INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The Patriots’ California dream vacation came to a nightmarish halt Thursday night with a 24-3 loss to the Rams at cavernous SoFi Stadium.
The Patriots will wake up Friday morning with their playoff chances in peril as nearly every scenario for them being invited to the postseason started with them running the table over the last month.
It was a shocking performance from a team that just five days ago put together its best game of the season on this same field.
The Patriots (6-7) head to their mini-bye week knowing they’ll have to win their remaining three games — starting with a date with the Dolphins in Miami Gardens — Dec. 20 and get a lot of outside help to keep their chances alive.
The loss also ended New England’s NFL-record streak of 17 seasons posting double-digit wins. The Patriots last failed to win 10 games in 2002 when they finished 9-7.
Cam Newton struggled mightily, completing 9 of 16 passes for 119 yards, four sacks, and absolute killer interception in the second quarter just moments after the Patriots committed a theft of their own and appeared poised to seize the momentum.
Newton said the abdomen injury isn’t affecting his play and there is nothing wrong physically that’s preventing him from throwing the ball.
He was replaced by Jarrett Stidham in the fourth quarter after back-to-back three-and-outs. Stidham completed 5 of 7 passes for 27, but also was under constant siege and was sacked twice.
Coach Bill Belichick made it clear there’s no quarterback controversy on his club.
“Cam’s our quarterback,” the coach said when asked about the position moving forward.
The Rams (9-4) weren’t dominating but were good enough. The scored touchdowns on their opening drive of each half, setting the tone with both.
The Patriots had no answer for Cam Akers (29 rushes, 171 yards) or the Rams pass rush, which collected six sacks (for 33 yards) and untold pressures.
“[Coach] Sean [McVay] had a good plan and they players executed it well," said Belichick. “We were outcoached and outplayed."
The Rams made it clear right away that while they might wear similar colors to their housemates, they’re not the Chargers. Not by the longest shot.
Akers, who recently ascended to the starting tailback spot, helped fuel a 75-yard opening march with his 35-yard run, and quarterback Jared Goff capped by leaping in (just barely) from the 1-yard line for a quick 7-0 lead.
New England couldn’t replicate its quick start from Sunday, going three-and-out in ugly fashion: A run for no yards and a catch for 1 by Damien Harris, and a Newton incompletion.
After a 59-yard punt by Jake Bailey, the Rams took over on their 23 and Goff moved his club 60 yards. The drive stalled and Matt Gay’s 35-yard field goal made it 10-0 just 10 minutes into the game.
The Patriots’ next possession looked a lot like its first, ending with a Newton incompletion when Sebastian Joseph-Day batted it down at the line of scrimmage.
New England got the ball back quickly when Myles Bryant collected his first career interception by ripping the ball out of Robert Woods’s hands while simultaneously tackling the Rams’ receiver.
Bryant tumbled forward, popped up, and ran to the end zone for an apparent touchdown, though he was later ruled down by contact at the Los Angeles 32 after review.
It would end up being the first of several squandered opportunities by the Patriots.
Just three plays later, Newton felt pressure off the edge from Leonard Floyd and sailed a screen pass intended for Harris (who was slightly held up by Aaron Donald) that linebacker Kenny Young snatched and returned 79 yards for a touchdown and a 17-0 lead.
“That type of play is all anticipation, I thought [Harris] got right outside the defender, so I was going to try to lead him up field and obviously that didn’t happen," said Newton, who added if he had it to do over again he’d have thrown the ball into the ground.
It was the Rams’ third straight game with a defensive touchdown.
The second squandered chance came on New England’s next march, which started at its own 40 thanks to Gay launching the kickoff out of bounds.
Sparked by nifty runs from Harris and Sony Michel and Newton’s 25-yard connection to Damiere Byrd, the visitors moved inside the 5-yard line, but Newton couldn’t feed the ball to Harris and was dragged down for a loss of 2 yards on fourth down and it remained 17-0.
“Well, it was just too outside of the pitch key and I didn’t want to kind of pitch the ball and lead to a potential turnover," said Newton. “So, I just took my chances and try to take it up in there and see how much I could get. I didn’t want to create another bad play."
The defense, was keeping New England in it, again forcing a three-and-out and a 43-yard punt from Johnny Hekker put the ball at the 32.
Newton again drove the Patriots deep into Los Angeles territory, with a 31-yard crosser to Jakobi Meyers and a 13-yard connection to N’Keal Harry.
They still weren’t able to punch it in, however, settling for Nick Folk’s 29-yard field goal to finally get on the board, cutting their deficit to 17-3, where it stayed until halftime.
The Patriots opened the second half with the ball and things started poorly when Michael Brockers blew by left tackle Jermaine Eluemunor and dropped Newton for a 10-yard loss.
After a 30-yard sideline connection to Harry — perhaps the best catch of the young receiver’s career — and two nice Harris runs later, Eluemunor got beat again, this time by Donald, who dumped Newton on the seat of his pants again and New England eventually punted.
The Rams then ended the game for all intents and purposes, embarking on a 16-play, 90-yard drive that ended with Goff’s 2-yard TD pass to Cooper Kupp for a 24-3 lead.
As damaging as the points were, the time was equally punishing as Los Angeles milked nearly 10 minutes off the clock.
Another fruitless drive later, and the Patriots were forced to punt and were staring at a three-touchdown deficit heading to the fourth quarter.
“We just have to be better — collectively," said Newton. “We didn’t play a good style or brand of football tonight and they did and they made more plays than us and it led to them winning."
More Patriots coverage
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- Dan Shaughnessy: Patriots’ path to the playoffs appears to be a road to nowhere after humiliating loss to Rams
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