1. Clinton Hart, butterfingers
On third down of the Patriots' second possession in the shadow of their own goalposts, Tom Brady tried to hit Reche Caldwell on a crossing pattern, but his pass was tipped at the line by blitzing safety Marlon McRee (more on him later). The wobbling ball was then barely tipped by Caldwell and caromed off Quentin Jammer's helmet straight up in the air. Like pillow feathers fluttering to earth, the ball came straight down, floating gently right into safety Clinton Hart's breadbasket. But gripped by a moment of complete stupidity, Hart leapt unnecessarily to meet the ball and somehow managed to dislodge it from himself. Even had Hart been brought down right away after securing the interception, he would have been at the New England 28. After the punt and return, San Diego had the ball at midfield, from whence they failed to score, in part because of ...
2. Eric Parker, butterfingers
Having already been charged with a drop on the Chargers' first possession — on what may have in fact been a fumble — Eric Parker's nightmare day continued on the Bolts' second possession. On 2nd-and-10 from the 50, Philip Rivers zipped a short pass right to Parker at the 45 with two defenders playing four yards off him. Worst case scenario, assuming Parker didn't shed a tackler, the Bolts would have been looking at 3rd-and-3. But the ball slid right through Parker's hands, leading to an incomplete on 3rd-and-10 and another Mike Scifres punt.
3. Eric Parker, feet don't fail me ... d'oh!
On their third possession, the Chargers marched to the New England 29, where, of course, it was time to get cute. Eschewing league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson and Pro Bowl QB Philip Rivers, the Bolts ran an end around with their man Parker. Though the Patriots got good penetration, Rivers sealed linebacker Rosevelt Colvin with a courageous block. But it was to no avail because Parker lost his footing on the newly sodded patch of the field and fell down untouched for a seven-yard loss. A six-yard run by Tomlinson and an incomplete brought us to ...
4. 4th-and-11 on the 30
This was bizarre. First Schottenheimer burned a timeout to talk it over. It's 4th-and-11 on your opponent's 30 on a bright sunny day and you have a Pro Bowl kicker who made eight of 10 kicks beyond 40. What's to discuss? Perhaps overly sensitive to criticism of his conservative game management, Schottenheimer decided to go for it. Rivers got sacked, fumbled and the Patriots recovered. Hmmm, I wonder if those three points might have come in handy.
The Patriots trailed 14-3 with a minute left before halftime when a holding penalty wiped out a 15-yard Kevin Faulk run, bringing up 2nd-and-17 on their own 35. New England was reeling. After sputtering early, the Bolts had taken complete control of the game and Tomlinson and Michael Turner had both found paydirt in what was looking very much like a possible blowout. But the Chargers rushed four, got no pressure and right corner Antonio Cromartie backed off Jabar Gaffney, giving him precisely the 17 yards he needed for a first down. The Patriots had a pulse, which would only get stronger when they cashed in for six on a Brady-to-Gaffney pass 49 seconds later to make it 14-10 at halftime.
6. Vincent Jackson, butterfingers
On their first possession of the second half after forcing a three-and-out from the Pats, the Chargers were facing 3rd-and-8 from their own 36 when Rivers delivered a laser to a wide-open Vincent Jackson at the New England 42. Like his teammate Hart in the first quarter, Jackson leapt unnecessarily and basically confounded himself, dropping a perfectly thrown ball. Instead of a 22-yard gain and a first down, the Bolts were forced to punt. (Jackson would later fail to dot the I in the back of the end zone on Rivers' most beautiful throw of the day, costing the Chargers six.)
7. Eric Parker, butterfingers/bonehead
The Chargers still led 14-10 in the third quarter and looked to be getting the ball back with good field position when Parker struck again. First he muffed the punt at his own 35, but he seemed to catch a break when the ball settled just to his left for an easy cover-up. But instead of merely falling on the football, Parker tried to pick it up and advance it. He never got the chance. Antwain Spann drilled him, the ball squirted free again and the Patriots' David Thomas recovered at the 31, setting up a New England field goal ... made all the easier by ...
8. Drayton Florence, brain freeze
Shaun Phillips sacked Brady on 3rd-and-13 and despite a propitious bounce of the ensuing fumble right into left tackle Matt Light's arms, the Patriots were still looking at a 52-yard field goal. Enter Florence. After the play was over, right in front of the line judge, Florence ran up to Daniel Graham and head-butted him in the facemask. Fifteen yards, first down. Stephen Gostkowski would end up converting a much-easier 34-yarder. Chargers 14, Patriots 13.
9. Marlon McRee taketh, then giveth back
The Chargers led 21-13 with six minutes left and the Patriots facing 4th-and-5. McRee had played fairly brilliantly for the first 54 minutes of the game. Then came the nightmare. After bobbling Brady's fourth-down pass — oh, how Charger Nation wishes he had just dropped it — McRee hauled in the pick that looked to have buried the Pats. But as he began to return the interception, Troy Brown reached in and stripped him. Reche Caldwell dived on the loose ball and the Pats were resuscitated. Had McRee just knocked the ball down or taken a knee upon securing it, the Bolts would almost certainly have won.
10. Mentally challenged challenge
Desperately wanting something not to be true is not sufficient grounds for squandering a timeout and challenging a play that is not going to be overturned. McRee clearly gained control of the ball and clearly fumbled it before hitting the ground. With the challenge, Schottenheimer squandered a timeout that sure would have come in handy as his team tried to even the score with 1:05 left and no timeouts. With Antonio Gates failing to get out of bounds early in the drive and the team looking a little unsteady in its one-minute drill, the best San Diego could do was an ill-fated 54-yard attempt by Kaeding.