SAN DIEGO — Welcome to Gillette West. Where everybody knows your name — especially if your name is Belichick, Brady, Gronkowski, Edelman, or Kraft.
Boston accents and attitude invaded San Diego over the weekend. From Herbert Hoover High (home of Ted Williams) to Helix High (home of Bill Walton); from Petco Park to Qualcomm Stadium; from the San Diego Zoo to San Diego State, it was wall-to-wall New England. And since the Patriots were made to feel at home, they played like they were at home . . . they won a game they needed to win.
In front of 68,815, which included tens of thousands of Boston transplants and road-trippers, the Patriots beat the San Diego Chargers, 23-14, Sunday night.
You really had to be here to appreciate the sound and spirit of the New England fans. Playing 3,000 miles from home against a playoff-bound team that had won two-thirds of its games, the Patriots were the home team in this game. I have seen and heard Red Sox fans take over Camden Yards and the TropDome, but I never have seen nor heard anything quite like this.
The game itself was more rock fight than rock opera, but it’s not about style points when you are trying to hold the top seed in the AFC. The Patriots trailed for a good part of the evening, had 7 points wiped off the board on a terrible call, and didn’t take the lead for keeps until the fifth minute of the final quarter. They didn’t clinch it until Julian Edelman bolted 69 yards with a play-action pass over the middle to set the final score with 8:41 remaining.
Patriot fans brought down the house while Edelman took it to the house. It had to be embarrassing for the Chargers.
All night long, every time the Patriots scored, the crowd went wild. Every time Bolts QB Philip Rivers was sacked, fans rocked the joint. It was like the old days when Orioles pitchers would give up homers to Big Papi and most of the Camden Yards fans would roar in approval.
The home cooking was just what the Patriots needed after 10 days on the road starting with the Green Bay trip last weekend.
You all know the drill by now. The Patriots never lose two in a row. They never lose in December. They are never threatened in the AFC East. The goal is to secure home field throughout the playoffs and that goal is now pretty much achieved since the last three games of the season will be played against the moribund members of the Warhol Division. With a win at home next week against Miami, the Patriots can clinch the AFC East for the sixth straight year and the 11th time in 12 seasons.
This one was not easy. It was, in fact, in doubt. The Patriots committed two turnovers in the first half and trailed, 14-3, early in the second quarter.
Tom Brady was cheered madly when he came out to warm up an hour before kickoff. Feeding off the frenzy, Brady clenched his fists and motioned toward the crowd. All the passion, it seemed, belonged to the Patriots.
There was a playoff atmosphere right from the jump. After pregame fireworks that would have impressed Arthur Fiedler, the Chargers produced Hulk Hogan, who reminded us that we were on “sacred ground.” That was as loud as it got for the Chargers.
After the Patriots settled for 3 points when they should have had 7, the Chargers responded with an 80-yard drive and took a 7-3 lead on a spectacular touchdown catch by Malcom Floyd. Rivers appeared to have overthrown Floyd on the 15-yard play, but the wideout extended in Gumby-like fashion and caught the ball in the right corner of the end zone.
Uncharacteristically, the Patriots turned it over twice in the half and trailed, 14-13, at intermission.
After a bogus helmet-to-helmet call on Brandon Browner that negated a 56-yard Devin McCourty interception return for a touchdown (Browner was a victim of his own reputation and the league’s much-needed quest to protect its players), Stephen Gostkowski’s third field goal gave the Patriots a 16-14 lead in the fifth minute of the final quarter.
Then came the game-breaker. New England’s staunch defense finally got its reward when Edelman broke free on Brady’s play-action pass over the middle.
At game’s end, thousands of Patriots fans gathered behind the New England bench and saluted Bob Kraft’s happy road warriors. The victory gave Kraft a split in his day-night doubleheader, which started with a 2-1 Revolution loss in the MLS Cup final at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.
When Edelman came back out to join the set on NBC’s postgame show, New England fans gathered behind the railing and chanted, “Let’s Go, Patriots!’’
There’s no place like home. Even if it’s 3,000 miles from Patriot Place.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org