The Patriots every Monday must wake up at home and hear Sonny & Cher singing like Bill Murray did in “Groundhog Day.” Because they keep reliving the same nightmare every week. The defense keeps them in the game, and with the chance to win late in the fourth quarter, they can’t get a clutch play.
If there is a clutch-gene injection somewhere, they are sorely in need of a double dose. In the past three games, the defense has allowed 10,10 and 6 points, an average of 8.66 points per game. And they’ve lost all three, something that hasn’t happened since 1938, before World War II started.
The frustration is taking a toll on the defensive players…and who can blame them. NT Davon Godchaux spoke to the Boston Herald after this latest fiasco and let his true feelings known:
“It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating. I’m not gonna sit up here and say, ‘You know, I still believe.’ It’s f—ing frustrating. Anybody can tell you that. We can’t even afford to let them kick a field goal. We’ve gotta hold ’em to zero.
“You know, I thought Zappe made some good throws today. I thought there were a couple of balls we could’ve caught as receivers, and those guys would tell you the same thing, too. They can take accountability, and we’ve all got (expletive) (expletive) we all messed up on. But the margin of error in this league is so small.”
I’m sure he’s not alone in that feeling, but the defense has been hung out to dry this season by the offense. Missing their two best players, they’ve battled on and have kept the team in games until the end, with the exception of just two.
So, here are our grades this week for the Patriots-Chargers game.
Bailey Zappe got the start and went from start to finish. He was facing a Chargers’ pass defense ranked dead last in the NFL, allowing 280 yards per game. Zappe completed 13-25 passes for 141 yards with 0 TDs and 0 INTs for a passer rating of 68.4. He was sacked 5 times for 32 yards. His net passing yardage was 109.
He started off poorly, missing a slant with a late throw and missing Ezekiel Elliot on a swing pass with plenty of room to run. However, when comparing him to Mac Jones, he did seem more mobile and didn’t turn the ball over. The play calls were conservative in the first half, with Bill O’Brien taking the training wheels off in the third quarter.
He wasn’t helped by his receivers. Tyquan Thornton dropped a deep pass, and on a would-be 45-yard bomb to DeVante Parker, he was able to snag the ball despite obvious pass interference, but his foot went out of bounds.
But the bottom line is the Patriots didn’t even get into the red zone, let alone score any points. Against the worst pass defense in the NFL. As I’ve written countless times this season, the offensive woes go far beyond only the QB position. But he didn’t light a fire under this group.
Rhamondre Stevenson was off to a very good start in the first quarter, with eight carries for 40 yards before injuring an ankle on his ninth carry and losing a fumble in the process. He also caught a pass for no gain.
Ezekiel Elliott took over and carried 17 times for 52 yards and added four catches for 40 yards. He and Stevenson often made yardage where there was none to be had. Ty Montgomery had a single carry for two yards.
However, Elliott whiffed on a block in a pivotal play late in the game that allowed a sack of Zappe, ending another drive.
There were some plays out there to be had. Thornton had dusted coverage and had a big gain there at his fingertips. Parker’s 45-yarder was there as well. Parker, however, did have four catches for 64 yards.
Thornton had zero catches but did have a 39-yard end around in the second half, where he was able to showcase his speed. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Jalen Reagor were invisible, each grabbing one catch. Smith-Schuster did recover a fumble by Elliott.
The tight ends, once again, weren’t a factor in the passing game. Hunter Henry was targeted four times and had two catches for 15 yards. Zappe was off-target on the other two throws.
Mike Gesicki only played six offensive snaps and was not targeted. While Pharaoh Brown wasn’t targeted, he did contribute well as a blocker.
The offensive line had a rough day; the pass protection was not good. Trent Brown is far from 100 percent with ankle and knee woes. On one play, he appeared hobbled as Justin Hollins turnstiled him with a speed rush to the outside.
Khalil Mack gave Michael Onwenu a boatload of trouble all game long. He, Brown, and Connor McDermott gave up sacks. But while Zappe also showed good movement to escape pressure, he also held the ball far too long many times, including a sack by Mack late in the third quarter.
While the Patriots rushed for 148 yards, 39 of them came on the end around to Thornton. Other than that run, the team averaged 3.5 yards per carry.
The defensive line had another terrific day; the Chargers averaged just 1.2 yards per carry, gaining just 29 yards on 24 carries. With the rain falling, the DLine did a tremendous job of taking away Austin Ekeler, who could only manage 18 yards on 14 carries. Davon Godchaux had a great game, as did Lawrence Guy and Christian Barmore.
With Deatrich Wise out this week, rookie Keion White stepped up and played in 87 percent of the defensive snaps (plus 10 more snaps on STs). He chipped in with four tackles, three run stuffs, and a QB hit. Sam Roberts and Jeremiah Pharms chipped with a dozen snaps between them.
The linebackers were also outstanding on this rainy day. Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai each had eight tackles in another great effort. Bentley had two run stuffs, while Tavai had three as well as a TFL.
Anfernee Jennings continued his solid season on the edge with a couple of run stuffs. Mack Wilson played well, as did Josh Uche, who chipped in with a TFL.
The secondary’s grade could have been a great deal lower, but the Chargers missed several opportunities. J.C. Jackson was beaten by Quentin Johnson, but he dropped a pass of 20+ yards. He was beaten on a 3rd and 8 by Johnson for 27 yards in the third quarter. Myles Bryant gave up the final big play, a 3rd and 11 for 23 yards, with 1:47 left to allow the Bolts to run out the clock.
Jackson did break up a crossing route, but the pass was behind the intended target. Despite all this, the secondary allowed just 212 yards through the air for the game. Justin Herbert completed 22 of 37 with no TDs and no INTs for a pass rating of 75.5.
Jonathan Jones did an outstanding job of limiting Keenan Allen’s impact by playing tight coverage all day. Allen had five catches for 58 yards on nine targets. Jones also had a TFL. Jalen Mills broke up a possible TD pass at the five-yard line and contributed a TFL.
The STs continue to flail about every week. Rookie punter Bryce Barringer had a mostly good day. He showed his leg on a 70-yarder that was downed by Matthew Slater on the Chargers’ 18-yard line. He put three inside the 20 but also had a shank of just 26 yards.
The coverage unit allowed a 34-yard punt return to Derius Davis as well as a 13-yarder. The return game was … abysmal. Jalen Reagor muffed a kick return and returned it two yards. Myles Bryant also had his issues and had two PRs for (Dean Wormer voice) “Zero point Zero.”
Last week, I was perhaps too hard overall with the coaching grade…because of the defense. So the defensive coaches get high grades. It is hard to find fault with anything the defense did on Sunday. They allowed only 241 yards total and two field goals. When holding an opponent to 10 points or less this season, the rest of the NFL is 54-0. The Patriots, meanwhile are 0-3. So, the defensive coaches rate an “A” overall.
Offensively, yikes, the mess keeps getting worse. The WR screens are stale, but one has to wonder if Bill O’Brien doesn’t trust his skill-position players to make plays. They did attempt to throw downfield more in the second half but to no avail. I was surprised that Malik Cunningham was activated but didn’t play. I thought that they would have something planned to use him.
Special Team’s coaches have a lot of work to do between now and Thursday.
Well, that’s all for the Chargers. The Patriots have a short week and play the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
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