere," Oben said of the reminders of how great an opponent the Chargers faced. "You can't not look at it."

But the Chargers knew what else they could not do. As expressed by running back LaDainian Tomlinson afterward: "We had to win this game."

The word the Chargers used yesterday was "intensity." They've had it in increasing measure the past two weeks.

"It's something we knew we had to get back to," linebacker Steve Foley said. "The energy and execution we had last year, we didn't see it the first two games of the season."

The defense, its secondary much maligned in the season's first three weeks, must be lauded after stopping New England on six of its final eight third-down tries and holding Brady 92 yards below his season passing average.

But the Chargers' offense held the ball for almost 12 minutes in the fourth quarter and almost 22 in the second half.

"The offense, they really made the game easy for us," Leber said.

Up 31-17 1½ minutes into the fourth quarter, the Chargers embarked on a 15-play drive that consumed 8 minutes, 55 seconds and ended with Nate Kaeding's 21-yard field goal.

"Oh my freaking goodness," Foley said. "For the offense to come out and put a drive together like that, we really have to take out hats off to them."

Thanks to the Chargers offense, New England ran just nine plays in the fourth quarter. But the defense did have its moments. Two of the Patriots' plays resulted in interceptions – one by Bhawoh Jue with 4:38 remaining that effectively extinguished the Patriots' chances, and the other by Donnie Edwards that he pitched to Clinton Hart at the 40-yard line and watched as Hart sprinted 40 yards to the end zone to give the Chargers their 41-17 lead with 34 seconds remaining.

That touchdown punctuated a day on which the Chargers scored almost at will.

After punting on two of their first three drives and trailing 7-3, the Chargers did not punt again until their final drive. And that drive had a 46-yard touchdown run by Michael Turner nullified by a holding penalty.

It appeared early that both teams might keep on scoring unfettered. They scored three touchdowns in 3½ minutes in the latter stages of the second quarter. The Chargers led 17-14 after that bombardment. But the Patriots kicked a 24-yard field goal with 21 seconds remaining in the half to tie the game 17-17.

But after the Patriots opened the third quarter with a punt, the Chargers drove 80 yards in nine plays to take a 24-17 lead on Tomlinson's second touchdown of the game.

From that point, the Patriots gained 46 more yards to finish with 304. The Chargers gained 165 to finish with 431.

Still, hardly a Chargers player addressed the dominance without also mentioning the challenge ahead.

"We don't want to go too far with this win," Foley said. "It's one win. It's a regular-season win. If it was a deciding game, you would see a lot more emotion. We're here right now, and what I'm really pleased to see with the young team we have, everyone is focused. They know what we have to do."