Some initial thoughts following Sunday’s New England Patriots loss at Gillette Stadium against the Chargers:
1) Bailey Zappe’s winning streak came to an end on Sunday, with the second-year quarterback unable to extend his starting record to 3-0 after New England fell 6-0 to Los Angeles.
Zappe had a decent afternoon, albeit he wasn’t able to get them on the scoreboard as the Patriots were shut out for the second time at home this season.
He finished the afternoon 13-of-25 (52%) for 141 yards, but he had some tough moments late as the Chargers sacked him five times in the second half, including two that came after a 39-yard end-around run by Tyquan Thornton got them into Chargers territory, with that drive coming up empty after Los Angeles dropped him on both 3rd and 4th down.
Overall, the second-year quarterback did a reasonably good job of being smart with the football while making a few plays here and there despite what ended up being a downpour for most of the contest.
He showed some good movement in the pocket, evading a pass rush that frequently got him off his spot after the Patriots’ offensive line struggled to keep Los Angeles’ defense at bay. Yet, Zappe made a couple of nice plays where he improvised while keeping his head and eyes downfield, showing a fair amount of confidence while never looking rattled. In less adverse weather, some of those efforts might have yielded better results, but in a downpour, it made things fairly difficult.
The Chargers certainly made it tough on him to get much going. Los Angeles punted eight times, but seven of those ended up inside the 20-yard line, setting up drives that started at their own 13, 6, 9, 9, 18, 2, 20, and 13-yard lines.
In the rain, they couldn’t overcome that tough field position. Still, there were some things to build on, which was encouraging coming out of this one.
Unfortunately, they squandered a great defensive effort and came up short. After the game, Zappe credited the defense and he put this one on his shoulders.
“Our defense is playing phenomenal. Like I’ve said multiple times, it starts with me as a quarterback on the offensive side,” said Zappe. “I’ve got to do better. I’ve got to get us down there. I’ve got to get us in an opportunity to score points. Taking sacks and doing all those things isn’t doing a good job of doing that. I’ve got to throw it better. I’ve got to make smarter decisions. Once I start doing that, then we’ll start scoring points.”
2) DeVante Parker certainly seemed to up his game on Sunday, which was interesting to watch. Parker, who never really ever appeared to get on the same page with Mac Jones, was aggressive when the ball was thrown his way, and it certainly feels like he favors Zappe over Jones.
That was apparent thanks to an article by Christopher Price, who spoke to Parker and the veteran said when it comes to the former Western Kentucky QB, “[Zappe] just puts it where only I can go get it.”
Parker was targeted a team-high 9 times on Sunday, catching four passes for 64 yards. He also had several drops, a couple of which came down the stretch on New England’s final offensive series. Parker dropped a would-be catch on a 3rd-and-2 as the defender got there slightly early.
However, he was bailed out with a pass interference call, which the Chargers attempted to challenge that the ball was tipped (it was) and that the penalty shouldn’t have been called. Replays showed the football hitting the defender’s finger, yet the officials either disagreed or didn’t see it, and they upheld the original call.
Two plays later, Zappe looked Parker’s way again, this time throwing a well-thrown deep ball up the left sideline. Parker went up, caught the football over defensive back Deane Leonard, but landed on his butt on top of the Leonard near the sideline. Unfortunately, his foot also hit out of bounds as he came down, which made it an incompletion.
That one certainly stung. The play, had it stood, would have been a massive gain and put New England inside Los Angeles’ 15-yard line. Instead, it was another close play they just couldn’t make.
(PHOTO:Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)
3) Rhamondre Stevenson’s injury certainly seemed to derail everything, and it appeared to set the tone for the remainder of the contest.
Stevenson got off to a great start, rushing nine times for 39 yards, averaging an impressive 4.3 yards per carry before he suffered an apparent injury to his right leg early in the game.
The veteran back was grabbed and dragged down from behind on a first-quarter carry, with the tackle looking similar to the hip drop tackle that the league is looking to bar.
As he was brought down, Stevenson’s leg bent awkwardly and he lost the football, ending up in obvious pain after it was over.
He hobbled off the field but needed the help of two trainers, and he didn’t return.
His injury was significant because the play happened on one of their best drives of the game, which saw New England get all the way down to the Chargers’ 31-yard line before Stevenson lost the football.
He also looked like he was potentially on his way to a good game given how he was running the ball. Instead, his day ended before it ever really got started.
Overall, the Patriots never made it into Los Angeles’ red zone, with the closest they’d come happening when New England marched down to the Chargers’ 28-yard line on a drive in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, they sacked Zappe on back-to-back plays (3rd-and-3, and 4th-and-5), which saw the Patriots again come up empty.
(PHOTO:David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)
4) Defensively, it was another strong performance. The group held the Chargers to just two field goals, with Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jalani Tevai leading the club in tackles.
Their secondary was also terrific, blanketing the Chargers’ receivers while also contesting a considerable amount of throws from Justin Herbert.
They made his life difficult, pressuring him on quite a few dropbacks as Herbert finished the afternoon completing 22-of-37 (59.5%) for 212 yards.
But the key stat of the day was the fact Herbert connected on just 4-of-11 (36.4%) on third down, including just 3-of-6 in the second half.
The fact they held their offense to just six points was impressive, although the fact they lost ended up being record-setting. It was the first time since 1938 that a team had lost to an opponent that had scored 10 or fewer points in three straight games in the same season.
That’s certainly not ideal. But given how this season has unfolded, it also shouldn’t surprise anyone.
5) Speaking of which, it was a sparse crowd at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. Judging by the shots from television, the stadium was fairly empty in the upper levels, with tickets appearing in secondary markets as low as $20, including down in the 100s section.
For a crowd that had previously chanted Zappe’s name, he and the offense got its own fair share of boos as they struggled to get anything going.
It was a frustrating afternoon, and it’s obvious that this is still a team with some serious issues and seemingly no answers.
Zappe also experienced similar issues that Mac Jones dealt with, including a well thrown deep ball that should have been a touchdown to Tyquan Thornton, but the second-year wideout wasn’t quite able to pull it in.
After the game, Zappe put the incompletion on himself.
“Tyquan is a great receiver,” said Zappe. “We have a great receiver group. We have guys that can go down there and catch the ball. You’ve just got to give them a chance.”
“There’s some times where I need to throw a better ball. Like the deep one to Tyquan, I need to throw it better. I led it too far. Maybe if I throw it six inches shorter, that’s a touchdown, he’s catching and running it. We’ve just got to keep grinding. Those guys are doing phenomenal. I’ve just got to get them the ball.”
Given their injuries, it’s safe to say they’ve been snake-bitten, with Stevenson among the latest impactful offensive players to get injured.
His status is now up in the air, making an already challenging situation that much more difficult.
The running back spot is an area where they don’t exactly have much depth. Ezekiel Elliott played well in his absence, but he’s dealing with a thigh injury and they don’t really have anyone behind him to balance his workload aside from Ty Montgomery.
Needless to say, for a team that already had enough issues, New England certainly faces quite a challenge with five games still left to play. And they don’t have much time to think about this one, with the page needing to quickly be turned with a match-up against the Steelers on Thursday Night Football up next.
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