The New England Patriots remain on top of the AFC with a 23-14 win over the San Diego Chargers, achieved more due to their extraordinary defense that took Philip Rivers out the game, than the ability of Tom Brady, who did what he had to in a difficult performance, nothing more.
For a moment, or maybe a few of them, it looked like the Patriots were going to let their lead of the AFC slip away. The Chargers were forcing bad throws out of Tom Brady and the Chargers took a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter after a fumble return. But the defense which has been completely transformed this season held the Chargers to 0 points in the second half, while the Patriots clawed their way back to victory, struggling on offense themselves, with 10 points in the fourth quarter.
This wasn’t a very good game for Tom Brady, struggling to complete his bread & butter, the short to mid-range passing game, and especially unable to connect with Rob Gronkowski, who still caught a touchdown. Brady did finish with 317 yards and two touchdown passes, both of them on deep throws, but this wasn’t his finest performance, including an interception. Philip Rivers turned the ball over once as well, held to 189 yards and completing just 2 passes (on 10 attempts when targeting players more than five yards downfield.
What’s left for the Patriots? Buffalo and Miami at home, New York Jets on the road. The Patriots don’t remember when they’ve actually lost a home game, and getting all three AFC East opponents to finish the season with seems like a bonus. Road games against the Jets aren’t usually very easy or welcoming to the Patriots, but the Jets are so bad this season that it feels like there’s nothing to actually fear. The Bills consistently look bad against New England no matter the venue and Miami don’t handle the winter in the North East very well.
Brady is declining, but as long as his protection holds, it’s harder to notice. But even without him playing elite football, the defense makes all the difference in the world. A physical secondary and one Darrelle Revis that is taking out entire passing games, shifting them from their original plan. Maybe this is the return of the old Patriots, when Brady was just part of the team and not a superstar on a whole other level. Those Patriots teams one three Super Bowls.