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Chargers, Plagued By Turnovers, Lose To Patriots

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Deion Branch #84 of the New England Patriots flips Quentin Jammer #23 of the San Diego Chargers on September 18, 2011 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (credit: Elsa/Getty Images)

Deion Branch #84 of the New England Patriots flips Quentin Jammer #23 of the San Diego Chargers on September 18, 2011 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (credit: Elsa/Getty Images)

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady makes the Patriots’ offense go. He gets plenty of help from their defense that makes the opponents stop, time after time.

While Brady had another game for the record books with 423 yards passing, Philip Rivers threw two interceptions and couldn’t get the San Diego Chargers in the end zone on a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line as New England won 35-21 on Sunday.

By the end of the game the Patriots had forced four turnovers.

“It’s huge for us,” wide receiver Wes Welker said. “Any time we can get stops, it’s an extra possession for us.”

The Patriots (2-0) allowed 470 yards six days after giving up 488 in a 38-24 win at Miami. But the defense kept coming up with big plays in critical situations.

Leading 20-14 with the ball at the Chargers 49-yard line with 8:44 left in the third quarter, the Patriots tried for a first down on fourth-and-4 because Zoltan Mesko had injured his knee on his previous punt. But Brady threw an incompletion toward Deion Branch.

That left the Chargers (1-1) only 51 yards away from the end zone. Just three plays later, the defense ended that series when Jerod Mayo forced a fumble by Mike Tolbert that Rob Ninkovich recovered at the Patriots 39. Brady needed just four plays to cover 69 yards and throw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski. Danny Woodhead ran in for the 2-point conversion and a 28-14 lead.

“Four turnovers are big,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “That had a huge impact on the game.”

So did Brady’s 31 completions on 40 attempts with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. It came six days after he set a club record with 517 yards passing.

“It seems like he’s always great,” Ninkovich said. “He’s the best quarterback in the league.”

The club record he shattered 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 scored on each of their four first-half possessions.

The Chargers turned the ball over inside the Patriots 35-yard line three times, leading to 17 points. They also were stopped at the 1 and started a 99-yard drive that ended with one of Brady’s two scoring passes to Gronkowski.

“They have a very explosive offense with a lot of weapons,” linebacker Jerod Mayo said. “Stopping the run and doing things on the goal line really shows the toughness of a defense.”

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.”

Rivers completed 29 of 40 passes for 378 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.”

One of those turnovers was the first career interception by Vince Wilfork, the 325-pound defensive tackle. He picked off a pass and ran 28 yards, setting up a 47-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski on the last play of the half that gave the Patriots a 20-7 lead.

“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.”

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.

The Patriots controlled tight end Antonio Gates. 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, making it 28-21. 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.

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