INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 27-24 win over the Chargers:
▪ NFL fans hoping for the Patriots’ demise this season may be sorely disappointed. Though the Patriots are only 4-4 after Sunday’s win, they made a big statement in beating the Chargers: They can beat a quality opponent, they can do it on the road, and they finally proved they can make winning plays in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots dominated the stat sheet, and some sloppy play allowed the Chargers to hang around. But Mac Jones was clutch in the fourth quarter, the defense made several huge stops, and the Patriots did an excellent job of staying in bounds and milking 6:56 off the clock late.
“Really good win for our team today,” Bill Belichick said. “To come out with a win is a great feeling … Made the plays we needed to make in the fourth quarter, which is something we hadn’t done as well early in the year.”
The fact the Patriots beat a quality opponent while not playing close to their best is a great sign. They lost these games earlier against the Dolphins, Bucs, and Cowboys. Sunday, they finally won one.
“It was ugly at times,” center David Andrews said. “But we overcame, kept battling as a team, and showed some good mental toughness today … We’re starting to turn that page and believing in ourselves and believing how to win football games, and that’s a big thing.”
The Patriots just beat two straight teams coming off a bye and are now the No. 8 seed in the AFC playoff race, just one spot out of the bracket. They are definitely a team on the rise, and won’t be fun to face over the second half of the regular season.
▪ After getting shredded by the Cowboys two weeks ago, the Patriots’ defense authored its second straight terrific performance. The Patriots flustered Justin Herbert all game, holding him to 18-of-35 passing for 223 yards and two interceptions, or half the number that Herbert had thrown all season entering the game (four).
Former Charger Adrian Phillips snagged both of them, and returned the second one 26 yards for the game-winning score (he can thank Jared Cook for not looking for the pass). It was the Patriots’ first pick-6 since Devin McCourty’s in Week 2 last year against Seattle. Phillips now has three interceptions this season and continues to be an unsung hero of the defense.
The Chargers finished with 369 yards, but 72 of them came in garbage time. The Chargers only held the ball for 24:36, and went eight drives in between touchdowns.
▪ Belichick really seems to have Herbert’s number. Herbert’s two lowest-rated games in 22 career starts are both against the Patriots — a 43.7 rating last year and 66.7 Sunday, with two touchdowns and four interceptions.
▪ The defense would have played a near-perfect game if not for a few untimely breakdowns. Of the Chargers’ 369 yards, 144 came on three plays — a 75-yard rush by Justin Jackson, a 41-yard catch by Keenan Allen, and a 28-yard rush by Austin Ekeler. Dont’a Hightower sure looked slow in whiffing on the Jackson run, but J.C. Jackson showed great hustle in chasing Justin Jackson down from behind.
But if the Patriots can just prevent those two or three breakdowns per game, their defense will be elite.
▪ The Chargers did a great job of messing up Mac Jones’s timing. He entered the game ranked fourth in the NFL with a 70.4 completion percentage, but he finished at just 53 percent after completing 18 of 35 passes.
It appeared the Chargers were using a five-man defensive line and blitzed Jones frequently, doing a good job of getting him off his spot and not letting him set his feet. Jones had an especially rough go in the second quarter, when he completed just 4 of 15 passes and nearly threw an interception on the goal line.
But Jones finally came alive in the fourth quarter. On the Patriots’ seven-minute field goal drive, Jones had six consecutive passes for 38 yards to move the Patriots into field goal range.
You’ve got to love seeing the rookie quarterback acting cool and calm in the fourth quarter, even after having a frustrating day.
“I definitely didn’t have my best day,” Jones said. “The second and third quarter were not good enough … [But] we finished strong, and that’s the moral of the story. And it feels a lot better to be on the winning side and not play as well than it does to be on the losing side.”
▪ Did anyone mention to Josh McDaniels that the Chargers entered the game ranked 32nd in the NFL in run defense? I’m usually loath to criticize play-calling because of all of the variables we don’t know, but McDaniels went pass-happy near the goal line and it cost the Patriots.
It was a great decision by Belichick to go for it on fourth down at the goal line. But it was a terrible decision by McDaniels to throw on third and 1 and fourth and 1, both of which didn’t have much of a chance. The fourth-and-1 play call — a corner fade to Jakobi Meyers — was especially awful.
On their next possession, the Patriots got to second and 5 at the Chargers’ 6-yard line, and again went pass-pass, and again had to settle for a field goal.
The Patriots went 1 for 4 in the red zone, a week after going 6 for 6.
▪ The red zone stats don’t even tell the full story about the wasted opportunities. They got inside the Chargers’ 30 five times between the second and third quarters, but came away with just 9 points.
▪ But McDaniels is doing a great job of scheming up the first 15 plays of the game. The Patriots drove 75 yards for a touchdown on their opening drive, marking the fourth straight game they scored on their first possession.
▪ Another week of shaky play from the left tackles. Justin Herron committed a holding penalty to negate a 28-yard touchdown run for Damien Harris, and two plays later Kendrick Bourne fumbled a scoring possession away. It was the Patriots’ sixth lost fumble of the season, more than they had all of last year.
On the next drive, Isaiah Wynn committed a holding penalty to negate a 23-yard run by Harris.
▪ Gunner Olszewski should take up permanent residence at SoFi Stadium. Last year, he had punt returns of 70 yards (for a touchdown) and 61 yards against the Chargers. Sunday, he had returns of 21, 22 and 27 yards, consistently giving the Patriots good field position.
▪ Nick Folk once again continues to be the Patriots’ MVP. He went 4 for 4 on field goal attempts, hitting from 24, 30, 48, and 48 yards. He has been such a consistent weapon.
More Patriots stories
- ‘Everybody always wants to kind of stick it to their former team.’ Adrian Phillips did just that in Patriots’ win over Chargers
- Tara Sullivan: After the Patriots’ first win over a team with a winning record, this could be a fun ride after all
- Chad Finn: There was a familiar look to the Patriots’ victory over the Chargers, perhaps from 20 years ago?
- ‘We shouldn’t have lost’: Keenan Allen offers little praise to the Patriots defense
- ‘A really big difference in the game.’ Bill Belichick full of praise for defensive star Adrian Phillips
- The Patriots had a few things to say about a late hit on their quarterback, and other comments after Sunday’s game
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.