FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots are setting records for imbalance.
On Sunday, they became the first team to lose three straight games despite allowing 10 or fewer points since the 1938 Chicago Cardinals in a 6-0 decision to the Chargers at rain-soaked Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots fell to 2-10, and the Chargers moved to 5-7.
“We’ve got to play better complementary football,” safety Jabrill Peppers said. “We just can’t play well on one side of the ball — whatever phase that is. As a defense, our job is to negate the bleeding, no matter what.
“We take care of what we take care of. We go out there and play hard as a team, and hope to play complementary football. We just have to do more on defense.”
Honestly, it’s hard to see what more the defense can do. Even though Matthew Judon and Christian Gonzalez have been out since early October, the defense has continued to carry the load as the offense continues to sputter.
In six of their past seven games, the Patriots have held opponents to less than 100 yards rushing. (That includes Sunday, when the Chargers had just 29 yards on 24 carries, a 1.2-yard average.) This season, the Patriots have allowed just two quarterbacks to crack the 300-yard passing barrier. The defense has forced at least one takeaway in six of the past seven games.
In their past three games — losses to the Colts, Giants, and Chargers — the Patriots have yielded just two offensive touchdowns. And while you can dismiss an occasionally punchless Giants offense, it’s worth noting that the Chargers came into Sunday’s game eighth in the league in scoring at 24.5 points per game, and the Colts (also 24.5 points per game before Sunday) also have a top-10 scoring offense.
The Patriots, who have allowed just one offensive touchdown in 11 quarters, have seen their average points per game allowed drop from 26.2 in mid-October to 22.1.
That all stands in marked contrast to the offensive struggles. Regardless of who is under center, the Patriots continue to spiral. They were shut out at home for the second time this season, and appear to be careening toward one of their lowest per game scoring averages in team history: Through 12 games, they are averaging just 12.3 points per game. (The 1990 team set the franchise low at 11.3 points per contest.)
“Our defense is great. Our defense is playing phenomenal,” quarterback Bailey Zappe said. “Like I’ve said multiple times, it starts with me as a quarterback on the offensive side. 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.”
While the frustration is palpable among many defensive players, they say there’s no danger of the locker room splintering.
“Of course everybody is frustrated,” defensive lineman Christian Barmore said. “But we can’t control that. We have a side of the field we need to focus on. Coach [Jerod Mayo] said we can’t worry about that side because we have to focus on us and stop the offense from scoring.
“Mayo always says, ‘We have to control us. We’re not worried about them — we’re worried about us, because this is what we have to do.’ Keep them from scoring and give the offense the ball back.”
“We pride ourselves as a unit,” veteran defensive back Jalen Mills said. “When you guys come in here in the offseason, come here during camp and hear us say ‘I’m playing for my brother’, ‘I’m playing for the guy next to us’, those words aren’t just words. Those are actions. You guys are seeing it. We are playing for each other right now.”
Ultimately, every corner of the locker room is aware there will be no tears shed for a team that’s finished in the top five in scoring average 11 times between 2004 and last year.
“Look, man. Nobody is going to feel sorry for the New England Patriots,” defensive lineman Davon Godchaux said. “This team has been dominant in the NFL the last two decades. No one is going to feel sorry for us. Everybody is going to come and try and beat us, give us their best shot because when Tom [Brady] was here, nobody was beating them. No one will feel sorry for us.
“We just have to get out of this hole. We have five games left. We’re not going to the playoffs. That’s obvious. But you still want to put good stuff on film to put yourself in a good way. That’s my motto each and every week. Just go out there and dominate my opponent each and every week.”
Stevenson exits with ankle injury
The Patriots lost their steadiest offensive option in the first quarter when running back Rhamondre Stevenson went down with an ankle injury.
On their second drive of the game, the Patriots faced a second and 5 at the Los Angeles 31-yard line. Stevenson took a handoff from Zappe, was tackled, and fumbled on his way to the turf. The Chargers recovered the loose ball, snuffing out the Patriots’ best field position of the afternoon.
The running back, who had nine carries for 39 yards, didn’t return, and wasn’t spotted after the game in the locker room. In his absence, Ezekiel Elliott stepped into the starter’s role and finished with 17 carries for 52 yards to go with four catches (on five targets) for 40 yards.
“It’s tough. One of the best running backs in the league. Our guy,” said wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. “Him and Zeke [are] a 1-2 punch all the time. You don’t have that, you have to fight for those yards. But I hope he’s doing well.”
“He’s tough,” wide receiver DeVante Parker said. “Just praying for him. I don’t know what the situation is, but hopefully, he’ll be fine.”
The injury happened on a “hip-drop” tackle, a play the NFL could potentially ban.
“It’s football, man,” Peppers said. “Injuries are going to occur. Every team has them, every team deals with them.
“He’ll be all right. He’s a tough guy. It’s football, man.”
Punter Baringer a bright spot
It was another big day for punter Bryce Baringer, who averaged 45.9 yards on his seven opportunities. Baringer, who had his second 70-yard punt of the season, tied a team mark with 12 straight games with at least one punt of 50 yards or more.
“[Derius] Davis is a really good returner, so direction was really important today,” Baringer said. “Giving our guys a chance to cover kicks and make plays. We have to just do a better job of that.”
In a rough season, the rookie has remained a bright spot. He says he feels good heading into the home stretch.
“Physically, I’m good. I’m good physically. Just have to keep plugging away,” he said. “There’s always room for improvement. There’s definitely that case today. I really just have to do a better job of putting our team in a position to succeed, and help those guys like [Matthew Slater] and [Brenden Schooler] go down there and make plays.”
Cunningham dresses but does not play on offense
Malik Cunningham dressed for his second regular-season game of the season but did not play on offense. Asked if there was a thought about using him to give the offense a spark, Bill Belichick simply said: “We did what we thought was best.” … On Friday, DeVante Parker said he appreciates the work of Zappe, saying he had “more zip” on the ball than Mac Jones. Parker’s stat line was appreciably better Sunday — four catches for a team-high 64 yards — with Zappe at quarterback. “Bailey, he sees where the DB is, and puts it in the right spot for us,” Parker said after the game. “Just to have a chance to come up with the ball. It’s what we need right now — explosive plays.” … The only big surprise among New England’s inactives was defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr., who was added to the injury report with an illness and was scratched. The rest of the inactives: receiver Demario Douglas, receiver Kayshon Boutte, cornerback Alex Austin, running back Jamycal Hasty, and offensive tackle Vederian Lowe … With Arizona’s win over Pittsburgh, the Patriots currently hold the second overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
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
- Mac Jones isn’t the answer, but Bailey Zappe isn’t either as Patriots get shut out by Chargers
- 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