Brandon Bolden did not have a carry against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. But the third-year running back did have a hand in the New England Patriots’ 23-14 victory at Qualcomm Stadium, as well as two forearms.
It took one play.
It took place on special teams, where the Ole Miss product has carved his purpose since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2012. It took place in with 5:37 remaining in second quarter at a time when the Patriots needed it to, down 14-6.
The end result would shift the course of Week 14.
The Chargers found themselves forced to bring on punter Mike Scifres on a 4th-and-2 from the team’s own 27-yard line. After the Patriots’ first three offensive drives resulted in two field goals and a fumble returned for a touchdown, the eight-point distance between the two sides seemed considerable.
Only Bolden made that distance a short one to travel thenceforth.
The core specialist headed onto the field and lined up across from fellow halfback-in-title Donald Brown off the right wing of San Diego’s punt-protection unit. And back deep beyond the punt-coverage unit awaited wideout Danny Amendola to field the football.
But on this occasion, he wouldn’t have to.
Scifres handled the snap from Mike Windt, while the Patriots brought four rushers his way and dropped safety Patrick Chung and gunner Matthew Slater back to preserve the inside return lanes for Amendola. As they did so, however, Bolden sought to create his own outside lane instead of one for the returner.
Brown fanned out to stop him from doing so as Scifres stepped into his windup. Yet Bolden was in position to outlast the encounter. He lowered his shoulder perpendicular to the block, he leaned in from the ankles up, and then he swung his his right arm underneath Brown’s.
He closed the gap, while four other Chargers occupied three Patriots out left, and safety Eric Weddle and linebacker Reggie Walker merged downfield to track Amendola.
That left Bolden and Brown one on one.
The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Bolden leveraged out of the 6-foot, 223-pound Brown’s containment. He left the Charger reaching and leaving his feet. And as that transpired, Bolden found an opportunity to leave him.
He turned the corner.
In 1.92 seconds, Bolden journeyed 10 yards into the backfield. And from there, he journeyed through the football as it met the right leg of Scifres.
The downhill collision was a loud one; one that would leave its mark far beyond its occurrence.
Scifres fell on top of No. 38, flipping helmet over cleats before falling shoulder-first on the grass below him. He would not return, and kicker Nick Novak stepped on to handle San Diego’s punting duties for the rest of the game.
New England’s offense stepped on for the next series from 25 yards out.
Quarterback Tom Brady connected with tight end Rob Gronkowski on a 14-yard touchdown pass just four snaps later, bringing the Patriots to within one.
Bolden’s play was the reason why.
“If you’re able to just beat that one single player, then you have a chance on it,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said in his postgame press conference. “The same thing happened to us in the first Miami game. We had one guy forcing, and the punt team recognizes that it’s a return and so they’re not really looking to stay on those blocks a long time.”
Bolden made the most of the recognition as the Chargers worked off the line of scrimmage. Even so, it took more than that for him to get beyond them.
“In Brandon’s case, on the block, it was just real good individual effort,” Belichick added.”[He] was able to dip his shoulder and get his penetration on Brown there on the corner and squeeze it in enough to get in front of the ball.
Bolden logged one offensive snap in New England’s win over San Diego, though the 24-year-old did much more than carry the ball over his time in all four phases of the kicking game.
He got in front of it. He knocked it down. And along the way, the halfback with 42 rushing yards on the season provided a turning point in a game where the Patriots needed one.