Quarterback Philip Rivers and the Chargers dug deep into their playbook with a lot of misdirection calls to move down the field, but ultimately stalled on a 4th and 1 on the New England 33 yard line. The Chargers wanted to go for it on fourth down, but a strategic measurement request caused Los Angeles to rethink their decision and to kick a field goal.
The field goal attempt was wide and Patriots defensive lineman Lawrence Guy claimed it was blocked, setting up New England with good field goal position. Unfortunately, Tom Brady and the Patriots offense went three-and-out on their first possession of the game and punted the ball right back to the Chargers.
Los Angeles started on their own 13-yard line and on the second play of the drive, running back Melvin Gordon turned the corner around the right side of the offensive line and bolted 87 yards for a touchdown and the longest rushing touchdown allowed in the Bill Belichick era- and tied for the longest in Patriots franchise history.
The Patriots responded with a 14 play, 77 yard drive with nice running and catches by Dion Lewis and James White, capped off with an easy 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The New England defense stepped up again to force a three-and-out to get the ball back to Brady and the offense on the 12-yard line, but a big 9-yard sack by Chargers EDGE Joey Bosa erased some nice play by Patriots running back Rex Burkhead to force another punt from their own 35-yard line.
Chargers returnman Travis Benjamin received the punt on his 7-yard line, but made an incredibly bad decision to run backwards towards his own end zone. Brandon King and Jonathan Jones met Benjamin at the goal line and forced the stop and the safety, giving the Patriots a 9-7 lead and the ball back.
Danny Amendola returned the post-safety punt to the Patriots 43-yard line and strong plays by Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, and Brandin Cooks brought the offense down to the Chargers 6-yard line. Unfortunately, Brady couldn’t find an open receiver and threw it away, settling for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal and a 12-7 lead.
The New England defense forced another punt before the two-minute warning, giving Tom Brady the ball back at the 9-yard line. 4 plays later (including a defensive pass interference penalty) and the Patriots were on the Chargers 20-yard line with 52 seconds left in the half. The Patriots gained just two more yards on their next three plays and settled for another red zone field goal and a 15-7 lead.
The Patriots have scored a touchdown on just 55% of red zone drives, versus 65% from 2014-15. New England knows they’re leaving points on the field and they need to find a fix- and soon.
The Patriots have spread the football around on offense, with James White leading the way with 4 touches for 64 yards, followed by Rex Burkhead with 8 touches for 63 yards and Dion Lewis with 8 touches for 23 yards. Brandin Cooks has 5 catches for 26 yards, but it’s clear the Patriots are relying heavily on their running backs to move down the field against the Chargers linebackers in coverage.
RT Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury in the first half forcing LaAdrian Waddle into the lineup against a tough Chargers pass rush. Look out for potential trouble in the second half.
The Patriots get the ball after the half.