SAN DIEGO — Locked in a defensive struggle with the Chargers through three quarters Sunday night, the Patriots needed to find the right key in the fourth quarter that would unlock the rut they were stuck in for a string of possessions on offense.
It didn’t come with any one particular play, although the 69-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Julian Edelman cemented the 23-14 win over the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Instead, after five straight frustrating possessions, the Patriots finally did just enough to end their two-city, eight-day business trip with a victory.
“We just had to keep pounding, had to keep chopping, keep grinding it out. We had to be resilient, because that’s a good defense on the other side of the ball, and they played very well all four quarters,” said running back Shane Vereen. “Eventually, we were able to make some plays.”
The Patriots forfeited the chance to take a halftime lead when Tom Brady threw a red-zone interception with 10 seconds left in the second quarter from the San Diego 18-yard-line.
It would only get worse for the offense in the third quarter. The first four times the Patriots had the ball, they failed to get a single first down, going three-and-out on all four drives. On their first 12 plays of the third quarter, the Patriots gained a paltry 12 yards, and couldn’t take advantage of decent field position. They started drives at their 19 to start the third quarter, then their 48, 44, and 30.
“You want to get a spark. Jules had a big catch, big run, that really gave us a spark, and the defense played lights out,” said receiver Danny Amendola (three catches, 7 yards). “We wanted to get some yards, get some points, and eat up the clock.”
Getting the ball for the fifth time in the third quarter — and still looking for their initial first down of the second half — the Patriots finally got it with a pair of 9-yard completions from Brady to Rob Gronkowski. But as the game moved to the fourth quarter, the Chargers still led, 14-13.
Not for long. In the fourth quarter, the Patriots had seven first downs and 138 yards of offense. A field goal by Stephen Gostkowski from 38 yards ended the drive that began with the back-to-back completions to Gronkowski. Exactly half of that yardage total came on the touchdown to Edelman, who took a short throw from Brady and turned it into the longest completion of his NFL career. It extended the Patriots’ lead to 9 points.
Just like that, the Patriots led, 23-14. The way the defense was playing, it was enough to stand up. The way the offense had been playing, especially in the third quarter, it came at just the right time.
“Our defense has been playing well all year, it was just up to us to put some points on the board,” Vereen said. “I felt like they were making a lot of plays, you’ve got to tip your hat, they played well. We were able to finally break through.”
How were the Patriots able to finally flip the switch?
“I think just being able to get a couple of first downs in some consecutive drives was what sparked us a little bit,” Vereen said. “And obviously Jules’s play was huge.”