New England Patriots shut down San Diego Chargers, 23-14

New England Patriots' smothering defense thwarts San Diego Chargers, 23-14, at Qualcomm Stadium

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Chargers got a pristine new field last week.

But Sunday night's game felt like awfully familiar turf.

The New England Patriots bounced back strongly from their setback in Green Bay by knocking off the Chargers, 23-14, before a raucous crowd that made Qualcomm Stadium feel like Foxborough by the Sea.

There were just as many fans cheering for the Patriots as for the Chargers, and that tilted in New England's favor toward the end of the game as thousands of discouraged spectators made an early exit.

San Diego's Philip Rivers dropped to 0-6 against the Patriots when Tom Brady is starting at quarterback for them. Rivers has notched one victory against New England, but that came in 2008, when a knee injury had sidelined Brady.

Both quarterbacks have phenomenal December records. Brady is 46-7, and Rivers is 30-7.

This time, New England's defense was simply smothering and never allowed the home team to build offensive rhythm.

With three weeks to go, the Patriots share the AFC's best record with Denver at 10-3, but they routed the Broncos, 43-21, in Week 9. With the No. 1 seed in its crosshairs, New England finishes against Miami, at the New York Jets, and finally at home against Buffalo.

San Diego's brutal stretch run continues with Denver, at San Francisco, and at Kansas City. The Chargers, currently in line for the sixth and final spot, a wild card, were leap-frogged Sunday by Pittsburgh, at No. 5.

"There's not time to feel sorry for ourselves and to mope around much," Rivers said. "We knew about this stretch, starting last week, and they're all tough. But that's the NFL right now."

Next up for the Chargers: the AFC West-leading Broncos, who posted a 35-21 victory over them in Denver on Oct. 23.

"We know the challenges they present, and how hard it is to beat them," Rivers said. "But we do know how to beat them. It's going to take our best."

On Sunday, San Diego's offense scored seven points. That came on a methodical drive in the second quarter that ended with a 15-yard pass to Malcom Floyd, who made a diving grab in the end zone. The other touchdown came on a 53-yard fumble return by Darrell Stuckey.

Rivers, who was sacked four times, threw for 163 yards — 105 fewer than his average.

"Our defense was unbelievable," Brady said. "They kept us in it all night. That was a defensive win right there."

It's not as if the Patriots were a well-oiled machine offensively. But they were able to chip away at San Diego's lead in the first half, reclaimed the edge with a field goal in the fourth quarter, then built a buffer when Julian Edelman turned a catch on a short pass into a 69-yard score.

The Patriots were coming off a 26-21 loss to the Packers and rebounded in familiar fashion. New England hasn't lost back-to-back games since 2012.

Sunday's game had some brutal hits, including ones that knocked San Diego punter Mike Scifres and tight end Ladarius Green out of the game.

Scifres had to be carted off in the second quarter after his punt was blocked by Brandon Bolden and the two had a violent collision. While the crowd watched in silence, Scifres lay on the ground for several minutes with the medical staff attending to him. Finally, he was helped onto the cart with his left arm bandaged to his torso.

Green suffered a concussion on a hit by cornerback Brandon Browner while trying to make a catch in the third quarter. The ball bounced up, was intercepted by Devin McCourty and returned for an apparent 56-yard score. The play was nullified, however, by an unnecessary-roughness call on Browner.

The Chargers had their moments defensively, including limiting the Patriots to 12 yards in the second quarter, and linebacker Manti Te'o collecting his first career interception.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer

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