Chargers start slow ... again; Patriots capitalize ... again

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Norv Turner says he's "excited" about this year's San Diego Chargers, and you can see why. They can throw. They can run. They can score. And they can play defense with the best in the NFL.

What they can't do -- at least what they haven't so far -- is wake up until the second half, and it's high time that changes. A week ago, it didn't matter, but now it does, and I can tell you why in two words -- Tom Brady.

Where San Diego rallied to win against Minnesota in Game 1, they failed a week later because of Brady -- and, yeah, that's an issue. Because if you're going to win the AFC you're going to have to solve Brady and the Patriots.

And San Diego didn't.

It's not the 35-21 final that's as troublesome as it is San Diego's second straight slow start. It scored seven first-half points vs. Minnesota, and it did it again Sunday. Only this time it lost, and that happens when you play elite competition.

Unfortunately for San Diego, it happens too often. Dating back to the start 2007, the Bolts are 9-18 when trailing at the half, and something better change if we're to get as "excited" about their prospects as their head coach.

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Look, we know San Diego is talented. What we don't know is when they shake these slow starts ... and I'm not talking about the beginning of a season. I'm talking about the beginning of a ballgame.

They were down 17-7 at the half vs. Minnesota. They were down 20-7 at the half vs. New England, and you can't keep on relying on Philip Rivers and the offense to bail you out ... because one day they won't.

And that day was Sunday.

"We talk about it all the time," tight end Antonio Gates said. "That's something we prepare for every single game. If you come into a hostile environment like the Patriots it's hard to start off in a hole. They're so creative offensively, and they forced you to do things defensively -- and I think that's what happened today. We just couldn't get quite what we needed."

What the Chargers needed ... no, what the Chargers need ... is to jump on opponents as New England jumps on them, then put down the hammer. The Patriots are the textbook example of how to play -- taking the early lead, padding it, then making just enough big plays to prevail.

Yes, they have a porous pass defense, but they also have Brady, and when he throws for 400 or 500 yards and multiple touchdowns each week opponents can't afford to fall behind. Because then it's you vs. Brady, and I know whom I take there.

That doesn't mean the Bolts didn't have their chances. They were stuffed on third-and-goal at the 2 and fourth-and-goal at the 1. That was in the first half. They lost a certain field goal late in the second quarter when a Philip Rivers pass was intercepted by defensive tackle Vince Wilfork ... yes, Vince Wilfork ... and returned far enough that New England picked up a last-second field goal.

CBSSports.com Grades
San Diego Chargers
San Diego Chargers
D+
The defense played well enough in spurts, but four turnovers by the offense and a failed fourth-and-goal play doomed San Diego. You're just not going to win road games against good teams with that. WR Vincent Jackson had a career day with 10 catches for 172 yards and two TDs. The Patriots clamped down on TE Antonio Gates (zero catches) but had no answer for Jackson.
New England Patriots
New England Patriots
C+
Tom Brady put up his second-straight 400-yard game, and was outstanding overall as he carried the Patriots' offense. But if it wasn't for three ill-timed turnovers by the Chargers, this would have been more than a dogfight. The Patriots' defense has a long ways to go. There was hardly any pass rush, and the secondary had plenty of mistakes.
By Greg Bedard
RapidReports Correspondent

They lost another certain score when a Rivers' pass for Antonio Gates was intercepted at the New England 7. Then came the killer: A Mike Tolbert fumble at the New England 37 that led to a Patriots touchdown. When it was over, the Chargers had four turnovers, the Patriots had none, and you're never going to win that way.

"All that being said," said Rivers, "you look up with eight-and-a-half minutes left, we're down seven and we've got the ball. And we got a chance. If you can draw a positive it's the fact that we were right there, with a chance when it could've gotten out of hand."

I'll second that. Which is why the Chargers need a wake-up call and why they must start playing the first half as they play the second. Stop committing early mistakes, start scoring and look like ... well, look like the club that New England is.

The Chargers have a superb quarterback in Rivers. They have two promising young backs in Ryan Mathews and Tolbert. And they have a cadre of solid receivers, led by tight end Antonio Gates and wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd.

Jackson was sensational Sunday. Gates was not, but that's because New England routinely double-covered him, opening the door for Jackson. And Floyd? He left after the first half because of an injured groin. The Chargers played the second half without him, which complicated their comeback.

Still, they made one ... falling short when Tolbert fumbled. But one of these days it would be nice to see San Diego not forced into playing catch-up.

"I thought we came out pretty good," said Rivers. "I really have no explanation for it. I felt we were pretty much in some sort of a rhythm. They played us as we thought. There really weren't too many surprises."

But that's the problem. If nothing else, the Chargers are consistent. Remember last year's game vs. New England? It was in San Diego, and the Chargers could've won it. But they committed four turnovers and trailed 13-3 at the half. They lost 23-20 when a last-second field goal struck the right upright.

How about the last time they were in New England? They turned the ball over twice and trailed 14-9 at the half. And the time before that? That was here, too, when they had three turnovers and fell behind 24-0 at intermission. Connect the dots, people. I've always said I wanted to see San Diego operate after a fast start, but I was talking about getting through the first five games better than 2-3.

Now, I just want to see them get through a game ... one game ... with four quarters of solid play. And I'm still waiting.

"We just need to come out better and match the intensity of the teams we play," said cornerback Quentin Jammer. "That's something we need to go into next week and get fixed because we totally could've won this game. I felt like we could beat them. We just didn't get accomplished what we wanted to get accomplished."

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