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Patriots vs. Chargers: Fan Notes from the Game

Related: Patriots vs Chargers recap: New England dominates in all three phases en route to 45-0 win

New England Patriots v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Everyone who had the Patriots blowing the doors off the Chargers, come on down and collect your prize!

*crickets*

Another week, another Patriots performance that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. A team that needed a last second field goal to complete a comeback against the worst team in the league to secure their lone road victory of the season just traveled across the country and completely demolished a fairly good Chargers squad. The defense was lights out, the special teams scored two touchdowns, and the ground game was unstoppable as the Patriots kept their playoff hopes alive. I’ll take it.

  • While very little makes sense about this football season, a fact that is doubly true for this team, one thing we should all be very familiar with at this point is experiencing weeks where absolutely nothing goes right around the league to help New England’s playoff chances. Even in years past when this team was in line for the one seed and would need a win and just one of like seven things to happen to secure a playoff bye, none of those seven things would happen and they would all not happen in ridiculous ways. Yesterday saw the Colts pull one out against the Texans and the Raiders take advantage of an all-out blitz on a Hail Mary to avoid giving the Jets their first win of the season to keep the Patriots right where they were before the Chargers game, on the outside looking in.
  • You’re never going to convince me that the Jets didn’t lose that game on purpose to stay one step ahead of the Jaguars in the Trevor Lawrence Sweepstakes. There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever to bring the house and leave no safety help on a Hail Mary pass against a receiving corp that features a guy who ran a 4.2 40 unless you’re trying to lose. Maybe there’s some kind of rule against players just standing there, so this was the cover they needed.
  • But the title of this article isn’t Fan Notes from the Jets Ineptitude. On to the game.
  • The Patriots opened up with the following plays: screen to Harris, Wildcat run to Harris for seven, run to Harris behind Jakob Johnson for eight, deep pass right off the hands of Meyers that would have been a TD if he had caught it, option run to Harris for 11, RPO Cam Keeper for 14, off tackle Harris run for one, off tackle Harris run for four, short pass to James White, Cam keeper for the conversion, Damien Harris Wildcat run, Cam keeper to the one, Cam jump over the top for the score. It’s almost like when the Patriots go run-heavy, good things happen. Weird.
  • Honestly if that was more or less every single Patriots drive, I’d be a happy man. This team’s rushing attack is on par with the best in the league and I’d put it up against any defense.
  • Especially considering as how Patriots fans have switched rooting for a player to eclipse 100 yards on the ground and are now hoping to see a quarterback get 100 yards through the air.
  • Not that I’m necessarily complaining; when the run game is working, no reason to throw it. Just ask the 2009 Ravens when they came to Gillette and beat the Patriots 33-14 with Joe Flacco going 4-10 for 34 yards and a pick.
  • And case you were still somehow wondering, Damien Harris is the guy, and will be the guy going forward. I feel like his 16 carries for 80 yards doesn’t reflect the role he played in yesterday’s win. Perhaps his five yards per carry average paints a better picture, or even his one catch for 15 yards. He’s just a threat to do something good every time he’s on the field, like me on the dance floor at weddings.
  • Seriously, if any of you ever get to have a wedding again and are a little worried about the energy level of your guest list, feel free to throw an invite my way. I can’t dance to save my life and make Tom Brady at Carnival look like Usher, but I always bring the funk.
  • Speaking of bringing the funk, Bill Belichick is always harping about all three phases of the game, and once again special teams made the difference. A blocked FG returned for a TD before halftime was a ten point swing that more or less put the game away, and then Gunner’s punt return for a TD was great redemption for the one he should have had last week were it not for that ridiculous penalty. Not only that, but Jake Bailey had the Chargers playing with a long field all day and made the defense’s job a lot easier.
  • I defy you to find a better non-Olszewski gunner duo than Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel. It’s not just the ability, it’s the awareness and overall intelligence that trickles out to the entire ST unit. Slater had the knowledge to understand he was pushed out of bounds on a punt and if he was the first one to touch the ball it would be a penalty and he threw the key block that sprung Gunner. He’ll never sniff the Hall in Canton, but he’ll for sure make the Hall at Patriot Place.
  • Has there ever been a receiver as elite at catching a 3rd down pass well short of the sticks than N’Keal Harry? If I ever feel the need to eyeball the distance between two points, I’ll just imagine that I need to get a first down, picture where Harry finishes his route, and add three yards to that.
