FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots' defensive linemen are developing a certain swagger down by the goal line. With two big-time stops in their first two games, they're feeling pretty good about their level of want-to in that area.
Of course, when they stack the interior of the formation with 985 pounds of defensive tackles — Vince Wilfork, Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Love — they've clearly got the personnel to make those plays.
The Patriots made another stop on the shadow of the end zone during Sunday's 35-21 victory against the Chargers at Gillette Stadium, shunning bruising running back Mike Tolbert on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the second quarter. It was the third consecutive time the Patriots stopped the Chargers from inside the 3-yard line.
"When you come down on the goal line and stop somebody, it's perfect for a D-line," Love said. "We fed off of that. A lot of coaches said feed off that goal line stop, and that's what we tried to continue to do, keep that mentality."
New England has a huge advantage off the snap because Wilfork, Haynesworth and Love have been able to manhandle the interior linemen on the other side of the ball. That sets the blocking assignments back, and it allows the next level of Patriots to make plays coming through the line.
Cornerback Devin McCourty made a goal-line tackle last week against the Dolphins, and linebacker Jerod Mayo made the fourth-down stop Sunday against the Chargers. Safety Patrick Chung was also active in the goal-line situation in the second quarter against San Diego, but the Patriots had their attention set on Mayo.
"Jerod made a hell of a play," Wilfork said. "That's why he is one of the top linebackers in the game, and he showed it [Sunday]. That play he made [Sunday] was a good, good tackle. Everybody was playing their assignment, and he was free to run to the ball. Anytime you can get a goal-line stand is big for the defense. You always talk about winning the red area, and there's no bigger win down there. It can't get any bigger than that."
Wilfork noted that the Patriots expected to have to make a big stop against the Chargers, whether it came on fourth down in the red area or on the shadow of their goal line, because the Chargers were using a new kicker.
It's the second stop they've made in as many weeks. When they disrupted the Dolphins on a first-and-goal in the third quarter, Miami was so deflated with its running game that it passed the ball on its last seven goal-to-go downs.
The Patriots are developing a reputation as a team that can outmuscle their opponents when they need the toughest yard on the field.
"We've said ever since training camp that the goal line has to be ours," Mayo said, "and that mental toughness really shows up down there."