SOCIAL DISTANCING AT HOME — The 2001 Patriots were 5-5, and came up with a rallying cry: It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
The 2020 Patriots are now 6-6, the third best record of teams in the AFC currently out of playoff contention. If the rest of the season goes like Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, you could see at least a flicker of similarity to the 2001 team that ran the table en route to their first Super Bowl win. What the Patriots did to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday afternoon in their brand new (and empty) palace may not be a harbinger to a Super finish, but it certainly reveals what the Patriots are right now versus two months ago.
Simply stated, the Patriots dropped the worst shutout loss on the Chargers in the history of their franchise. The Patriots used a terrific run game and a biblical performance by their special teams to blank the inept Chargers, 45-0. The defense completely shut down rookie quarterback Justin Herbert and his top weapons, Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler. The Patriots had two special teams touchdowns, Cam Newton had two rushing touchdowns, while the defense picked off Herbert twice and sacked him three times.
Gunner Olszewski has now become the new rock star for the Patriots. He had a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown early in the second quarter, and also had a 61-yard punt return early in the fourth quarter. It was the second best punt return performance in Patriot history, with only Mike Haynes in 1976 against Buffalo totalling more punt return yards in a game. Olszewski also had a touchdown pass reception late in the game.
On the final play of the first half, Michael Badgley lined up for a 58-yard field goal. Cody Davis (another name you likely don’t know but should remember at least until tomorrow) blocked the field goal, and Devin McCourty picked up the ball and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown as time expired. It was 28-0 Patriots at halftime, and basically school was out.
The Chargers had a bad day in all areas, including team discipline. The Patriots had a third down and 19 in the second quarter but got a gift first down thanks to an illegal hands to the face penalty on Jerry Tillery. Joey Bosa had a roughing the passer called on him that was so foolish that he helped Newton up and apologized to him. On fourth and five later in the quarter, Jake Bailey came in to punt but instead the Patriots got a first down thanks to Los Angeles having 12 men on the field.
Newton was once again able to win despite low passing numbers. He hit on 12 of 19 passes for 69 yards, one touchdown, and a rating of 87.4. His lone touchdown pass was to, unbelievably, N’Keal Harry. Jarrett Stidham came in late in the game and threw a touchdown pass, to Olzsewski from 38 yards out to complete the scoring. Olszewski’s one catch was good enough to lead the team in receiving yards. Olszewski had 183 all-purpose yards for the game, counting his 145 punt return yards.
The rushing attack seems to be just fine despite the loss of Rex Burkhead. Damien Harris had 80 yards on 16 carries, Newton had 48 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and Sony Michel, finally back from his injury, had 35 rushing yards. The team had 165 rushing yards and averaged just under four yards per carry. On the opening drive of the game, Harris lined up in the Wildcat twice with Newton split out at a wide receiver position. Harris gained 12 yards on the two Wildcat plays.
The Charger offensive numbers were just that — offensive. Herbert was 26 of 53 passing for 209 yards, two interceptions and a rating of 43.7. Ekeler and Kalen Ballage combined for only 70 rushing yards. Allen still led his team with five catches but for only 48 yards, also a team high. Ekeler and Mike Williams had four catches each. Herbert did complete passes to eleven different receivers, but none of them had any impact on the game.
This is the first shutout by the Patriots since a 33-0 win last year against the Jets at the Meadowlands. The Chargers had twice lost 41-0, the last time in 1973 against Atlanta. Bill Belichick became the first head coach to win in 50 different stadiums; the only two stadiums that Belichick has never won in are Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas (0-0, the stadium is brand new like SoFi Stadium) and US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis (0-1, he lost Super Bowl LII to Philadelphia).
The two teams ahead of the Patriots in the “best of the non-playoff teams” list are Las Vegas and Baltimore. The Patriots hold the tiebreaker against both of these teams. Miami is the second Wild Card team right now, and the Patriots also currently hold the tiebreaker with them with one game remaining (at Miami). Making the playoffs is still a long shot for the Patriots, but still possible.
The Patriots intend to remain in the Los Angeles area a while, as their next game is Thursday against the Rams, also at SoFi stadium. This game remains somewhat iffy, thanks to the new edicts laid down by California Governor Gavin Newsom. About 95% of California is in the most restrictive COVID-19 classification (purple), but the Governor stated that if hospital ICU availability in a particular region of California falls below 15%, that region will have to shut down and stay at home for three weeks. Southern California did indeed fall below the 15% benchmark, so there remains a chance the game would either be moved or postponed. Governor Newsom intends to implement a stay at home order for most of California on Monday.
Given that the 49ers have to play their next two home games in Glendale, Arizona thanks to an edict from Santa Clara County, California, this is cause for concern for the Patriots, who intended to remain in Los Angeles for the second game against the Rams. The 49ers were subject to a county directive and not Governor Newsom. The Governor may allow the game to proceed, but right now the game is on but possibly imperiled or subject to postponement. As of press time, there has been no notification as to the status of the Thursday night game.
Too bad if that happens, unless taking away a short week and making it a normal week (or longer) helps the Patriots. The Patriots are on a roll, they faced the Rams just two years ago (and the Chargers too), and look good for an LA sweep.
With the old Forum next door, the site of many epic Celtics-Lakers battles, the Patriots strike the first blow with a massive shutout win. Most every Patriot wants to play Thursday to keep this mojo going.
Posted Under: 2020 Patriots Season