FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tom Brady once again made a pretty good defense look pretty bad Sunday afternoon, completing 31 of 40 passes for 423 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-21 victory against the San Diego Charger at Gillette Stadium.

But, and this is important, the Patriots ran the ball just enough to keep the Chargers honest. They rushed 25 times for 94 yards and one very important touchdown. And in the new gun-slinger NFL, that qualifies as balance.

“We have to be able to have that as part of our offense,” said left tackle Matt Light. “I think that was critical today.”

Light was ecstatic on the rushing touchdown, a 16-yarder by BenJarvus Green-Ellis (70 yards on 16 carries) with 1:54 left to clinch the victory. San Diego had scored with 5:40 left to cut the margin to seven, but the Patriots responded with an 80-yard scoring drive that featured six Green-Ellis runs for 33 yards.

On the touchdown, he ran left, behind Light and rookie tackle Nate Solder (who lined up at least a dozen times as an extra blocker) and went untouched into the end zone.

Light was jumping and screaming as Green-Ellis went in.

“It was a great play,” he said. “I love running the ball and I love running our way and I love having Benny back there. Benny’s a great player. Benny’s a guy, you give him the ball, let him get a rhythm and do his thing and it’s good, it’s positive yardage.”

BILL BELICHICK was customarily blunt when asked if the health of punter Zoltan Mesko (who grabbed his left knee after getting rolled when he punted the ball out of the Patriots’ end zone in the third quarter) was a factor in his decision to go for it on fourth-and-4 from midfield in the fourth quarter: “Yes.”

When asked if Mesko could have punted had the Patriots been farther back in their end, he replied, “We could sit here and make up hypothetical situations all day. All I can do is look at the ones that we had and make the decisions based on what actually happened.”

SAN DIEGO’S Antonio Gates, considered perhaps the best tight end in football, was held without a catch for just the first time since Dec. 4, 2008 against Oakland and only the second time since 2003, his rookie season.

“They had a tremendous game plan and they executed well,” said Gates.

“We hit him as much as we could because we knew we couldn’t let him get started on his routes,” said safety Sergio Brown, who intercepted the one pass thrown Gates’ way.

AS EXPECTED, the Patriots had some fun with defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who intercepted a Philip Rivers pass and returned it 28 yards down the left sideline to help set up a field goal.

“Magnificent feat of athleticism,” said Light. “You saw Vince’s speed.”

“Vince runs with the wide receivers,” said linebacker Jerod Mayo.

Actually, it was a spectacular play, as Wilfork — all 325 pounds of him — dropped into coverage, tipped the Rivers’ pass with his left hand and then gathered it in on the run. It was his first career interception.

“I am just happy I caught it,” said Wilfork. “Because if I didn’t catch it, I am pretty sure my teammates would have let me have it.”

Well, they did anyway.

Rivers, for his part, never saw Wilfork. “I don’t know if I’d do anything different on that play.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH