The New England Patriots marched BACK into SoFi Stadium on Thursday and were handed a thorough butt kicking by the Los Angeles Rams in the form of a 24-3 loss — a loss that brought the team back below .500, and ensured they wouldn’t win 10 games for the first time in 17 seasons. It probably also served as the proverbial nail in the coffin for any sort of playoff push.
Just as the Patriots did against the Chargers four days earlier, the Rams got off to a hot start and never looked back. Their offense marched right down the field on their opening drive and scored a touchdown, gaining a lead that they would never lose. At points in the game where it felt like the Patriots had an opportunity to get back in it, they folded and couldn’t take advantage.
Cam Newton threw a pick-six, and the offense could only scrounge up three points on four separate trips to the red zone. He was eventually pulled for Jarrett Stidham. After the game Bill Belichick emphatically said that Cam Newton was the team’s quarterback, so much for at least having a controversy to finish out the season.
The positives were few and far between but we’ll find some as we always do. Maybe in the form of a certain first round wide receiver?
Jake Bailey - #ProBowlVote (Take Two)
This ball stayed in the air for 4.9 seconds and traveled 70 yards from Bailey's foot to its first bounce. Literally one of the better punts you'll ever see. (Jake Bailey #ProBowlVote) pic.twitter.com/oPHEyZTzhB— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) December 11, 2020
Jake Bailey put on a special teams show against the Rams. To outduel Johnny Hekker, a perennial All-Pro, in his own stadium is one thing. To drop a 71-yard punt at the 6-yard line while posting a 51.6 yard average on six attempts is a whole different story. He’s been, by far, the best punter in the NFL this season.
Gunner Olszewski continues to provide a spark
Early in the season Bill Belichick was openly critical of his special teams unit’s inability to provide a spark. In the last two weeks, Gunner Olszewski has changed that. He followed up his Special Teams Player of the Week performance with another solid outing where he set up the offense in LA territory on two separate occasions. Thursday may have been Gunner’s best individual performance as a pro.
Myles Bryant, next in the long line?
Myles Bryant (#41) did a great job on his interception. Followed Woods across the formation and was able to work through traffic quick enough to capitalize on a bad throw. pic.twitter.com/glN9KKHPL2— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) December 11, 2020
In the immortal words of DJ Khaled, another one.
Myles Bryant looks to be next in the long line of successful undrafted free agent defensive backs. From Malcolm Butler to Jonathan Jones to J.C. Jackson, Bill Belichick has made a habit out of finding diamonds in the rough at that position. Bryant has strung together a few solid performances and has most certainly earned himself some more playing time.
WR N’Keal Harry
After 16 full games of using N’Keal Harry like a slot receiver and forcing him into short crossers and screen passes, the Patriots have finally let him explore the kind of role that he played in his time at Arizona State. Over the last two games, Harry has been slotted as more of a possession receiver type, allowing him to use his physicality at the point of the catch.
It started with his touchdown on Sunday against the Chargers, where he played grown man ball against Chris Harris Jr. a former All-Pro.
Don’t look now but I think Josh McDaniels may be figuring out how to use N’Keal Harry. Loved this play and what it could mean for the future. pic.twitter.com/nnLPs4oGlt— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) December 7, 2020
On Thursday, Harry looked to be noticeably more comfortable, making a few really nice plays.
Patriots got Harry (#15) going with this route combination in the slot with Meyers. This may have been the first time I’ve seen Harry fully extend for a ball above his head, survive a hit, and hold onto the ball. pic.twitter.com/Bx0ZmPcaWJ— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) December 11, 2020
He got going with a nice catch going over the middle where he was able to go up and pluck the ball out of the air while surviving a big hit to his back, hanging on for the first down. Little things like this should help him build trust in not only his quarterback but his coaches. He showed a level of toughness and talent that we hadn’t seen from him before on this play.
When they went back to him, he had another nice reception where he was able to use all of his intangibles. (Size, physicality, ball skills.) Not a perfect play by any means but a nice jumping off point.— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) December 11, 2020
This was his first career catch that traveled more that 25 yards in the air. pic.twitter.com/2gjPBNzlD7
He followed that play up with what may have been the best catch of his career. In his first reception of over twenty-five air yards since becoming a Patriot, Harry climbed the ladder and pulled down a pass over 5’9” Darius Williams. He was allowed to use the things that made him a first round pick. Size, strength, and ball skills were all on display here.
Finally, the most encouraging play of the entire game was this incompletion. Pats looked to feed him and he did enough to get open vertically, but ended up being interfered with.— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) December 11, 2020
He needs to fight off the defenders hands here but that can be taught. pic.twitter.com/Hhe3MwT3Qj
Once he started getting going, the Patriots looked to feed him. Later in the same drive they went for the home run ball to Harry down the left sideline. He got open but was held and couldn’t get to Newton’s pass. The story here is the fact that if he hadn’t been interfered with, the entire Patriots world would be talking about his breakout performance. Instead of four catches for 91 yards and a touchdown, he had three for 49 yards and was never targeted past the LA 42.
Even if you nitpick the little things he did wrong (needing to use his hands to stop the corner from engaging with him, clapping at the ball instead of using his hands as a landing zone, half extended arms) this was the kind of performance that this unsung hero idea was born from. There weren’t big numbers and things could have been done differently, but on Thursday we saw a big step forward taken by a man who desperately needed it. N’Keal Harry looked like a top pick playing in his 18th career game on Thursday, that’s a positive.
It looks like the Patriots have found out the best way to use him.
Josh McDaniels says the Patriots are looking to get N'Keal Harry more opportunities to use his size and strength in the passing game— Alex Barth (@RealAlexBarth) December 11, 2020