Joey Bosa literally ran a circle around Tom Brady on one second-quarter play Sunday, the Chargers’ ferocious defensive end applying heavy pressure from the left edge only to have the New England Patriots’ quarterback step up in the pocket to avoid a hit.
Bosa’s momentum took him behind the back of the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Brady, who is 40 years old and not known for his mobility. Never one to be deterred, the 6-5, 280-pound Bosa made another run at Brady, this time lunging at the quarterback from the right side.
It’s a matchup Bosa usually wins.
Brady then took a step or two to his left, saw James White open on the right sideline and fired a 25-yard pass to the running back that moved the defending Super Bowl champions from the Chargers’ 45-yard line to the 20.
Three plays later, Stephen Gostkowski kicked the second of his four field goals to help the Patriots to a 21-13 victory in Gillette Stadium on a gloomy, overcast afternoon that left Chargers defenders gasping for — and grasping at — air.
The Patriots ran 82 offensive plays compared with 52 for the Chargers and had a decided advantage in time of possession, holding the ball for 36:59 compared with 23:01 for the Chargers.
The reason was Brady, the five-time Super Bowl champion who completed 32 of 47 passes for 333 yards and one touchdown, converted nine of 19 third-down plays and was as elusive as Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker in his prime, slipping and ducking just about every punch the Chargers threw at him.
“His ability to move is probably the most underrated thing about him,” Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, 37, said. “He doesn’t move far or fast, but he’s very slick in the pocket. He knows how to slide to the right, slide to the left. He sees this is coming, knows who is free, ducks his way out … you’re barely missing him.
“You don’t expect that from a guy who’s a pocket passer, but he’s very agile in terms of being able to sit in that pocket and maneuver his way around.”
The Chargers have one of the NFL’s best defensive fronts. They sacked Brady three times for losses of 16 yards and got five other hits on the quarterback. But they didn’t really get a clean shot on Brady or pressure him to the point where he appeared under duress.
“We didn’t get to him enough,” said Chargers coach Anthony Lynn. “And, he got rid of the ball quickly. He’s a master of moving around in the pocket, sliding and moving up, and making guys miss. You have to give him credit.”
Brady spread the ball to eight players, five of whom had five receptions or more. Running back Rex Burkhead caught seven passes for 68 yards, and White had five catches for 85 yards, which is not that surprising.
Whenever Brady felt some heat, he checked down to his backs, usually in the flat. He didn’t extend plays with his legs — he doesn’t have the speed for that — but extended them as he always does — with anticipation, instincts, experience and quick feet.
“He does everything so well,” Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward said. “He gets the ball out fast, especially to his backs. We didn’t give up too many explosive plays, but he still did a great job.
“He’s been doing it for so long — he’s 40 years old — he’s seen everything, and it’s hard to sack him, hard to hit him. That’s why he’s the GOAT [Greatest of All Time]. He’s one of my favorite players.”
Brady did some of his best work on third down. He teamed with White for a 27-yard pass play on third-and-11, and with Danny Amendola for nine yards on a third-and-three on the Patriots’ 14-play, 77-yard drive that ended with Brady’s two-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski in the second quarter.
Under heavy pressure on a third-and-two from the Chargers 34-yard line midway through the third quarter, Brady stepped up in the pocket and threaded a 12-yard pass between free safety Tre Boston and linebacker Jatavis Brown to White for a 12-yard gain. Four plays later, Gostkowski kicked a 43-yard field goal for an 18-7 lead.
As good as Brady was, the Chargers did well to limit him to one touchdown pass. The Patriots settled for field goals on their three other trips into the red zone.
“Tom Brady did not go for his usual four touchdowns today. Why? Because he’s human,” Boston said. “We did a great job of doing our job, but did we get the job done? No, because we didn’t get the win. Any time you limit them to one TD and six field-goal attempts, you have to find a way to come out with the win.”