Sunday’s win over the Chargers was a breakout game for a team that played about as complete a contest as we’ve seen all season. Here are some final thoughts before we turn the page to the Rams.
1) It’s not often you throw for 69yds and help build a 38-point lead, but that’s what Cam Newton managed to do on Sunday before giving way to back-up QB, Jarrett Stidham.
While special teams accounted for 14 of New England’s total of 45 on the afternoon, Newton had a direct hand in 21 of those other points for the Patriots offense. The veteran quarterback scored two rushing touchdowns and threw for another when he connected with N’Keal Harry early in the 3rd quarter for a 5yd scoring strike. He did a good job protecting the football and ran the offense efficiently, with New England controlling the game from the outset after starting the afternoon off with a 13 play, 75yd drive that lasted 7:10 on their opening possession of the game.
He had some nice moments, including several possessions where he took what the defense gave him and took his shots running the football and kept the chains moving. He carried the ball 14 times on Sunday, averaging 3.4 yards per carry, and had six first downs. He didn’t throw the football all that well but the way he led the offense was the real difference in the game, helping the Patriots improve to 6-6 on the season while keeping New England’s playoff hopes alive for at least another week.
At the end of the day, it’s an unorthodox way to win but Newton played well enough to get it done and you can see the offense seemingly starting to turn a corner. They’re gaining confidence and the results on the field speak for themselves. Whether you want to make the argument that they’re winning in spite of Newton is one thing, but it doesn’t change the fact he’s doing enough to help them win football games and with a critical four-game stretch now ahead of them, the latter point is all that matters.
2) Meanwhile, if ever there was an opportunity for Jarrett Stidham to make a case for more playing time, give him credit for making some noise when he came into the game for mop-up duty in the fourth quarter sitting safely with a 38-0 lead.
He came out about as confident as we’ve ever seen him, stepping up and getting hit on a throw to N’Keal Harry on his first attempt, which was well-thrown but just short due to the timing of when the defender hit him. His second one was a tight window but he fired it past the diving Nick Vigil, hitting Sony Michel in-stride and Michel took it down the field for a 23-yard gain.
But the throw of the day for Stidham was the 38yd strike he threw to Gunner Olszewski two plays later, which looking at it again was interesting given the execution. On the play, Stidham looked to Harry on his left and pump-faked, which brought the defense up and Olszewski blew past them. Stidham then turned and stepped up and threw a perfect strike that Gunner caught in-stride and he was off to the races for the touchdown.
For Stidham to ever make a case for playing time, it’s opportunities like this that will obviously make the difference. While they could have just run the football, instead, the coaching staff clearly put him in a position to test him and he certainly did enough to hopefully gain a little bit of their trust. Either way, it was good to see him make the most of an opportunity and if nothing else, he showed that he’s capable enough to play if Newton gets hurt or isn’t available.
Olszewski made some big plays on Sunday.
3) The Patriots have been making strides on special teams in recent weeks and all that work has definitely paid off. It started in the return game, which saw Olszewski return one punt for a 70-yard touchdown, which included some terrific blocking up front. Matthew Slater and Donte Moncrief were the two keys on that scoring play as Slater put a big hit on his man and Olszewski cut behind him and then past another nice block by Moncrief. That was all he needed as he accelerated up the sideline and was gone, with Rashod Berry making one of the final blocks on Olszewski’s way to the end zone to give New England a 14-0 lead.
He broke off a similar run early in the fourth quarter, which went for 61-yards after the Chargers tried to pin him in toward the far sideline, but he broke back across the field and cut inside his blockers before eventually being forced out by the punter and several other players. That led to a 32-yard field goal by Nick Folk, which extended the Patriots lead to 38-0.
Meanwhile, one of the key moments for this group ended up being a big turning point in the game. After the Chargers appeared as though they were going to get on the board before the end of the half, Cody Davis blocked a 58yd field goal attempt and Devin McCourty fielded the ball perfectly for the scoop and score when he took off 44yds for the touchdown. According to NextGenStats, McCourty hit 21.11 MPH on the run, which is pretty impressive considering McCourty’s 33-year old age.
