Taking a look at the television copy of Sunday's game against the Chargers and offering some fourth quarter observations:
1) After briefly exiting the game in the third quarter to have his leg/groin stretched out, Patriots DT Albert Haynesworth had a tough go of it early in the fourth quarter. On a first-and-goal in the red zone, Haynesworth was driven off the line by LG Kris Dielman and LT Marcus McNeill before managing to recover and sort through the pile on a run. On the next play, Haynesworth was knocked over by Dielman, and then stayed down on his knees, with Dielman not bothering to keep him down as QB Philip Rivers scrambled out of the pocket and the play was still live. On a first-and-10 later in the quarter, Haynesworth was pushed and pinned to the ground by C Nick Hardwick on a pass rush.
2) On the Patriots' first drive of the fourth quarter, the Chargers shifted into more of a coverage-oriented defense, often rushing only three defenders. On a second-and-5, the Chargers dropped eight into coverage, blanketing the Patriots' spread formation. QB Tom Brady had a clean pocket for about 4-5 seconds, but could not find an open receiver. At that point, LG Logan Mankins pulled outside to help LT Matt Light, allowing NT Cam Thomas to beat C Dan Connolly and pressure Brady into an incompletion, with Light also called for a holding penalty on the play. The pressure came on an ensuing third-and-5, when OLB Shaun Phillips came off the edge to disrupt a screen pass from Brady to WR Wes Welker.
3) After jamming Chargers TE Antonio Gates for much of the early part of the game, LB Rob Ninkovich still lined up over Gates in the fourth quarter, but began to no longer jam Gates, opting to rush or play the run off the snap. It's possible this was a way of giving the pass rush some help while still forcing Gates to prepare before the snap for an expected jam at the line.
4) One of the more impressive defensive plays of the game came from LB Jerod Mayo to force a fumble of RB Mike Tolbert. Off the snap, Mayo read and tracked the run well, avoiding LG Kris Dielman before diving over Hardwick and punching the ball away from Tolbert with his right fist. Mayo has drawn some criticism over the course of his career for not being a 'play-maker,' but this was a solid individual effort and a turning point in the game.
5) Chargers WR Vincent Jackson stole the show late in the fourth quarter, starting first with a third-and-10 catch against a Patriots zone defense to extend the Chargers' drive. On the next play, he beat CB Devin McCourty inside on a post pattern, and then two plays later had McCourty trailing on a flag pattern to the near pylon, making the catch over McCourty for a 26-yard touchdown. It is tough to pick out any one problem McCourty had with covering Jackson, but the size differential seemed to certainly be a factor when the ball was in the air.