Final, Patriots 23-20: The Patriots escaped in San Diego and moved to 5-1. That was some wild, wild stuff. It wasn't beautiful by any stretch, but the Patriots' ability to pull out a win showcases the difference between their team this year and the one that blew five second-half leads in 2009.
Fourth quarter, 0:23, Patriots 23-20: The Texans know what Brown can do for you, and the Chargers have just gotten the same word. Kris Brown's 50-yard attempt (moved back due to a false start) hit the right upright, and the Patriots will hang on for an intense victory.
Fourth quarter, 0:28, Patriots 23-20: Kris Brown, who missed a bunch of huge kicks in Houston last year and essentially was the sole man responsible for the Texans missing the playoffs, has a 45-yarder coming up to tie the game. He also shanked a kickoff a few minutes ago, and the Chargers' special teams have killed them all year.
Fourth quarter, 1:55, Patriots 23-20: BenJarvus Green-Ellis was stuffed for a loss of a yard on fourth-and-1, and the Chargers take over at the New England 48. Get ready to hear plenty of fourth-and-1 talk.
Fourth quarter, 2:00, Patriots 23-20: Remember fourth-and-2? OK, that was rhetorical, sorry. Well, the Patriots have a fourth-and-1 at their 49-yard line, and it looks like they might go for it. On another note, Norv Turner didn't call a timeout before the two-minute warning that could have saved the Chargers about 25 seconds.
Fourth quarter, 4:01, Patriots 23-20: The Patriots played about 52 minutes of pretty solid football, but they'd love a mulligan for the last four minutes. The Chargers have scored two touchdowns in the last 3:20 (the latest on a one-yard run from Mike Tolbert on third-and-goal), and they've still got three timeouts remaining. We might not be able to determine this right now, but there's a chance this could be the most significant drive of the Patriots' season.
Fourth quarter, 7:21, Patriots 23-13: Well, this thing just got a whole lot more interesting. Kris Brown pulled off a perfect onside kick, and Richard Goodman overcame some early brain flatulence to recover it. Bill Belichick has challenged the play, claiming it didn't go 10 yards, but it looks like the ball traveled 10 yards and a foot. Yes, that's another poor play from the Patriots' special teams.
Fourth quarter, 7:21, Patriots 23-13: Antonio Gates was finally able to get off the line, and he beat Gary Guyton on a crossing route for a four-yard touchdown. The Patriots have played Gates perfectly, smoking him at the line and making him have to push off that injured toe to gain separation. Until that point, Gates was held off the stat sheet, but it's hard to keep a great player down forever.
Fourth quarter, 11:27, Patriots 23-6: Stephen Gostkowski hit a 35-yard field goal after the Patriots stalled out in the red zone. That was a real attacking drive, as the Patriots stayed in the no-huddle offense and quickly marched down the field. The Patriots used nine plays to move the ball 59 yards, but they only erased 3:29 of the clock. It was somewhat surprising the Patriots didn't try to trim a little more clock, but the no-huddle offense has caused the Chargers to back off a little bit defensively.
Fourth quarter, 14:56, Patriots 20-6: Kris Brown nailed a 28-yard field goal to trim the Patriots' lead, but that's a small victory for New England. The Chargers had the ball for six and a half minutes and only came away with three points. Also, rookie defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick recorded his second sack in as many weeks.
End of third quarter, Patriots 20-3: The Chargers have a fourth-and-7 coming up, and they're on the New England 10. It's likely they'll kick a field goal on the other side of the break. Talk about a quick quarter, though, with each team having only one possession.
Third quarter, 6:25, Patriots 20-3: BenJarvus Green-Ellis capped off a vintage Patriots drive with a one-yard touchdown run. The Patriots used 17 plays, capitalized off a dumb Chargers penalty, converted on fourth down, got a Tom Brady sneak for a first down and mixed the run and the pass. The only thing missing was a direct snap to Kevin Faulk for a two-point conversion.
Third quarter, 13:00, Patriots 13-3: Chargers defensive tackle Antonio Garay whacked Patriots right guard Stephen Neal after the play and drew a personal foul. Yes, that's the same Stephen Neal who has beaten up Brock Lesnar. More bad decisions from the Chargers.
