Brady, Patriots stay hot
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Big-yardage games are becoming routine for Tom Brady. So is setting records.
Brady threw for 423 yards Sunday – six days after setting a single-game team record of 517 – and led the New England Patriots to a 35-21 win over the San Diego Chargers.
“It seems like he’s always great,” linebacker Rob Ninkovich said. “He’s the best quarterback in the league.”
The club record he shattered in the season opener at Miami had stood for 51 years. The NFL mark for most yards passing in the first two games of a season, 854, lasted about three hours. Carolina rookie Cam Newton set that before Brady ended the day at 940 yards.
“Two pretty outstanding outings” by Brady, said left tackle Matt Light, who protects his blind side. “He’s the leader of our offense. When he’s doing well, we’re all good.”
Brady became the first player in NFL history to follow a 500-yard passing performance with a 400-yard game, and the Patriots scored 30 points for the 10th straight regular-season game. He threw three touchdown passes and went 31 for 40 with no interceptions as the Patriots (2-0) scored on each of their four first-half possessions.
The Chargers (1-1) turned the ball over inside the Patriots 35-yard line three times, leading to 17 points.
They also were stopped on a fourth-and-goal at the 1, and the Patriots started a 99-yard drive that ended with one of Brady’s two scoring passes to Rob Gronkowski.
Coach Bill Belichick didn’t single out Brady, saying his success results from the other 10 offensive players doing their jobs. And Brady, who connected with seven receivers, said simply, “We were able to spread the ball around.”
Philip Rivers completed 29 of 40 passes for 378 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Chargers. They had four turnovers for the second straight year against New England after losing 23-20 in 2010 when the Patriots gained just 179 yards.
“They obviously got points (almost) every time they were down (near the goal line) and didn’t turn it over and, obviously, we did,” Rivers said. “That was the difference in the game.”
Brady had to share the spotlight and, somehow, wasn’t totally obscured by the 325-pound form of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. He got his first career interception to halt a promising Chargers drive late in the first half, rumbling 28 yards on the return.
“I’m a well-conditioned athlete. I didn’t need any oxygen,” Wilfork said with a chuckle.
He said he anticipated the screen pass to Rivers’ right and stepped into the passing lane.
“There’s no way I’m ever going to see him coming,” Rivers said. “I would throw that one again every time. He made a great play.”
For the second straight game, New England had a 99-yard touchdown drive. After Stephen Gostkowski’s 22-yard field goal made it 10-7, the Patriots got the ball back at their 1-yard line when Jerod Mayo stopped Mike Tolbert short of the goal line.
In the 38-24 win over the Dolphins, the Patriots also took the ball over at the 1, and Brady and Wes Welker hooked up for a 99-yard touchdown on the next play. This time Brady needed 10 plays to score, completing the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski for a 17-7 lead.
San Diego wasted an opportunity on its next series when it reached the Patriots 29 before Wilfork’s interception. That set up a 47-yard field goal by Gostkowski on the last play of the first half, putting the Patriots on top 20-7.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Chargers made it 20-14 on a 3-yard scoring pass from Rivers to Vincent Jackson early in the fourth.
Then the Patriots tried for a first down on fourth-and-4 at the San Diego 49 because punter Zoltan Mesko had hurt his knee on a kick late in the third quarter. Brady threw an incompletion to Deion Branch, who led the Patriots with eight catches for 129 yards.
But just three plays later, New England’s defense came through when Mayo forced a fumble and Ninkovich recovered at the Patriots 39. Brady needed just four plays to cover 69 yards and throw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski. Danny Woodhead ran in for the 2-point conversion and a 28-14 lead.
The Chargers needed a comeback, but tight end Antonio Gates didn’t help as he was held without a catch for the first time in 34 games.
“They would put a corner or safety on me, or two safeties,” he said. “They did a lot of different things to take me out of the game.”
The Chargers did score again on Rivers’ 26-yard pass to Jackson with 5:40 to go. The Patriots responded with a 16-yard touchdown run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
But it was Brady who set that up with a 29-yard completion to Gronkowski two plays earlier. That gain put the quarterback over the 400-yard mark for the third time in his career.
“He’s the best,” Mayo said. “Numbers don’t lie.”
Notes: Welker tied Ben Coates for the Patriots record with catches in 63 straight regular-season games. … Former QB Drew Bledsoe and C Jon Morris were honored at halftime as new members of the Patriots Hall of Fame. … Jackson had a career-high 10 receptions. … Rivers went over the 20,000-yard passing mark for his career with 2,374. … The Patriots are 15-2 in their last 17 home openers.