The New England Patriots have a lot to feel good about after their 27-24 road win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Not only did they beat a quality opponent to improve to 4-4 on the season, they also showed some desirable mental toughness while overcoming the in-game mistakes that had the potential to doom them yet again.
At the end of the day, however, the Patriots made the plays when it mattered most — something that was not always the case earlier during the year: New England lost one-score games against the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys that all came down to the wire.
In those games, New England was unable to seal the deal and come away victoriously. Against the Chargers, on the other hand, the team successfully executed down the stretch.
“I think we’re just overcoming those small mistakes that we’re making,” said linebacker Matthew Judon. “We’re still making mistakes — we didn’t play a perfect game — but we’re just overcoming some of those small mistakes. And if we keep doing that, we keep executing, I think we have one hell of a team. When we do that we’re going to be great.”
As Judon noted, the Patriots did not play a mistake-free game versus the Chargers. Whether it was the offense scoring just one touchdown on four red zone trips, the disappointing goal-line series in the second quarter, or the opening drive of the third period that saw a touchdown wiped out by penalty before a lost fumble in field goal range, New England again shot itself in the foot on numerous occasions.
The Patriots still kept the game close, however, before finally pulling away after an Adrian Phillips pick-six in the fourth quarter. From that point on, New England played some impressive complementary football to put a close game away for once.
“We’ve been on the other end of it in being close but not finishing,” said quarterback Mac Jones. “We played well early and maybe didn’t play as good later on. Today was a little bit of a reverse.”
Being able to do that was a special point of emphasis for the club, it seems.
“That’s what we said coming into. We said this is a good team. We’ve been close with everybody, it’s time to be on the other side of it,” punt returner Gunner Olszewski noted. “Shoot, it felt really good.”
While the game in Los Angeles saw the Patriots play catch-up early on, it turned into a constant back-and-forth in the second half. New England took its first lead late in the third quarter, with the Chargers going back up shortly thereafter. The Phillips interception eventually put the visitors in a comfortable position but nothing was set in stone yet.
However, a three-and-out followed by a seven-minute drive in the late fourth period turned the game into a two-score contest — a deficit L.A. was unable to overcome despite a late touchdown.
“Great teams win the close games, and we need to keep stringing these along,” Phillips said after the game. “We knew that if we wanted to take the season where we want to take it, you have to win those close games. Because each year teams that don’t make the playoffs, they look back at it saying, ‘Ah, there were three plays in each game that easily could have went the other way and we would have been in the playoffs.’
“We don’t want to look back at the end of the season and say we left it out there. We want to be a team that plays 60 minutes, or even longer, however long we have to play to get the job done. That was a big focus for us and we’ve been working on that each and every week. And it was great to see that we were able to do that today, and we have to keep doing it the rest of the season.”
The Patriots have multiple areas worth focusing on coming out of the win over the Chargers, but for now they can travel back to New England knowing that they beat a good football team — delivering a statement along the way: they too are capable of winning those close games.
Whether that makes them a great team already can be doubted, but it certainly is a start.