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They say that defence wins football games, but rarely was that as apparent as it was in Foxboro this Sunday.
Three times the Chargers had the ball inside New England’s 20 yard line – two of those times inside the 10. And yet, the Patriots defence held, not letting the Chargers score a single touchdown, forcing them to kick three field goals.
It turned out to be the margin of victory.
Since the Patriots would only manage three touchdowns on the day, if the Chargers had scored each time they were inside the 20, the score would have likely been 24-21.
Had they scored just the two times they made inside the 10, it’s still a 20-21 game, which would have given that extra incentive for the defence in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots offence sputtered and looked uncomfortable in the first half. An early interception seemed to set the tone for the Chargers defence, who allowed only 139 yards at the half. Tom Brady was only completing half of his passes and their running game was stuck in first gear.
The Chargers offence, on the other hand, looked great – until they would get close to the Patriots goal line. The controlled the clock, had nearly double the yards of New England and Rivers was throwing the ball well.
It looked like an upset in the making – if the Chargers could continue to keep the Patriots offence off the field, while they wore down their defence, they had a realistic shot at beating the unbeaten.
But the Patriots came out ready in the second half.
Tom Brady, who was 22/33, and 11/14 in the second half, wasn’t as sharp as he was the previous week. But he – and his stable of receivers – were great when it counted. When he wasn’t accurate, his receivers made great plays, diving and reaching behind them to make highlight reel catches.
Easily overlooked, however, is Lawrence Maloney. Rushing for 122 yards and a touchdown, his pounding runs helped the Patriots control the second half.
Twice the Patriots had drives of 60 or more yards, eating up the clock. One ended with a touchdown, the other with an interception. Combined, they ate up over 10 minutes.
Add New England’s final, nine-minute drive, that’s nineteen minutes of controlling the ball – more then one full quarter, nearly two-thirds of the second half.
The Chargers, meanwhile, only had three possessions in the second half, only scoring on one of them.
The best defence is a good offence, since it keeps their offence off the field. But to keep the Chargers from scoring a single TD? That was good defence.
And that’s what won the game for the Patriots.