Taking a look at the television copy of Sunday's game against the Chargers and offering some second quarter observations:
1) Arising out of the Patriots' no-huddle offense employed early in the second quarter was TE Aaron Hernandez frequently being used as a receiver split wide. The Chargers actually used a cornerback to cover Hernandez on the opening drive of the quarter, often leaving ILB Donald Butler to matchup against the third Patriots receiver, Wes Welker or Matthew Slater. The gamble paid off for the Chargers, as, despite being covered by Butler and ILB Takeo Spikes, Welker wasn't targeted in the red zone, and was even used as an inside blocker on a Danny Woodhead run.
2) After a quiet first quarter, the Patriots generated pressure on Chargers QB Philip Rivers on their first offensive play of the second quarter. After standing up to jam TE Antonio Gates at the line, DE Andre Carter came in on a delayed rush, taking advantage of some miscommunications on the Chargers offensive line. With MLB Brandon Spikes blitzing, both RBs Ryan Mathews and Jacob Hester, as well as RG Louis Vasquez picked up Spikes' blitz, leaving Carter room on the right side to beat Vazquez and force a hurried, incomplete pass from Rivers. Carter, however, was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play, negating the impact of the rare, substantial pressure on Rivers.
3) The extra attention paid to Gates continued into the second quarter, but the Chargers began to adjust their offensive approach accordingly. On one play, both SLB Rob Ninkovich and LDE Shaun Ellis tried to jam Gates at the line, with SS Patrick Chung close behind, ready to follow Gates in coverage. However, this left Ninkovich a step behind RB Mike Tolbert coming out of the backfield, allowing Rivers to hit Tolbert on a flat route. Tolbert then bulldozed past LCB Devin McCourty for the first down, with McCourty taking out a trailing Ninkovich in the process.
4) While the tackle of Tolbert on the Chargers' fourth-down conversion on the goal line belonged to LB Jerod Mayo, McCourty is equally deserving for credit on the stop. Despite following TE Randy McMichael in motion before the snap, McCourty was able to quickly diagnose the run, getting low on a lead-blocking Hester. This caused Tolbert to side-step outside, avoiding the foiled block, giving Mayo time and space to meet Tolbert short of the goal line.
5) On the Patriots' second drive of the quarter, the Chargers appeared to be using more of a zone look in their defensive backfield, opening up some holes in the middle of the field. QB Tom Brady took advantage of this, first hitting WR Chad Ochocinco across the deep middle for 30 yards against what appeared to be a cover-3 look from the Chargers, and then hitting WR Deion Branch for 20 yards, finding room underneath the safeties after RCB Antoine Cason peeled off the route.