Pats' gamble pays off -- sort of

SAN DIEGO -- On the sideline during one of the defining moments of Sunday's game, Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo was thinking the same thing all of New England probably was at that point.

"Shoot, Colts game all over again," Mayo said, relating his thoughts after the fact.

Yup, Bill Belichick did it again on fourth down.

Much like his fourth-and-2 call in Indianapolis last November, which backfired infamously, Belichick gambled late in the fourth quarter again. His team leading the San Diego Chargers 23-20 and with the ball on its own 49-yard line with two minutes remaining, Belichick went for it on fourth-and-1.

When running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis was stuffed for a 1-yard loss, the Patriots looked as if they were headed for a Colts-like loss, another fourth-quarter meltdown after holding a big lead.

But the script, like Kris Brown's 50-yard field goal attempt to tie it with 27 seconds remaining, surprisingly veered off course.

"If we would have made it we could have pretty much ended the game right there," Belichick said of the debatable decision. "They made a good play. Give them credit. They've got a good defense."

The Patriots proved they have one, too, coming up with a big hold on the Chargers' ensuing possession. That at least clinched overtime, but when Brown's 45-yard field goal became a 50-yarder after a costly false-start penalty, the Patriots were able to sprint off the field in victory.

Had it gone the other way, Belichick would have been roasted just as he was last season. Not that he cares much about that.

"That's what Belichick is known for," Chargers outside linebacker Shaun Phillips said. "He's been doing that his whole career."

Belichick obviously was factoring in that his defense had been on the field from the 11:21 mark of the fourth quarter to the 4:01 mark, a result of the Chargers' successful onside kick that gave San Diego back-to-back long touchdown drives of 11 and nine plays that covered 67 and 60 yards respectively.

The Patriots defenders, many of whom looked tired and had their hands on their hips late as a result of the Chargers holding a 34:25-to-25:35 time-of-possession edge, were on board with the decision.

Mayo said he took it as a compliment to the defense, but that seemed like a stretch. Others seemed to be more accurate in saying it was simply Belichick being Belichick.

"Bill is Bill, he's going to always be aggressive," safety Brandon Meriweather said. "As a team, we're going to stick behind him 100 [percent]."

"We know Bill, he's an aggressive coach. He wanted to put the game away right there," added safety James Sanders. "It didn't work in our favor this time. A lot of time it does. As a defense we had to go out and make a stop, and this time we did."

While the situation wasn't a carbon copy of last Nov. 15 in Indianapolis, there were some striking similarities.

The Patriots led by 17 points two plays into the fourth quarter in Indianapolis (31-14). Sunday in San Diego, they led by 17 entering the fourth quarter (20-3). Both fourth-down calls came close to the two-minute warning -- at the 2:08 mark in Indianapolis and at the two-minute warning in San Diego.

In Indianapolis, the Patriots were leading by six and had the ball at their own 28. If they didn't gain 2 yards, they still had a chance to win if they held Peyton Manning and the Colts out of the end zone. In San Diego, the Patriots were leading by three and the ball was at their 49, so like in Indy there was still a chance of a defensive hold, or a Chargers field goal and then overtime.

The play calls in each situation, however, were very different.

Against the Colts, quarterback Tom Brady spread the field and threw short to running back Kevin Faulk, who was stopped inches short of the first down. On Sunday, it was a run off the left side out of a power package with three tight ends and offensive lineman Dan Connolly as a lead-blocking fullback.

"We have a lot of confidence in that play," Brady said. "You have to think that you'll be able to get the yard. We didn't execute very well and they did.

"If you get the first down the game is over; they would have had to use all their timeouts and there would be a minute left in the game," Brady added. "[If] you punt to them and they have three timeouts with two minutes left, they only have to go 60 yards [for a field goal]. It should have never come down to a fourth-and-1."

It did, bringing back shades of Indianapolis with Belichick making the risky call.

The result was different this time, even if it didn't unfold as planned.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.