It has now been well over 24 hours. I got a pretty good night's sleep on it, too. And I'm still feeling a painfully strong cognitive dissonance over what happened in the Patriots-Chargers game yesterday.
First of all, the Chargers were awful. It was not possible to play the sport of American football worse than they did yesterday, at pretty much any level.They are just lucky it is not a game in which they could have accidentally shot at their own goal. Because if it was that kind of football, they would have. They were that bad.
And I won't pretend I took no joy in that. I find the Chargers the trash-talkingest, whiniest, take-no-responsibility team in the league. Most of this probably stems from LaDanian Tomlinson's boo-hooing over the years in the direction of Bill Belichick, but even with Tomlinson gone, this team's personality still gets on my nerves. After utterly embarrassing themselves on the field throughout the game, some of the receivers who'd committed the most egregious errors were still popping up in the faces of Patriots defenders after plays, flapping their gums.
My personal favorite example of how undisciplined and undeserving of respect the Chargers can be (and probably my favorite moment of the game, really) was when they began the second quarter with a 25-yard completed pass from Philip Rivers to rookie Rich Goodman, who forgot he wasn't playing in college, hadn't been touched down, and let go of the ball. The better to start his clapping and celebrating, of course.
That's when James Sanders fell on the ball. The ball was then ruled live. The Patriots offense took over at their own 41.
Having watched Brady & Co. slug it out with the Ravens the week before, having watched them make a 1-yard touchdown toss look like a casual trip to the laundromat following this game's previous Chargers fumble, and given that the offense has been the source of most of the Patriots' success so far this season, I was rubbing my hands together with glee, anticipating the start of a good, old-fashioned, confidence-boosting beatdown.
And that was pretty much the story of this game, especially in the first half. The defense played smart football -- or, at least, smarter than the Chargers' offense (which admittedly was not difficult). In one instance, as a matter of fact, they even ran a fumble back down to the 8 freakin' yard line for the offense. Here you go -- another gift-wrapped touchdown.
On came Tom Brady, fire in his eyes. Surely, I'm sure most of us thought, surely they will not fail to capitalize this time.
And then Brady was sacked twice.
And the Patriots kicked a field goal.
In just about any other Patriots game I've ever watched, leading 13-3 at the half was cause for relaxation and confidence. After all, when the Patriots lead at halftime, they win most of the time (or, at least, that used to be true). But that field goal sent a disturbing message: the Chargers may have been playing like they'd all been drafted out of Clown College, but things were Not Quite Right with the Patriots, either.
Both offensive units appeared to get their proverbial crap together in the third quarter, which the Patriots largely dominated with a 17-play touchdown drive. This was much more like it, I thought.
Which was about when the New England defense began reverting to form, allowing a more dignified-looking Chargers offensive unit all the way down to the Patriots' 10, where thankfully, the Chargers' ineptitude returned, and they ran out of downs before they could take a shot at the end zone.
And that's about how the game ended, too, after the Chargers' offense found more of a rhythm against the tiring Patriots defense, while Tom Brady, yelling at his teammates, began to look like Peyton Manning throwing satirical tantrums in his Saturday Night Live United Way parody -- "Get your HEAD out of your ASS!...you know what, I can't even look at you, go sit in the Port-O-Let for 20 minutes...You stay in there!"
It was especially the collapsing left side of the offensive line that was to blame, though there was tomfoolery at every position. Brady rarely got set in the pocket long enough to set up a hot-shot pass. He threw it away a lot, and was sacked four times for -31 yards, which is, well, to say it's a season lowlight is putting it mildly.
Look, it's tough for me to admit this, because I really love my boy Matt Light. I love his sense of humor, his obvious intelligence, his charming personality and his Mustache Song. It also helped his case that Dan Connolly wasn't looking so good at left guard, either, and was replaced by Ryan Wendell in the second half (none of which would've happened if Logan Mankins wasn't holding out). But if Brady had been knocked down even one more time yesterday, my boy Matt Light might've owed me a new TV, is what I'm saying.
And that, boys and girls, is how the Patriots found themselves clinging to a three-point lead over a team that had turned the ball over six -- count 'em, SIX -- times in the previous 58 minutes of play when the two-minute warning sounded on this Toilet Bowl. And they were facing a fourth and one.
I'm not going to rehash Punt-Gate '09 here. But what I will say is that in both instances in which the Patriots sideline made the "statistically correct call" to go for it on a 4th and short in their own territory in a game in which they held a slim lead, it has resulted in varying degrees of unpleasant experience for Patriots fans.
At least, this time, it was at the 49 yard line instead of the 28. At least it was a 4th and 1 and not a 4th and 2.
At least the opposing offense was the San Diego Chargers, rather than the Indianapolis Colts.
Because really, that's what it came down to. Almost any other team in the NFL would've beaten or at least tied the Patriots in those final seconds of regulation after the Patriots failed to convert the short yardage. In fact, the Chargers even came close to tying it, until their own false-start penalty pushed what had been a 45-yard field goal attempt back to 50 yards. The kick clanked off the right-hand corner of the goalpost and banked foul instead of through the uprights.
The Chargers had done everything to lose this game short of attempting to run on their hands and hold the ball with their feet. The Patriots should've body-slammed them, both literally and figuratively. But in the end, it was by that margin, the width of the football and a five-yard penalty, that the Patriots won.
I just sat and goggled at the screen for a while, watching Belichick kind of shrug and casually high five a few players on his way off the sideline. And then I remembered Patrick Chung also got hurt. And I almost owed myself a new TV.
Let's not have any more games like this. Sound like a plan?