(Sports Network) – Stephen Gostkowski booted three field goals and Kris Brown missed a potential game-tying 50-yard field goal late in regulation as New England nearly wasted a 17-point fourth-quarter lead but held on to top San Diego, 23-20, at Qualcomm Stadium.
Tom Brady was held to 159 yards and a touchdown to Rob Gronkowski on 19-of-32 passes for the Patriots (5-1), who have won four consecutive games.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis added a rushing score and Aaron Hernandez made five catches for 54 yards for New England, which won in San Diego during the regular season for the first time since December 1, 1996.
“We had a tough game, just like it always is against this Chargers team. You got them down but you can’t relax against these guys,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. “They have too many talented players. I gotta give our guys a lot of credit. They hung in there hard, made some plays when they had to. We’re fortunate to come out on top today.”
Philip Rivers finished 34-of-50 for 336 yards, one score and an interception for the Chargers (2-5), who suffered their third straight defeat.
Darren Sproles had nine receptions for 70 yards and Antonio Gates posted four catches for 50 yards and a TD in the loss for San Diego, which limited New England to 51 rushing yards and 179 yards of total offense.
Rivers hit Gates for a four-yard touchdown pass with 7:21 remaining, and the extra point brought the Bolts within 10 at 23-13. An onside kick was recovered by San Diego at its own 40, and a one-yard run from Mike Tolbert on 3rd-and- goal made it 23-20 with 4:01 to play.
The kickoff then sailed outside the chalk, and the Patriots caught a break when Wes Welker fumbled the ball out of bounds on a 3rd-and-3 from their own 47 just before the two-minute warning. However, a challenge on the spot of the ball failed, and facing a 4th-and-1 from the 49, Green-Ellis was stopped for a loss.
“If you get the yard, it’s going to be tough for them to win,” Brady said. “We have a lot of confidence in that play. You have to think you’ve got to be able to get the yard.”
The Chargers took over, then faced a 4th-and-2 from the Pats’ 27 after an eight-yard pass to Gates and elected to try a game-tying field goal from 45 yards away.
However, a false start pushed the try back to 50, and Brown — signed by San Diego on Wednesday for Nate Kaeding, who was inactive due to a groin injury — got enough distance but clanked it off the right goalpost. Brady took a knee to run off the remaining seconds.
“I just don’t think we gave ourselves a chance to win this football game,” said Chargers head coach Norv Turner. “You’re not gonna win making mistakes. The defense kept us in it, but when you play a good football team and dig that big a hole, you can’t do the things we did and hope to be successful.”
Brown hit a 32-yard field goal to put the Bolts on the board. New England responded on a one-yard TD pass to Gronkowski.
With under nine minutes left in the second, a Rivers pass to Jacob Hester roughly parallel to the line of scrimmage was ruled a backward lateral. It was picked up by Pats’ lineman Rob Ninkovich and returned 63 yards to the Chargers’ eight. A review upheld the ruling on the field, but Brady was sacked twice, and Gostkowski’s 40-yard try was good for a 10-3 game.
“I thought me and Philip were even, then when he threw it I reached for it and couldn’t get it,” Hester said. “It never even crossed my mind it was a backwards pass. In that situation, you’ve got to make sure. Even if you think it’s a forward pass, you’ve got to go get it.”
Gostkowski also hit from 35 yards away with 23 seconds left in the half and the Patriots took a 10-point lead to the locker room.
New England’s first drive of the second half proved fruitful when Green-Ellis capped a 79-yard march, using more than 8 1/2 minutes of the clock, with a one-yard TD run.
San Diego cut its deficit to 14 on the first play of the fourth quarter as Brown connected from 28 yards out to finish a 64-yard drive, then the visitors came back to make it 23-6 on a Gostkowski make from 35.
Brady’s season low for passing yardage came in a Week 4 win at Miami, when he threw for 153 yards in a 41-14 victory…San Diego lost despite 363 yards of offense and 23 first downs along with converting 7-of-15 third-down tries…Both clubs are in action next Sunday, as the Patriots host Minnesota and the Chargers host Tennessee.