SAN DIEGO (AP) — Tom Brady jogged off the field, pumping his right fist toward the throng of New England fans in a corner of Qualcomm Stadium.
A week in San Diego turned out quite well for the California native and the rest of the Patriots.
Brady threw a 69-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman midway through the fourth quarter, and New England beat the San Diego Chargers 23-14 for its eighth win in nine games. The Patriots (10-3) clinched their 12th straight 10-win season for the second-longest such streak in NFL history. They spent the week in San Diego following a loss at Green Bay in order to cut down on late-season travel.
New England went ahead 16-14 on Stephen Gostkowski’s 38-yard field goal with 10:34 left.
After forcing the Chargers to punt, the Patriots started on their 31. Brady faked a handoff and hit Edelman on a slant at about the 45. He broke two tackles and was gone. “Jules made a great play. I fired it to him, he made a great catch and run,” Brady said. “We needed that play. We were struggling. We needed a great play.”
Brady completed 28 of 44 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Edelman caught eight passes for 141 yards.
San Diego (8-5) was shut out in the second half.
“Our defense was unbelievable,” Brady said. “They kept us in it all night. That was a defensive win right there. I love the way those guys played on defense.”
The game had several momentum swings. After Stephen Gostkowski kicked his second 22-yard field goal of the first half, Brandon Bolden blocked a punt by Mike Scifres to give New England the ball on the San Diego 28. Scifres hurt his left shoulder on the play and was carted off the field.
Four plays into the drive, Rob Gronkowski caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Brady to pull the Patriots to 14-13. Gronkowski became the first tight end in NFL history with four seasons of 10 or more scoring receptions.
The Chargers scored twice in 2 minutes, 33 seconds in the second quarter. Safety Darrell Stuckey returned a fumble 53 yards for a touchdown and Malcom Floyd made a diving catch of a 15-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers. Safety Jahleel Addae forced Brandon LaFell to fumble after a reception and Stuckey picked it up and ran it in.
Manti Te’o leaped to make his first career interception just before halftime, preserving the Chargers’ 14-13 lead. With the Patriots looking to go ahead, Brady tried to hit Gronkowski on second-and-10 from the Chargers 18. But Te’o, the second-year linebacker from Notre Dame, picked off the under-thrown pass at the 4.
Rivers completed 20 of 33 passes for only 189 yards.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft took a helicopter to the game after watching his New England Revolution lose the MLS Cup to the LA Galaxy in Carson.