Source: USA Today
It's Monday and the Chargers' loss still stings.
Not able to win in New England — where they haven't posted a victory since 2005 — the Chargers had a good shot of doing just that Sunday until two of their four turnovers wrecked those plans in the fourth quarter.
The Chargers have a bit of a salve with a key stretch of home games coming. They returned home licking their wounds, but realizing it's still early in the year.
"This isn't the last straw for the Chargers," said Mike Tolbert, whose fourth-quarter fumble deep in New England territory was a killer. "We're 1-1. What did we start last year, 2-5, and we still almost made the playoffs."
The Chargers were banking on not getting off to their usual slow start this season. And with an opening-day, come-from-behind win over the Vikings, there was plenty of cheer spread in San Diego.
Then came the sloppy play that led to Sunday's pratfall. But the Chargers swear they are not in the here-we-go-again mindset with the Chiefs (0-2) set to visit in six days.
"A loss is a loss," wide receiver Vincent Jackson said. "It doesn't matter if you lose by one we lose by 20. There are some things we definitely did well in that game and there are definitely some things we can do better."
Job No. 1 is ball security. It was a problem which bogged down the Chargers last year and they had hoped it was behind them.
Then Philip Rivers threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, to go with Tolbert's fumble.
"I could have made the difference and that's why we lost," Rivers said. "In most cases, that's how the quarterback always feels. I need to play better, I want to play better and we win and lose together.
"That's one thing I like about this team."
While a win would have been sweet against the hated Patriots and delivered a statement to the rest of the league that the Chargers are legitimate, they need to move on.
All that's lost, in the Chargers' mind, is an undefeated regular season.
"The only goal we have to scratch off our list right now is winning them all," Rivers said. "We can throw that one out the window, but everything else is still here. We've got a long season ahead of us. We're going to be alright."
That feel-good tonic could arrive with the next two home games against teams without a victory: the Chiefs on Sunday and the Dolphins the following week.
Wide receiver Malcom Floyd left Sunday's game at New England after two catches for 59 yards with a groin injury. Floyd was bothered by hamstring issues last season and he's a player that needs to be near full capacity health-wise to perform, because his assets are speed and size. His status for Sunday's game will become clearer if he's able to practice on Wednesday. He could be limited until late in the week. The Chargers are hopeful Patrick Crayton can make his season debut this week.
—Among the most amazing stats for Sunday's loss was that Pro Bowl TE Antonio Gates was held without a catch. QB Philip Rivers often looked Gates' way, but he was usually covered by two defenders. But Gates is putting that shut out, and the loss, behind him. "We understand the importance of moving on," Gates said. "You learn from it and have a chance to watch film, but we're not going to blink. This is a setback on a long journey, and we have to stay the course and count our victories at season's end." Coach Norv Turner said Gates' lack of production wasn't because of anything Gates didn't do, but what the Patriots did do. "We would to throw the ball to him every down we could," he said. "They did a great job on him."
— The benefactor of the Patriots' coverage rolling toward Gates was WR Vincent Jackson. He had a sensational game and many of his catches were of the spectacular variety. "They made some plays and we certainly left some plays out there," said Jackson, who had a career-high 10 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns. But his big day took a back seat to the defeat. "We kept fighting," he said, "but overall they played better."
—Among the reasons the Patriots rolled up 504 total yards was their use of the no-huddle. At times the Chargers seemed to have communication problems with New England hustling to the line and the Chargers scrambling to get into the right formation.
"We dealt with it OK," CB Antoine Cason said. "It's always tough when a team goes no-huddle, especially an offense like the Patriots. It helps when you can create space and use their guys to spread the field out like they do.
"It didn't really bother us from a conditioning perspective. In my mind, it's still about what we as a defense allow more than what an offense does. I truly believe that."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
— RB Ryan Mathews continues to improve and is coming off one of his best games as a pro. The Chargers continue to lean on him in their short passing game and he responded with 62 yards on seven catches. He also rushed for a team-high 64 yards and added a touchdown.
— WR Patrick Crayton should return this week after missing the first two games following ankle surgery to remove bone spurs. Crayton is not only the team's No. 3 wide out, but its punt-returner. So far, there's been little production from Bryan Walters fielding punts.
— ILB Jonas Mouton is making progress in his recovery from a shoulder injury. The Chargers are a little thin at the inside linebacker's spot and could use his production as well on special teams.
— RG Louis Vasquez has put his clamps again on the starting job for an entire game. Unlike in the opener against the Vikings, Vasquez wasn't replaced by Tyronne Green during the game.
— WR Vincent Brown could be active this week as the third-round pick has increased his practice time after being slowed by leg injuries. Brown, a rookie, has a chance to make his NFL debut with Malcom Floyd's status in the air.
REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS
PASSING OFFENSE: D — Philip Rivers threw for two touchdowns and 378 yards — a big deal? Most games it would be. But his three turnovers (two interceptions) trump all. He didn't take care of the ball and that is always the main goal for any quarterback. Vincent Jackson was stellar with a career-high 10 receptions. The pass protection had a leak or two — two sacks — but for the most part Rivers had the time to survey the defense. TE Antonio Gates was missing in action; the Patriots made sure the Pro Bowler wouldn't be the one to beat them by using near-constant double team help from a safety.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C — A lack of ball security is the big red flag flapping in this category. Mike Tolbert's fourth-quarter fumble inside the New England 35 with the Chargers poised to march in for the go-ahead touchdown was a killer. Ryan Mathews continues to blossom; he had a combined 126 yards, showing his versatility as a runner and a pass-catcher. But the turnover by Tolbert can't be ignored.
PASS DEFENSE: F — Shredded, mutilated — you pick the adjective. Tom Brady went for three touchdowns and 423 yards as it looked at times as if he was in a 9-on-7 drill. The pass rush seldom put him in a hurry; Brady's hurry-up offense exploited the Chargers lack of communication and coverage skills. Tough day for the safeties, as Bob Sanders and Eric Weddle had subpar games. The corner got picked on as well, with them giving too much cushion as Brady continually took advantage of it.
RUSH DEFENSE: B — The Chargers kept the Patriots under 100 rushing yards and that is always a milestone the defense wants to reach. But the Patriots ran but 23 times as Brady was more than content to burn the Chargers through the air. Rookie ILB Donald Bulter had a good day; Takeo Spikes added seven tackles. Longest run of the day by the Patriots was 16 yards — not bad when compared to what was being allowed through the air.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B — No complaints here as the coverages were keen. But the Chargers are still searching for a spark in the return game, especially on punts. Richard Goodman had a 27-yard kickoff return and that was the lone highlight in the return game. New kicker Nick Novak didn't get tested on any field goals; he was perfect on his three extra-point attempts.
COACHING: F — Norv Turner was upbeat after the game, saying how excited he was in what this team can accomplish. That's nice coachspeak but his team was dreadful on both sides of the ball in the most important areas. His offense gave up four turnovers; his defense got zero takeaways and allowed the rival to run-up 504 yards and 35 points. New defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was hired to shine in games just like this one and the Chargers fell flat. There was doubt in defending the no-huddle and Brady often stood in the pocket for extended lengths of time to find the right receiver. Yes the Chargers had a chance to go-ahead late in the game — so what. There are no moral victories in the NFL and the Chargers don't need to go claiming one here.