The New England Patriots’ disappointing 2020 season had few highlights, but one of them c came in Week 13 against the Los Angeles Chargers. Playing their most complete game of the year in all three phases, the Patriots dismantled their opponent and ended up winning with a final score of 45-0.
Eleven months later, the two teams are set to meet again. And while the Patriots have some fond memories of their last matchup with the Chargers, they are well aware that a lot has changed since December 2020.
For starters, L.A. fired head coach Anthony Lynn after the season was over. Even though his team won its final four games after being steamrolled by the Patriots, a 7-9 record was not enough for him to keep his job. The organization replaced him with Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who is off to an encouraging start.
The Chargers won four of their first six games of the season, and are looking like a legitimate contender in the AFC.
“It’s interesting if you take a look at the Chargers this year and kind of see the transformation from where they were last year to this year,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said about the team this week. “Coach Staley’s obviously come in there and done a great job with creating confidence and lot of, I would say, positive momentum for the team. They’re a very good team and have improved in a lot of areas.”
Safety Devin McCourty echoed Belichick’s remarks, pointing out that last year’s Chargers team would not be the same one that the Patriots will face this week. Accordingly, the game film from the 45-0 win — one that saw McCourty score a touchdown on a blocked field goal attempt — is of little use.
“To look at a game from last year, if you’re talking about the same coaches and same scheme then you turn it on and see what they’re like against us,” he said. “But I think in this situation, especially at this part of the season, there’s enough games you can look at to see how explosive this offense has been.”
From a statistical perspective, the Chargers may not have improved drastically since last year. However, the changes that have been made have had a big effect on the team so far as Belichick pointed out.
“Some of the same players played in the game from last year, but overall, it’s a different-looking team and the way they’re put together”, he said.
“I think the offensive line is a good example of that. They really got five new starters on the offensive line now. They’ve lost a couple guys there with [Bryan] Bulaga and [Oday] Abushi, but they still got [Rashawn] Slater in the first round, signed four free agents on the offensive line, plus [Jared] Cook, so they really put a new group together there.”
The offensive line has seen some big changes since 2020 counterpart, but the biggest developments were Staley bringing his Rams-style defense to their cross-town rivals and quarterback Justin Herbert making the second-year jump.
Herbert was already impressive as a first-year player, being honored as the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. And while he may have had a rough day against the Patriots — he completed 26 of 53 passes for 209 yards and a pair of interceptions — Bill Belichick was still impressed with his performance overall.
“I thought he was really good when we played them last year, and, luckily, we had a pretty good day,” he said. “But I’m not counting on that again.”