His touchdown put New England up 28-0 at the half and essentially sealed the game for the Patriots, as it forced Los Angeles to play the game on New England’s terms for the remainder of the game. From there, the defense did the rest.
4) Speaking of the defense, Sunday was positively a solid performance. We saw a pretty complete game from this group, which made things tough on the Chargers throughout the afternoon en-route to a shutout.
Adrian Phillips led the way in tackles and was all over the field, finishing with a team-high 12 tackles and a defended pass, double the the tackle total of his teammates.
They picked off Justin Herbert twice on Sunday, with J.C. Jackson adding to his interception total and putting him at 7 on the season. Chase Winovich also had a pick, which was the first of his NFL career.
But one player who made himself known on Sunday was Josh Uche, who did a good job getting pressure while hitting Herbert 3 times including one play where nearly had a sack. He’s been slowly getting better each week since he started seeing the field and he remains someone to watch given the growth we’ve already seen from him.
Following up on a theme that’s been mentioned here a couple of times in recent weeks, Sunday’s shutout put this group at 7th overall in the NFL in points-per-game allowed, putting them right there with a host of playoff contenders:
1) Pittsburgh Steelers (11-0) – 17.1
2) Miami Dolphins (8-4) – 17.7
3) Baltimore Ravens (6-5) – 19.5
4) New Orleans Saints (10-2) – 20.1
5) Los Angeles Rams (8-4) – 20.3
6) Kansas City Chiefs (11-1) – 21.2
7) New England Patriots (6-6) – 21.3
This group appears to be starting to peak and with four games left to play, it certainly couldn’t come at a better time. Provided the offense can at least remain productive, it’s obvious that they’re clearly not dead just yet.
Harry made a terrific TD catch on Sunday.
5) It was good to see N’Keal Harry make a play on Sunday after the second-year receiver hauled in a touchdown pass during the win.
Harry seemed a little more confident on Sunday and it’s hard not to wonder if someone told him about Michael Irvin’s comments on WEEI last week, where Irvin said that if he had a chance to work with Harry, he’d help change his mental approach to the game and make him a more aggressive player.
“You can discover what’s inside of yourself, it’s just how do you work to discover what’s inside of yourself?” said Irvin during his weekly radio appearance with WEEI’s Dale & Keefe. “Let me tell you something right now, I’ll put this invitation out to N’Keal, I guarantee you I will turn his whole mentality.”
Irvin said his goal would be to turn Harry into a much more confident player, with a killer instinct.
“I’m going to change his mentality from, ‘I wanna get around these guys and not make them touch me’ to ‘I’m gonna run right through his ass…’,” explained Irvin.
Harry, who is listed at 6’4″, 225lbs, is a big player who so far hasn’t been taking full advantage of his size. Irvin, who was slightly shorter at 6’2″ and was closer to 210lbs, was an incredibly physical player who inflicted his will against his opponents during his Hall of Fame career, often getting the better of opponents who were larger than he was.
That’s the type of mentality Harry needs and he’s shown at times he has the physical tools to play at this level but, as they say, a little confidence can go a long way.
Sunday was a nice example. On his TD grab, Harry had his back to his defender and caught a high ball from Newton, making a leaping grab with his defender boxed out before coming down with the football. He looked a little more like a player who might be on the verge of coming around and that’s certainly what they need. With four games left, all of which are critical, they’re going to need contributions from everyone. If Harry is able to finally get more involved, that would definitely be a big key as the team looks to make a playoff push.
One advantage the Patriots have is the fact they’ll be coming back to the same field where they dominated the Chargers when they return to action Thursday night. With no fans in the stadium, it sets up a scenario where the team already had time to get comfortable and adapt to the surroundings, giving them an unexpected edge heading into their showdown with the Rams
In the meantime, it’s becoming clear that this season is far from over. Hopefully, we’ll get to see the Patriots turn SoFi Stadium into their house one more time Thursday night.
Posted Under: 2020 Patriots Season