Third quarter, 14:56, Patriots 13-3: Brandon Tate returned the second-half kickoff to the New England 21-yard line, and the Patriots are back in business.
Halftime, Patriots 13-3: The Patriots have 38 yards of total offense, but they've capitalized off of four San Diego turnovers to build a 10-point lead at the half. Tom Brady doesn't look overly thrilled with the offensive performance, as the Patriots just can't move the ball. Brady is 6-for-16 for 35 yards and one touchdown, but the Patriots have only mustered six first downs and 11:03 of possession.
On one hand, the Patriots can't hope to count on the Chargers' mistakes in the second half. On the other, the Pats might be wondering which type of rare turnover the Chargers will commit next. Either way, the Patriots need to make some serious offensive adjustments, because they have to know the Chargers will make a run at home.
Second quarter, 0:23, Patriots 13-3: The Patriots capitalized off cornerback Antoine Cason's 29-yard pass interference penalty on Deion Branch, and Stephen Gostkowski hit a 35-yard field goal to push the lead to 10.
Second quarter, 1:59, Patriots 10-3: OK, this is starting to get a little ridiculous, like Norv-Turner-could-get-fired-Monday ridiculous. Julian Edelman broke free from a half-hearted tackle attempt from San Diego's punt-coverage unit, which basically assumed Jacob Hester would wrap up Edelman and end the play. So, once Edelman broke free, he returned it 34 yards to the New England 48.
Second quarter, 3:37, Patriots 10-3: This might be the time when the Patriots should become a little concerned. They've forced four turnovers but only have a seven-point lead on the road, and San Diego's defense is absolutely suffocating. New England's receivers simply can't get open, and Tom Brady doesn't have a lot of time to work with, either.
Second quarter, 5:03, Patriots 10-3: Wow, just a big ol' wow there. Rookie cornerback Devin McCourty showcased some tremendous stride-for-stride speed and leaped in front of Patrick Crayton to haul in his first career interception down the right sideline. That was an outstanding play from a kid who has had a solid rookie season so far. New England takes over at its own 42.
Second quarter, 6:51, Patriots 10-3: The Patriots got three free points there, as Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 40-yard field goal after Tom Brady was sacked on consecutive plays. Little home-field advantage for the Chargers, as the video boards behind the end zone were showing the replay of Brady's sack while Gostkowski was attempting the kick. I mean, I was distracted, so I guess I'll never be a kicker. Never mind my lack of kicking skills.
Second quarter, 8:45, Patriots 7-3: Philip Rivers threw a pass to running back Jacob Hester in the flat, and it fell incomplete. With no whistles getting blown, Rob Ninkovich jumped on the ball and returned it to the Chargers' 8-yard line. It went to review, and it looked like a forward pass, but the camera angles made it almost impossible to overturn the ruling on the field. This was a huge break for the Patriots, who got a little lucky with the ruling and Hester's lack of awareness to finish the play.
Second quarter, 9:21, Patriots 7-3: The Patriots announced safety Patrick Chung has a knee injury, and his return is questionable. Chung has been the team's second-leading tackler, and this would be a massive loss if it's serious. With the injury, rookie Sergio Brown has gotten some playing time.
Second quarter, 13:03, Patriots 7-3: Two things to note here: Patrick Chung has gone to the locker room with two trainers with an unspecified injury, and long snapper Jake Ingram has the yips. He's grounded four snaps so far, and that's extremely uncharacteristic of the Hawaii native.
Second quarter, 13:15, Patriots 7-3: More mental weakness from the Chargers, and this one was epically embarrassing for rookie wide receiver Richard Goodman, who hauled in his first career reception and fell down without being touched. Goodman thought the play was over, put the ball on the turf, and it was picked up by James Sanders. New England's offense, however, couldn't move the ball.
End of first quarter, Patriots 7-3: The Chargers had an early edge, both on the scoreboard and the overall feel of the game, but a failed onside kick and a fumble deep in their own territory helped the Patriots win the battle for field position and eventually take the lead. The differences between these teams were on center stage in the opening 15 minutes.
