There’s no question that the Brady-Belichick era has been the most successful run in Patriots franchise history. One of the most impressive aspects of this run has been the stability of Brady at the quarterback position as other teams, like the Chargers, have experienced at least a decent amount of turnover at the position. As the Patriots and Chargers prepare to clash once again on Sunday, here’s a look back at some of their more notable matchups since Brady took over at quarterback.
The Early Days
The Patriots and Chargers faced off a couple times in the first years of the Brady era and the results said a lot about how New England’s seasons went.
2001 Week 7: The Patriots were 1-3 heading into their home matchup with former Patriot Doug Flutie (who also ended his NFL career with New England in 2005), rookie phenom LaDainian Tomlinson, and the 3-0 Chargers. Behind touchdowns from Terry Glenn and Antowain Smith, the Patriots took a 16-13 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Chargers answered with a Flutie touchdown pass to Steve Heiden and capitalized on a botched punt with a Derrick Harris touchdown run to take a 26-16 lead. From there Brady came up clutch, leading a field goal drive then throwing a game tying touchdown to Jermaine Wiggins in the final minute. Brady then led a drive for Vinatieri’s 44-yard field goal, giving the Patriots a 26-23 overtime win. The win turned around the Patriots’ season as they ended 11-5 and went on to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl title, a 20-17 win over the St. Louis Rams capped by another late Vinatieri field goal.
2002 Week 4: The Patriots came into Qualcomm Stadium riding an 11-game win streak and this time the Chargers boasted the league’s top rated defense and an offense helmed by Drew Brees.
The teams exchanged leads or tied five times in a back and forth game. Brees answered Tom Brady’s touchdown pass to Christian Fauria with his own touchdown pass to Curtis Conway, tying the game at 7-7 after the first quarter. After Brady threw a touchdown pass to Mike Vrabel, LaDainian Tomlinson answered with a 37-yard touchdown run and then gave the Chargers the lead for good on a 58-yard touchdown run. Tomlinson rushed for 217 yards in the 21-14 Chargers win.
The loss was the first of four straight for the Patriots as they suffered a Super Bowl hangover, going 9-7 and missing the playoffs.
2006 AFC Divisional Round: In the first of two playoff meetings between the teams in the mid-to-late 2000s, the Patriots traveled to Qualcomm Stadium to take on the LaDainian Tomlinson-led San Diego Chargers. Tomlinson was the league MVP that season after setting NFL single season records for rushing touchdowns (28) and total touchdowns (31). Phillip Rivers took over at quarterback after Drew Brees’ shoulder injury and then his offseason departure and the Chargers went undefeated at home in the regular season.
The Patriots struck first after a Chargers fumble set up Stephen Gostkowski’s 51-yard in the last minute of the first quarter. In the second quarter, the Chargers took a 14-3 lead behind touchdown runs from Tomlinson and Michael Turner. The Patriots answered with a 72 yard drive, capped by a Brady touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney. Both offenses stalled in the third quarter and Brady threw his second interception of the game but the Patriots eventually mustered a 36-yard field goal to bring them within one point of the Chargers entering the fourth quarter.
About 6:40 into the fourth quarter, Tomlinson extended the Chargers lead to 8 with his second touchdown run of the game. The Patriots ultimately answered with Brady’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Reche Caldwell. After forcing a Chargers punt, New England took a decisive 24-21 lead on a 31-yard Gostkowski field goal with 1:10 left in the game. The Patriots went on to lose 38-34 to the Colts in the AFC Championship game.
2007 AFC Championship Game: Following an undefeated regular season, the Patriots hosted the Chargers for the second consecutive playoff meeting between the two teams, albeit a round later this time.
Despite 3 interceptions from Tom Brady, the Patriots managed to beat San Diego, holding them to just four field goals. Brady’s first interception set up a 26-yard field goal by the Chargers’ Nate Kaeding. New England responded with a 65-yard drive, capped by Lawrence Maroney’s 1-yard touchdown run. After a 23-yard Kaeding field goal and a punt, Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel intercepted Phillip Rivers, setting up Brady’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney.
After 40 and 24-yard field goals by Kaeding in the second and third quarter, respectively, the Patriots lead shrunk to 14-12 entering the fourth quarter. The Patriots opened the final period with a 67-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Wes Welker, giving them a 21-12 lead. After forcing a Chargers punt, New England killed the last 9:13 on the game clock with a 15-play drive. It deserves mention that Phillip Rivers (19/37, 211 yards, 0 TD, 2 INTs) played this whole game with a torn ACL! The Patriots became the first team in NFL history to move to 18-0 but fell just short of perfection, losing 17-14 to the New York Giants in Super Bowl 42.
2011 Week 2: Coming off a Monday night victory in Miami, the Patriots hosted the Chargers in Foxboro for their home opener. The Chargers were also looking for a 2-0 start, coming off a win over the Vikings in their home opener.
New England opened the scoring with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Aaron Hernandez (a tragic story for another day) but the Chargers answered with a 10-yard touchdown run from Ryan Mathews. In the second quarter, the Patriots scored 13 unanswered points, including a 22-yard field goal from Gostkowski, a 10-yard Brady to Rob Gronkowski touchdown pass, and a 47-yard Gostkowski field goal.
Following a scoreless third quarter, the Chargers scored on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Vincent Jackson, cutting the Patriots lead to 20-14. That was the closest San Diego would get the rest of the game as Brady threw another touchdown pass to Gronkowski, this time followed by a two point conversion from Danny Woodhead. Rivers answered again with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jackson but BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran in a 16-yard touchdown to give the Patriots their final score in a 35-21 win. The Patriots ended up winning the AFC once again but lost their second Super Bowl to the Giants, 21-17.
2014 Week 14: Coming off a loss to the Packers, their first in their last 8 games, the Patriots traveled to Qualcomm Stadium to face a Chargers team riding a three-game winning streak.
New England opened the scoring with a 22-yard field goal from Gostkowski but the Chargers answered with two straight touchdowns, a 14-yard pass from Rivers to Malcolm Floyd and a 53-yard fumble return from Darrell Stuckey. Brady answered with a 14-yard touchdown to Gronkowski, cutting the deficit to 14-13 going into halftime.
After the offenses struggled through yet another scoreless third quarter, the Patriots took the lead on a 38-yard Gostkowski field goal. After the Patriots defense held the Chargers to their fourth three-and-out in five drives (with the other ending in an interception), Brady hit Edelman for a 69-yard touchdown on the first play of their next drive. The extra point gave New England a 23-14 win and their 12th consecutive 10-win season.
The two teams went in opposite directions after that game. The Chargers lost three of their last four games and missed the playoffs. The Patriots won three of their last four and went on to win Super Bowl 49. The 28-24 win over the Seahawks gave New England their fourth Super Bowl victory of the Brady-Belichick era.
Heading into this Sunday’s matchup in Foxboro, the Patriots are 5-2 and the Chargers sit at 3-4 but both teams have won three straight so something has to give. Can Phillip Rivers get his first win against a Brady-led Patriots team? Will the Patriots defense continue to improve even without Hightower? Whatever happens, Sunday’s game could be a springboard to something greater for either team, a playoff preview, or send one to a disappointing season.