FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It didn’t take 500 passing yards by quarterback Tom Brady this time for the New England Patriots to roll to a win. Not quite. But it did require another superb outing, and Brady obliged by surpassing 400 passing yards again and throwing three touchdown passes as the Patriots beat the San Diego Chargers, 35-21, here Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Brady connected on 31 of 40 passes for 423 yards, without an interception, and won his 29th straight regular season start at home. All three of his touchdown passes came to tight ends, two of them to Rob Gronkowski and one to Aaron Hernandez. Brady, the reigning league most valuable player, has 940 passing yards in the season’s first two weeks.
“That’s two pretty good outings,” Patriots left tackle Matt Light said. “He’s the leader. When he’s doing well, that’s something that we all feed off of.”
Place kicker Stephen Gostkowski provided a pair of field goals and tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a 16-yard touchdown run with just less than two minutes remaining to seal the outcome.
The Patriots had their 10th straight regular season game with 30 or more points going back to last year. They improved their record this season to 2-0, but it wasn’t easy. Tailback Ryan Mathews had a first-half touchdown run for the Chargers (1-1) and quarterback Philip Rivers threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who finished the day with 10 catches for 172 yards.
But Rivers also threw two interceptions in a 29-for-40, 378-yard passing day and lost a fumble. Tight end Antonio Gates was held without a catch and the Chargers had four turnovers in all. The New England defense contributed a goal-line stand in the first half. And Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork had an interception in the final moments of the first half to set up a field goal.
“We obviously left some opportunities out there,” Jackson said.
Brady was coming off a 517-yard passing performance in last Monday night’s triumph at Miami. It was the fifth-highest single-game passing yardage total in NFL history, and it was the topper to a record-setting opening weekend of games for quarterbacks league-wide.
He and the Patriots picked up Sunday right where they left off against the Dolphins, with first-half touchdown drives of 92 and 99 yards.
“We’re trying to be efficient about what we’re doing,” Brady said.
The Patriots got the ball at their 8-yard line following a Chargers punt on the game’s opening possession. Brady was sacked early in the drive but shrugged that off and connected with wide receiver Wes Welker for a 17-yard gain on a third-and-10 play. Wideout Chad Ochocinco made a key third-down catch later in the drive, and Hernandez made a leaping grab in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown.
Rivers and the Chargers had an immediate response. Wide receiver Malcom Floyd had a pair of third-down catches to keep San Diego’s drive going, and Mathews finished it with a 10-yard touchdown run.
The Patriots had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Gostkowski on their second drive, and the Chargers had a chance to take the lead when they maneuvered to a first down at the New England 5-yard line. But Rivers’s third-down scramble left them still a yard shy of the goal line. Coach Norv Turner left his offense on the field for a fourth-down gamble, but running back Mike Tolbert was stopped for no gain by Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo.
“If the defense makes a huge stop like that, we have to do something with it,” Brady said.
A Brady-to-Welker completion moved the Patriots out of the shadow of their own goal line, and Ochocinco had a catch for a 30-yard gain. Brady finished that drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski. But the Patriots weren’t done. Wilfork intercepted a pass by Rivers in the final seconds of the first half. The Patriots were called for an illegal block at the end of Wilfork’s return. But Brady’s two quick sideline completions to wideout Deion Branch set up Gostkowski’s 47-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
Rivers threw another interception, this one to safety Sergio Brown, to squander a third-quarter scoring chance for the Chargers. But the Chargers kept at it. A pass interference penalty on Brown set up Rivers’s three-yard touchdown pass to Jackson about a minute and a half into the fourth quarter.
Patriots Coach Bill Belichick left his offense on the field on fourth and four from the San Diego 49-yard line, with punter Zoltan Mesko having suffered a knee injury in the third quarter. Brady threw an incompletion. But the Chargers gave the ball right back when Tolbert lost a fumble. The Patriots capitalized, with Brady throwing a 17-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski with just less than nine minutes to play, and added a two-point conversion for a 14-point lead. But Rivers and Jackson struck again, this time for a 26-yard touchdown.