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Chad Finn | Unconventional Review

This Patriots offense could hit an all-time low point

The Patriots came close to making a big play Sunday, but Tyquan Thornton dropped the ball.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Welcome to the Unconventional Review, an instant reaction to standouts, stats, and story lines from the Patriots’ most recent game . . .

Nah, this isn’t the worst Patriots team I’ve ever seen in 35 years of following this franchise.

That remains the Rod Rust Patriots of 1990, who went 1-15, had a point differential of minus-265, and suffered margins of defeat of 35, 34, 30, 28, and 24 points, as well as six others by double digits. That’s the worst Patriots team I’ve ever seen, and unless Bill Belichick inserts one of his sons at quarterback for the remainder of this season, it will remain the worst.


Besides, this defense is awfully close to admirable. Over the past three games — all losses, with the Patriots now dropping five straight — it has allowed 26 total points. This isn’t on them.

But, man, I’ll hear you on the offense.

The Chargers came into Sunday’s game allowing 390.6 yards per game, worst in the NFL. The Patriots, with Bailey Zappe making his first start of the season, didn’t score a point — and didn’t really came close, failing to take a single snap inside the Los Angeles 20. They managed 257 total yards, but averaged just 3.6 yards per pass.

The ‘90 offense was terrible. Terrible. It scored just 181 points all season, and the entire team totaled four rushing touchdowns. But given that this is the Age of Offense in the NFL, I believe this is worse. The ‘23 Patriots have 148 points. They have been held to 7 or fewer in five games. They need 34 in five weeks to pass the 1990 Patriots. I think they’ll do it. But that there’s even some suspense is one more confirmation of how bad this has become.

Some further thoughts, upon immediate review . . .


Chargers punter JK Scott was perhaps the most impressive player on the field Sunday, though Jahlani Tavai nearly blocked him once.Greg M. Cooper/Associated Press

Three players who were worth watching

Players suggested in the Unconventional Preview: Keenan Allen, Khalil Mack, Rhamondre Stevenson.

JK Scott: It’s fitting that the most effective player on either team in this game was a punter. Scott, a sixth-year pro who is on his third team, punted eight times. Seven of his kicks pinned the Patriots inside their 20. The one that didn’t was a 50-yarder he got off just in time early in the fourth quarter with Jahlani Tavai closing in; that one ended up in the end zone. Here’s the Patriots’ starting field position on Scott’s seven punts inside their New England 20, in order: 13-yard line, 6-yard line, then 9, 9, 13, 2, and 13. I should probably look up some Reggie Roby game logs before saying this, but Scott’s performance might have been the best I’ve ever seen from a punter against the Patriots. He was so excellent — against a team that desperately needed good field position — that Belichick probably caught himself wishing he’d spent a mid-round draft pick on the guy.

Jahlani Tavai: Beyond the aforementioned nearly blocked punt, Tavai provided a steady performance yet again for the defense, something he has been doing pretty much all season without much fanfare. Signed to the practice squad in October 2021 a couple of days after the Lions cut him, he’s gradually emerged as a reliable piece of this resilient defense, entering Sunday’s game with 64 tackles, trailing only Ja’Whaun Bentley (71) and Kyle Dugger (68) among Patriots. He tied Bentley for the team lead Sunday with eight, including one for a loss, and let Justin Herbert and the Chargers know early that nothing would come easy by burying Joshua Kelley on third and 2 at the LA 40 on the first possession to force a three and out.


Jonathan Jones: Keenan Allen is having perhaps the best season of his stellar career, entering Sunday’s game with 97 catches for 1,117 yards and 7 touchdowns. He ended up having one of his least-productive games of his stellar season — while he did reach the 100-reception milestone, he finished with just five catches on nine targets for 58 yards. Jones, who always has been someone the Patriots can lean on to cover a productive slot receiver, deserves much of the credit for limiting Allen. He was practically attached to him on a third-and-6 deep ball early in the second quarter that fell incomplete, forcing the Chargers to settle for the first of Cameron Dicker’s two field goals.

Bailey Zappe had a hard time generating offense while enduring five sacks in the loss.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Grievance of the game

As poor-to-pathetic as just about everything has been with this offense, the biggest gripe has to be with the line. Zappe was sacked five times, all in the second half, including two separate occasions in the third quarter when he was hauled down on consecutive plays. The most damning sequence occurred early in the third, when the Patriots had advanced to the LA 32 and were theoretically approaching Chad Ryland’s field goal range. On second and 8, Justin Hollins got Zappe for a 4-yard loss. Then on third and 12, Khalil Mack buried him for a 7-yard loss (his second sack of the game, giving him 99.5 for his career). The line is as complicit in the failures of Patriots quarterbacks this season as the coaches or the quarterbacks themselves.


Three notes scibbled in the margins

Predicted score: Chargers 24, Patriots 10

Final score: Chargers 6, Patriots 0

Austin Ekeler, one of the most productive running backs in the NFL last season, was next to useless. The Patriots held him to 18 yards on 14 carries, with a long of 4 yards. He didn’t help in the passing game either, with two catches for 9 yards. On a third-and-6 play late in the second quarter, Josh Uche buried him for a 7-yard loss on a misdirection play that fooled no one . . . Herbert’s best throw of the day came on third and 12 with 3½ minutes left in the third quarter, when he rolled right and threw a perfect strike to rookie Quentin Johnston, who juggled it before it fell harmlessly to the soggy turf. I’d love to hear Belichick’s honest assessment of Herbert, who hasn’t had much success against the Patriots in three career matchups . . . Rhamondre Stevenson was knocked from the game with 4 minutes, 25 seconds left in the first quarter after suffering an ankle injury. He had as many carries to that point (9, for 39 yards) as he had in the entire loss to the Commanders in Week 9, when he ran for 87 yards.


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Chad Finn can be reached at chad.finn@globe.com. Follow him @GlobeChadFinn.