Some thoughts following Sunday’s 27-24 win over the Chargers out in Los Angeles:
1) Patriots quarterback Mac Jones didn’t have his best game against the Chargers on Sunday, but what stood out in the win was the fact that even though he struggled, he ended up doing something even more important.
He kept New England from losing.
While the rookie had a tough time making plays, the more important aspect was the fact he didn’t commit any turnovers. Jones finished 18-of-35 for 218-yards and no touchdowns and his 51.4% completion percentage was his lowest of the season. But while he didn’t throw any touchdown passes, he also didn’t throw any interceptions.
Make no mistake, this was one of his more difficult outings. He appeared out of sync at the start of the contest and endured one of the most uncharacteristic quarters we’ve seen from him, with Jones completing a mere 4-of-15 (26.7%) in the second quarter, including 0-for-5 in the red zone over that span.
But while he struggled to complete passes, he made up for it in other ways. He ran the offense efficiently and got New England in and out of the right play call and made the correct adjustments, allowing the ground game to put up 141-yards rushing.
From there, the defense did the rest and kept them in the game, which ended up being the type of complementary game Bill Belichick often talks about.
The stat lines from the two quarterbacks were nearly identical on Sunday, with Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert also finishing 18-of-35 for 223-yards while throwing two touchdown passes. But Herbert threw two critical interceptions yesterday, including one at the end of the second quarter that gave New England the football at the Los Angeles 40yd line. That set up a field goal for the Patriots, which allowed New England to cut the lead to 14-13 at the half.
But the dagger came in the fourth quarter when Adrian Phillips picked Herbert off at the Chargers 26-yard line and took it back the other way for the touchdown, which put the Patriots ahead for good.
Oddly enough, when it came to costly mistakes, Herbert wasn’t alone. All you need to do is look around the league on Sunday and realize that sometimes the little things end up being enough. There were quite a few games this weekend where quarterbacks threw multiple touchdowns, yet they ended up losing thanks to ill-advised turnovers in key moments.
Fortunately, that didn’t apply to Jones and that’s why the Patriots suddenly find themselves sitting at .500 at 4-4 with plenty of football still left to go.
2) Damien Harris continues to impress, with the running back having another productive game on Sunday. Harris finished the contest with 23 carries for 80-yards including a touchdown but the thing that sticks out about him is the fact he just runs hard and often requires multiple defenders to take him down.
Each time he hits the hole, he drives defenders back, even if it’s just a couple of yards. Of his 23 carries, just two were for no gain or a loss, the other 21 were for positive gains and he was one of the key reasons why the Patriots held the ball on Sunday for 35:24 compared to just 24:36 for Los Angeles.
Through eight games Harris appears to potentially be on his way to 1,000-yards for the season, having rushed for 517-yards on 118-carries (4.4 avg) and 6 touchdowns. With nine games still left to play, if he continues on this pace, he should definitely get there.
3) Sunday’s game wasn’t easy by any means, but New England’s defense stepped up and played a big role in the victory, making some big plays in key moments.
Safety Adrian Phillips ended up having a terrific afternoon against his former team, with Phillips finishing the game with two interceptions, both of which were timely.
The first came late in the first half when the Chargers had gotten back in the game and jumped on top at 14-10 with a chance to potentially increase their lead with 1:44 left to go in the second quarter. The drive started from their own 28-yard line, with Herbert completing a 9-yard pass followed by a run by Austin Ekeler, which got the Chargers out to their own 40-yard line.
But as Herbert attempted to connect with Ekeler near midfield, Phillips picked him off at the New England 48-yard line, taking it 12 yards back to the Chargers’ 40. That eventually helped set up a 48-yard field goal by Folk, which cut the Chargers’ lead to 14-13 and gave the Patriots momentum heading into the second half.
As New England continued exchanging blows with Los Angeles, Phillips would deliver the knockout when he intercepted Herbert deep in his own territory early in the fourth quarter when he picked off a misfired pass from Herbert to tight end Jared Cook and took it 26-yards the other way for the touchdown.
The Patriots would hit the two-point conversion and that put New England up 24-17.
In what was a huge test for his team, Belichick needed someone in his defense to step up on Sunday. Fortunately, it was great to see Phillips pick a visit against his former club to do it.
4) Jakobi Meyers is normally a pretty reliable target for Jones but they had a difficult time connecting for most of Sunday’s game.
The two were 0-for-3 in the first half, with the Chargers’ defense making things tough on them. However, in the second half, they started clicking as Jones completed 4-of-6 for 37-yards targeting him. Jones was also 3-of-4 in the second half on third down, with two of those completions coming to Meyers.
The receiver made an important play early in the third quarter after the Patriots dodged a bullet following a fumble by Kendrick Bourne deep in Chargers territory that squandered a scoring opportunity. New England’s defense ended up forcing a punt, and the Patriots found themselves facing a 3rd-and-8 at their own 41-yard line.
However, Jones hit Meyers for a 14-yard gain, moving the chains and putting New England on the other side of midfield. That sparked the drive and got things moving and it ended up leading to another field goal by Folk, which put the Patriots on top at 16-14 with 3:39 left to go in the third quarter.
Jones also hit Meyers on the 2pt attempt after Phillips returned his interception for a touchdown.
He also connected with Meyers on a 17-yard completion on New England’s final scoring drive in the fourth quarter. That pass also put them from their own 45-yard line to across midfield at the Chargers’ 38, which ended up leading to their final field goal of the day to put them up by two possessions at 27-17 with just under 2-minuntes left in the contest.
After a tough start, it was good to see he and Jones eventually pull it together in the second half and their success down the stretch quietly played an important role in the victory.
5) New England got a fairly complete performance on special teams, with all three units really stepping up in a big way.
Kicker Nick Folk continued his terrific season, hitting on all four of his field-goal attempts, including two kicks from 48-yards. All of his attempts were right down the middle, with the veteran improving to 20/21 on the year.
Gunner Olszewski was also strong in the return game, finishing with 4 returns for 80-yards, including a 27-yard return that gave New England great field position and led to one of Folk’s field goals. He runs extremely hard and it almost looks like there are times when guys don’t seem overly excited about hitting a player who returns the football like his hair is on fire.
With the way he’s been returning kicks as of late, he seems like he’s close to breaking one off and it wouldn’t be a surprise if we saw him do so at some point over the next few games.
Meanwhile, Jake Bailey also had a strong performance. He had four punts on Sunday, with two of them landing inside the 20, including a 62-yarder that pinned the Chargers back deep after they were also called for an illegal block above the waist penalty.
That ended up being the possession where Phillips got his pick-six, so while it may fall under the radar, it’s the little things like that that ended up being the difference.
The “little things” ended up being a theme on Sunday, and now the Patriots suddenly find themselves in good position at 4-4 with plenty of football still left to go. We’ll see if they can keep things going when they head down to Carolina this weekend to battle the Panthers.
Posted Under: 2021 Patriots Season