  • In his defense, the TD grab he made was the exact kind of catch I was hoping he’d be making on the regular now: high pointing a ball in the end zone with a receiver in coverage, using his body and his range to make the play. Now if he could go ahead and do that more than once a season, that would be great.
  • Once again, analyzing an offense that just ran it down the defense’s throat would mainly involve breaking blocking schemes along the offensive line and the way that linemen passed defenders off to open up cutback lanes. Some of you might be into that, but a lot of you won’t. So let’s just keep it simple. Patriots blocked good. Ran good. Scored points.
  • And shut out the guy who is is all but a lock to win Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2020. Justin Herbert had 23 touchdowns and seven sacks with over 300 yards passing coming into yesterday’s game. What he faced was a variety of pre-snap defensive looks that completely changed once the ball was in motion. A lot of 5 Man Under looks and 4 Man Over looks where a linebacker ended up coming on the blitz or dropping into coverage, short circuiting the protection calls and running a lot of stunts up the middle. An no man benefited more from the mayhem than Adam Butler.
  • Seriously — Butler was the man for the second week in a row. He’s starting to draw double teams, which he consistently beats, and he’s movable all around the line. If yesterday’s game was a Coming Attractions for 2021, I may actually suck it up and go to a movie theater for the first time in forever.
  • Not to shed light away from Josh Uche, who is also coming into his own as his reps increase. He saw about 50% of the defensive snaps yesterday and either made an impact play or was disruptive on most of them. Between Uche and Kyle Dugger, who is rapidly emerging as one of the more disruptive, run stopping thumpers in the AFC, the two rookies way want to think about opening a personal security firm. “Dugger & Uche” has a nice ring to it.
  • Also, if I ever write an action movie that turns into a franchise, I’m naming my main character Dugger Uche. Move over, John Wick.
  • Was Trent Green doing the color commentary yesterday, or was it Dan Fouts? I legit couldn’t tell, based on these gems:
  • “By changing the play at the line, the Patriots are looking to exploit something the defense is showing right now.”
  • “They’ve had some effectiveness running the ball, but that was a crossing route. Just a route crossing across the middle of the field.”
  • “Cam Newton just dove right over the top there into the end zone. That’s a touchdown.”
  • Fun fact: Kenneth Murray got his first sack of his career yesterday against the Patriots. He was selected 23rd overall in the 2020 Draft. The Chargers traded with New England to get that pick. Circle of Life. That kid is going to be a beast.
  • Illegal use of hands to the face on defense continues to be the worst penalty in the NFL and it isn’t even close. How many drives have been kept alive because a DB brushed a guy’s helmet? Just make it five yards and redo the down.
  • James White consistently picks up the blitz with blocks a man of his size has no business making. If I watched animated movies, I’m sure I’d be able to make a movie reference about one of those Minions or or the monster from Monsters Inc. doing something to take out a big oaf. But I haven’t watched a full length animated feature since I watched the first half of The Lion King and got bored, so if any of you have any additions here, I’m all ears.
  • Great to see Jarrett Stidham out on the field and not throwing a pick six. Not sure how to feel about him only having eight less passing yards than Cam Newton on two drives.
  • But Cam Newton is, as the kids say (or said at one point), doing the damn thing. There were a few throws yesterday he’d probably like back, a bad overthrow in the end zone and a deep pass into double coverage that should have been picked had the Chargers DBs not embraced their inner Three Stooges and collided with each other. But he threw some darts, kept plays alive, grinded out yards on the ground, and used his size and athleticism to control the tempo of the game.
  • I haven’t really checked in on the “Brady is nothing without Belichick/Belichick is nothing without Brady” crowd in a while. How are they coping with yesterday’s win, where the QB didn’t put up anything remotely close to Brady-esque numbers but the Patriots won because they adjusted to the strengths of the team? How does “the Patriots system involves seeing what players do well and exploiting those strengths” play into the “Brady is overrated” narrative when the system Belichick installed with Tommy B was “throw the ball a lot because the quarterback is amazing”?
  • I had completely forgotten how much I enjoy the “The classless Patriots are still throwing to run up the score” complaints. That Stidham TD pass draped over me like a warm, weighted blanket.
  • And if you haven’t experienced the sheer joy that is the weighted blanket yet, do yourself a favor and buy one today. Leave it under the tree, wrapped up in shiny paper, with the label TO: ME FROM: ME prominently displayed. You don’t want to winter without one.

If we’re going to be subjected to the dumpster fire that is Thursday Night Football, at least the Patriots get to stay on the West Coast for it. LA is going to be a tall order, but if the Patriots play the way they did yesterday, I like their chances.