SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Chargers blundered right down to the bitter end against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Kris Brown's 50-yard field goal attempt smacked off the right upright with 23 seconds left, allowing the Patriots to escape with a 23-20 win over the mistake-prone Chargers on Sunday.
Seven games into what was supposed to be coach Norv Turner's best season, the Chargers continue to make mystifying errors. Although the Patriots gained only 38 yards in the first half, they led 13-3 at halftime because the Chargers had four turnovers.
So while New England (5-1) pulled into a tie with the idle New York Jets atop the AFC East, the four-time defending AFC West champion Chargers tumbled to 2-5, their worst start in four seasons under Turner. They're tied for last with Denver.
"I don't think we gave ourselves a chance," Turner said. "You do the things we did in the first half with the football and you're playing a real good team, it's tough. You're not going to win making these mistakes."
The Chargers, who trailed 20-3 heading into the fourth quarter, were in position to at least send it into overtime. They held New England to just 179 yards of offense.
Leading by 3 with two minutes left, New England gambled on fourth-and-1 from its 49, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis was stuffed for a 1-yard loss by Antwan Applewhite. Coach Bill Belichick had challenged the spot of the previous play and lost, costing him his final timeout. San Diego then moved to the 27.
Brown lined up to try a 45-yarder, but guard Louis Vasquez was whistled for a false start. Moved back 5 yards, Brown's attempt was long enough but hit the right upright. Brown was signed last week because Nate Kaeding has an injured groin.
"It just stayed down that hashmark. It just hit the upright," Brown said. "It's frustrating because I felt like I hit it pretty good. It just didn't go in."
New England's Vince Wilfork said it "played out how we wanted it to play out. We stayed onsides. They jumped. It moved them back 5 extra yards and it cost them the ballgame."
Stephen Gostkowski kicked field goals of 40, 35 and 35 yards for New England.
San Diego rallied for two touchdowns in the final 7:21. The Chargers got a 4-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates, and, after a successful onside kick, a 1-yard run by Mike Tolbert.
The Chargers, though, hurt themselves with four turnovers in the first half, leading to 10 points for the Patriots.
Two were mental blunders that the Patriots pounced on.
After making a 25-yard catch — his first in the NFL — and going down untouched by a defender, rookie receiver Richard Goodman left the ball on the ground, jumped up and applauded. New England safety James Sanders alertly picked up the ball. The Patriots failed to convert the gift.
Goodman said he thought the safety touched him. The Chargers were in hurry-up mode, and he said he was trying to get back to the huddle.
"I'll be the first one to admit that it was my fault," Goodman said. "I've got to learn from my mistakes. After making that catch, I've got to give it back to the ref."
The Chargers then drove to the New England 32. Rivers stepped up in the pocket, turned and threw a backward pass that glanced off fullback Jacob Hester's hands. Hester didn't go after it, apparently not realizing it was a lateral. Linebacker Rob Ninkovich did, returning it 63 yards before Rivers dragged him down at the 8. Turner challenged, but the play was upheld after review.
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