- Aug 18, 2005
The Patriots simply have been at a different level than the rest of the NFL for the past two-plus seasons. In fact, since splitting their first four games in 2003, they have won 34 of their last 37, including two Super Bowls. This season they are trying to become the first team to win football's biggest game three straight times, or four times in five years. Their coach, Bill Belichick, is a lock to be in the Hall of Fame some day, as is their quarterback, Tom Brady.
New England lost both coordinators in the offseason, plus linebackers Ted Bruschi, Ted Johnson and Roman Phifer, cornerback Joe Andruzzi and cornerback Ty Law. Last week their All-Pro safety, former Chargers great Rodney Harrison, suffered a season-ending knee injury. But still they march on, winning at Pittsburgh thanks to Brady, Belichick, his system, and stars such as running back Corey Dillon, wide receiver Deion Branch, defensive tackle Richard Seymour and linebackers Mike Vrabel and Willie McGinest.
If New England has any weakness, it's on the kick and punt coverage teams. But the Patriots have excellent return specialists in Bethel Johnson and former Charger Tim Dwight, and Adam Vinatieri is probably the greatest clutch kicker in NFL history. Vinatieri and Brady are major reasons the Patriots have won 20 of their last 22 games decided by six points or fewer.
– JAY POSNER
Three players to watch
Tom Brady: The NFL's best quarterback – has any current QB won three Super Bowls? – reached the 50-victory mark in only 65 games. He has faced the Chargers twice (2001-02) and each time completed more than 30 passes for more than 350 yards. He has two 300-yard games this season; the Patriots are 9-1 when he reaches that mark, with the only loss coming vs. San Diego.
Deion Branch: You might have noticed the Chargers have had some trouble defending the pass, and Branch is an underrated star. A hero in the Patriots'last two Super Bowl victories, Branch enjoyed his only game against the Chargers, in 2002. He set regular-season career highs that day with 13 catches for 126 yards. He leads the AFC with 21 catches.
Guss Scott: The Patriots have made a habit of finding unknown players to fill in for stars; they have to hope Scott is the latest success story. A veteran of three NFL games, he will start in place of Harrison at strong safety. He was New England's third-round pick in 2004 but spent last season on injured reserve.
In addition to Rodney Harrison, the Patriots also have two players who spent the last four seasons with the Chargers, punt returner and backup wide receiver Tim Dwight and backup quarterback Doug Flutie. Backup tackle Brandon Gorin was the Chargers' seventh-round draft pick in 2001 but never played in a game. Guard Stephen Neal is a San Diego native who lettered in five sports at San Diego High, including wrestling; he won two NCAA wrestling championships at Cal State Bakersfield.
The Patriots will be without Harrison and left tackle Matt Light, who reportedly has a broken bone below his right knee. Three other defensive backs – cornerbacks Randall Gay and Tyrone Poole and rookie safety James Sanders – were inactive last week due to injury.
The Patriots were coming off their first Super Bowl-winning season when the Chargers beat them 21-14 on Sept. 29, 2002, at Qualcomm Stadium.
New England leads 17-13, but all the Chargers' victories except for the one in 2002 occurred before 1971. The Patriots won 10 straight between 1973-2001, including the only seven played in Foxboro. San Diego's last road win against the Patriots came in 1970.
Did you know?
New England will wear silver jerseys Sunday for the only time this season. The Patriots have won all three previous games they've played in silver, including two shutouts in 2003.
Did you hear?
"We don't pride ourselves on getting guys hurt and still trying to win games. We need everybody we can (get). We just play hard and guys that are coming in have to just step up."
– Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest
The Patriots are 25-3 all-time at Gillette Stadium, including postseason games. New England has won its last 21 games at home since a 30-14 loss to the Jets on Dec. 22, 2002. It's the longest active home winning streak in the league.