Brady continues hot start in win over Dan Diego
Tom Brady is making a habit of making history this young season.
A week removed from easily breaking a franchise record for passing yardage that stood for 51 years, Brady followed up his 517 yard performance in Miami with a 423 yard sequel at home against San Diego, becoming the first quarterback in league history to follow a 500 yard outing with one of 400 yards in the process.
While last week Brady was breaking records that stood for over a half century, this week he set his sights on one that had been established slightly more recently. Just before the Patriots kicked off, Carolina rookie quarterback Cam Newton had established a new NFL record for passing yardage in the first two games to begin a season, throwing for 854 yards in starts against the Cardinals and Packers.
Brady was hardly ready to be out-shined by a rookie.
The reigning league MVP threw for three touchdowns, all to a pair of young tight ends, and New England’s defense tightened up in key moments on the way to 35-21 victory over the Chargers. New England scored on all four of its first half possessions, two touchdowns and two field goals, and forced San Diego into four turnovers.
Brady started the scoring early with a 14 yard strike to second year tight end Aaron Hernandez on the team’s first possession. It would continue a trend that began last week in Miami where Brady found Hernandez and fellow second year tight end Rob Gronkowski for a combined 189 yards and two touchdowns. This week, the duo was even more in sync with their All-Pro quarterback.
Holding onto a 10-7 lead midway through the second quarter, Brady found Gronkowski between two defenders in the center of the end zone for a 10 yard score, pushing New England’s lead to 10 and capping a 99 yard drive. Then, after the Patriots offense stalled and was unable to produce any points for their first three possessions of the second half, Brady again found Gronkwski. This time the big tight end victimized safety Eric Weddle, using his wide shoulders to box the safety out on a post route caught at the goal line for a 17 yard touchdown that would essentially end the game.
But, it was not just New England’s offense making big plays. The Patriot defense picked off San Diego’s Pro Bowl quarterback Phillip Rivers twice, recovered two fumbles and came up big on the goal line for the second straight week. Clinging to that same 10-7 lead, the Patriots defense held strong on third and goal from the two yard line, but saw San Diego coach Norv Turner send his offense back onto the field. The Chargers handed the ball off right tackle to their bruising 245 lb. running back Mike Tolbert, but strong side linebacker Jerod Mayo sniffed out the play early and met Tolbert before he could cross the line of scrimmage.
Nearing the end of the first half, New England held a 17-7 advantage, but the Chargers were once again threatening to cut into that lead. With the ball at the Patriot 29 yard line, Rivers attempted a check down pass to Tolbert coming out of the backfield, but didn’t see the largest man on the field step right into his throw’s intended path. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork saw Tolbert flaring out the backfield and followed him, stepping in front of the pass, tipping it up, and eventually catching it. What would follow was one of the more comical interception returns in recent memory as the colossal Wilfork ran down the sideline clutching a football that seemed to be a brown egg in his immense grasp, finally being brought down at the Chargers 37.
After the play Wilfork kept the ball and used whatever energy he had left to celebrate with teammates while Rivers held a look of utter shock and confusion for the rest of the half.
The defense once again halted Charger momentum early in the third quarter. Trailing by 13 points, Rivers had led his offense down the field to the New England 17 yard line but forced a throw into coverage to tight end Antonio Gates. Safety Sergio Brown jumped the pass, intercepting it and again denying the Chargers points in the red zone.
While Brady’s individual numbers were again impressive, he has thrown for 940 yards in New England’s first two games, the Patriot defense dominated in the game’s critical junctures. Four different times San Diego advanced passed the New England 35 and came away with zero points thanks to a goal line stand, two interceptions and a forced fumble.