First quarter, 1:00, Patriots 7-3: That's what good teams do, score touchdowns after key turnovers. Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski in the back of the end zone for a one-yard touchdown after the play-action briefly froze San Diego's defense. Gronkowski, who caught his third touchdown of the season, outran cornerback Quentin Jammer to get open.
First quarter, 3:24, Chargers 3-0: Dane Fletcher and Kyle Arrinton helped force a Kris Wilson fumble on third down, and the Patriots have the ball at the San Diego 22-yard line. There is San Diego's first big mistake of this one, and the Patriots need to capitalize here. With some success, they could push the Chargers toward that "Here we go again" mentality.
First quarter, 4:29, Chargers 3-0: The Patriots failed to capitalize off some good field position after San Diego's sneaky onside kick attempt, which was recovered at the New England 43 by the alert Dane Fletcher. The Patriots' passing attack has been very ineffective so far, as no one can get open for Tom Brady.
First quarter, 5:23, Chargers 3-0: Kris Brown hit a 32-yard field goal to cap San Diego's second possession. Noticing a few things here: The Patriots' run defense looks good again, starting from the interior linemen and spreading out from there; Brandon Meriweather hit Patrick Crayton like a missile then celebrated, but Crayton still hauled in a first-down catch; and the Pats are getting some pressure on Philip Rivers.
First quarter, 11:00, 0-0: The Patriots' initial possession was highlighted by a reverse flee-flicker, but Tom Brady's deep attempt to Deion Branch was underthrown. There was a lot of talk about San Diego's horrendous special teams this week, but the Patriots' unit has been the abysmal one in the first four minutes of the game. The kickoff unit was flagged for offsides, and then the punting unit had a false start, a holding penalty and two poor snaps from Jake Ingram. Holy cow.
First quarter, 13:05, 0-0: Nice start for the Patriots' defense, which allowed a quick first down but forced a punt after four plays. The Patriots take over at their own 13. New England again started Jermaine Cunningham and Rob Ninkovich at outside linebacker after the pair played well against Baltimore, and safety Brandon Meriweather was on the field for the first series, too.
First quarter, 14:54, 0-0: The Chargers won the toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff, and the Chargers' offense starts it off at their own 30-yard line.
3:12 p.m.: Chargers tight end Antonio Gates will play Sunday, but wide receivers Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee are inactive. The Patriots' defense could wind up catching a huge break due to San Diego's injuries.
3:04 p.m.: We've already run through the Patriots' inactives, and here are the active players to point out: Wide receiver Julian Edelman (concussion), safety James Sanders (hamstring) and cornerback Kyle Arrington (groin) are all playing, and safety Sergio Brown will make his NFL debut after being added to the 53-man roster Saturday.
2:47 p.m.: The Patriots announced their eight inactive players, and the list includes running back Fred Taylor (toe), safety Jarrad Page (left calf), defensive lineman Ron Brace, offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger, wide receiver Taylor Price, cornerback Terrence Wheatley, defensive lineman Kyle Love and tackle Mark LeVoir. More analysis coming shortly.
2:17 p.m.: Reports out of San Diego indicate Chargers tight end Antonio Gates is warming up on the field. Gates, who is listed as questionable with a toe injury, did not practice last week. It's believed he'll play Sunday, but I get the feeling he wouldn't be in this game if it had lesser meaning. Gates' effectiveness will have a major impact on the outcome of this one, and the inactive lists will be released at 2:45 p.m.
8 a.m.: Bill Belichick has all the ammunition he needs to make sure the Patriots don't overlook Sunday's game in San Diego. The Patriots have been blown out in two of their last three regular-season meetings with the Chargers, and Belichick has driven that point home all week.
San Diego's 2-4 record is deceiving. It's a dangerously talented team that has suffered due to a number of mental lapses, but the Chargers know their season could be on the line Sunday.
This is a big test for the Patriots (4-1), who can show off their mental toughness with a win that would also even them up with the Jets atop the AFC East.