FOXBOROUGH — Instant analysis from the Patriots’ 6-0 loss to the Chargers:
▪ Benching Mac Jones for Sunday’s game was the right call by Bill Belichick. Jones has been a turnover machine, and there has been a clear loss of confidence in Jones by his teammates, and by Jones himself.
But at least we got a definitive answer — Bailey Zappe isn’t the answer, either. While the rainy conditions made it more difficult to throw, Zappe showed us why Belichick released him at the end of training camp, and why he has been hesitant to put him in the game this season. Zappe threw for just 141 yards on 13-of-25 passing, took five sacks, and did not get the Patriots within scoring range, with the farthest penetration the Chargers’ 28-yard line.
Zappe at least didn’t throw any interceptions, and made a few decent throws in the second half, including a 27-yarder to DeVante Parker and a deep ball to Tyquan Thornton that should have been caught. But the Patriots made the Chargers’ 32nd-ranked defense look like the Steel Curtain, getting shutout for the second time this season and gaining just 257 total yards. Sunday’s game also marked the first time since 1993 that the Patriots were shutout in the first half in consecutive games. They have scored just one touchdown in the past 14 quarters.
The old cliché of “when you have two quarterbacks, you really have none” is coming home to roost. It’s the most important position in professional sports, and the Patriots have butchered it.
There was no Zappe magic because he doesn’t have any magic to provide. Belichick built a dreadful offense, and it starts at quarterback. The Patriots have to start all over at the position in 2024.
▪ Another week, another great defensive effort wasted by the Patriots’ offense. Justin Herbert threw for just 212 yards on 37 passes (5.7 yards per attempt) and didn’t get the Chargers’ offense inside the red zone. Keenan Allen, the NFL’s second-leading receiver, caught just 5 passes on 9 target for 58 yards. The run game gained just 29 yards on 24 carries for a 1.2 average, as the Patriots had four tackles for losses.
Herbert was probably affected by the cold, rainy conditions. But to hold the Chargers to just 241 yards and 6 points should have been more than enough to win. Just like holding the Giants and Colts to 10 points each should have been enough to win. But not for the 2023 Patriots, who are going down as one of the worst offenses in modern NFL history.
If the Patriots weren’t 2-10 and going nowhere, there’d probably be a lot of fighting between defensive and offensive players.
▪ Zappe was partially responsible for his five sacks because he didn’t always deliver the ball quickly. But the offensive line was once again a mess, particularly tackles Trent Brown, Conor McDermott, and Mike Onwenu.
Khalil Mack was nearly unblockable with two sacks, two QB hits, and a forced fumble. Zappe got sacked on consecutive plays to knock the Patriots out of field goal range in the first half. And safety Derwin James picked up a sack on a crucial fourth-and-5 play in the fourth quarter in which no one picked him up.
▪ As if the season couldn’t get any worse, the Patriots may have lost running back Rhamondre Stevenson for a period of time. Stevenson, one of the few players worth watching on offense, needed trainers to carry him off the field in the first quarter after Chargers linebacker Tuli Tuipulotu brought him down with a hip-drop tackle and landed on his ankle. The NFL estimates that the hip-drop tackle has an injury rate 25 times higher than a regular tackle, and Stevenson’s injury gives the league more ammunition to outlaw the play in the offseason.
But it does Stevenson and the Patriots no good now. He’ll likely be out for a stretch of time, possibly for the rest of the season, as what happened to Ravens tight end Mark Andrews. Stevenson joins Kendrick Bourne, Matthew Judon, and Christian Gonzalez on the sideline with injuries. The Patriots can’t catch a break.
▪ Sunday’s game was a banner day for the Patriots’ secondary. I wrote the words “nice pass breakup” six times during the game, as the Chargers’ receivers were unable to create much separation.
Myles Bryant had a great one against Allen on an early third and 5. Jalen Mills made a nice breakup on a pass to Gerald Everett streaking to the end zone. Jabrill Peppers jumped a quick slant and almost picked it off in the second quarter. Jonathan Jones had a great breakup on a pass to Jalen Guyton in the end zone late second quarter. And even J.C. Jackson, having a tough season as he deals with a lingering knee injury, made two nice breakups in the second half, one on a slant to Quentin Johnston and another on a pass to Allen.
▪ Tyquan Thornton finally made an impact play, scampering 39 yards on an end-around in the fourth quarter. But he also let a perfect deep ball from Zappe go right through his hands for an incomplete pass. Thornton, a second-round pick in 2022, was drafted specifically to provide a vertical element and catch deep passes. He just can’t seem to make anything happen.
▪ The best player on the field may have been Chargers punter JK Scott, who punted eight times for 367 yards (45.9 average) and allowed zero punt return yards on the day. His best came in the third quarter, pinning the Patriots on the 2-yard line with a perfect coffin corner.
Hey, in a 6-0 game, you look for positive performances wherever you can find them.
▪ Finally, it wouldn’t be a Patriots game if Belichick didn’t make an ultra-conservative decision on fourth down. This time it was a punt on fourth and 5 from the Patriots’ 48-yard line at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Yes, the conditions were poor and Zappe wasn’t moving the ball, but so what? The Patriots have nothing to play for this season. Why not go for it and try to instill a little confidence in the offense? Instead, Bryce Baringer punted just 26 yards, and the Patriots barely threatened again.
Read more Patriots coverage:
- Patriots couldn’t come close to scoring against a weak Chargers defense, and are the most unwatchable team in the NFL
- Patriots are first team since 1938 to lose three straight games despite allowing 10 or fewer points
- Bill Belichick, more terse than usual, sounds as if he’s heard enough after Patriots’ loss to Chargers
- David Andrews comments on Bailey Zappe’s start, Rhamondre Stevenson’s injury, and more
- Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson suffers an ankle injury, further depleting an already inept offense
- ‘I tried to do too much.’ Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe takes responsibility for shutout loss
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.