The New England Patriots registered a big win in Los Angeles yesterday, beating the Chargers with a final score of 27-24. Now sitting at 4-4, they have finally gotten themselves back to .500 for the first time since early September.
Here are my 10 takeaways from the Patriots’ fourth win of the season.
1. Mac Jones does not look sharp: Yes, it was a win, but Mac Jones was not very good on Sunday. In fact, he had what I would consider to be his worst game as a pro. He finished with just over a 50 percent completion percentage, and was high and far on a number of passes. His overthrows were approaching double digits, and he missed on some important pass attempts throughout the game.
With that being said, with the team up seven points late in the game, Jones engineered a 14-play, 54-yard drive that killed almost seven minutes and stretched the lead to double digits. Even after struggling all game, he was still able to lead the offense on that long drive to ice the game.
Overall, it was a rough game for the rookie. That’s going to happen sometimes, though. What is important is that Jones can push through the mistakes and make plays to win down the stretch. He is going to need to be consistently better moving forward, but sometimes the defense and/or special teams can steal one for the Patriots like they did against the Chargers, and it is good to see him do enough to seal the victory at the end.
2. Special teams helps out: After having some issues on special teams early in the season, the Patriots got some help for their third unit on Sunday. Not only was Nick Folk 4-for-4 on field goal attempts, but Jake Bailey twice pinned the Chargers deep (even though he did shank one at the end of the first half). Gunner Olszewski also added 80 yards on punt returns, helping the Patriots win the field position battle all day long.
It was nice to seeNew England finally win the special teams matchup, after uncharacteristically struggling in that area earlier this season.
3. Red zone play calling is questionable: The Patriots left some serious points on the board on Sunday, partially because of their red zone play calling. They were able to run all over the Chargers, but then when they got into the red area, they got away from it. Instead, they decided to throw far too often, which led to them getting stopped at the 1-yard line in the second quarter, and settling for field goals multiple times as well.
I know that a few of those were from the 30, but that’s still scoring range and they couldn’t do anything when they got there. The Patriots need to have Josh McDaniels call some better plays in the red zone if they want to keep winning.
4. Adrian Phillips has his revenge game: Adrian Phillips has played his old team twice in two years with the Patriots. He played well in 2020, but he was dominant this year. He handed Justin Herbert both of his interceptions, taking one of them back for a touchdown, which gave the Patriots the lead late in the fourth quarter. Phillips has been one of the best players on the New England defense this season, and he had his best game of the year on a day where the team really needed it.
5. The pass rush looks very good: Matthew Judon is amazing. He had 1.5 sacks, and added roughly 6,000 pressures on Justin Herbert. He and Christian Barmore, who shared a sack with Judon, are proving to be a very dynamic duo getting after the passer. Herbert seemed to be under almost constant pressure, and it certainly affected his performance. Having a good pass rush makes your defense significantly better, and the Patriots defense has really been doing a great job of getting after the passer lately.
6. N’Keal Harry likes Los Angeles: Last year, N’Keal Harry had a few big catches in two games at SoFi Stadium. He did it again on Sunday. The former first-round draft pick wasn’t overly dominant, and he only had two receptions for 30 yards, but they were both contested catches where he used good body control and positioning to come down with the football. Harry is not a dominant player, but, if he can continue to make catches like he did this weekend, other teams are going to have to respect his ability to come down with those balls.
7. Damien Harris continues to run well: Damien Harris finished the game with only 80 yards rushing and a touchdown, but he also had a few long runs called back because of penalties. The third-year back has continued to run hard week after week, and his fumbling problems seem to be past him at this point in the season.
Harris has now scored a touchdown in four straight games, and with J.J. Taylor running well last week, and Rhamondre Stevenson running well this week, the Patriots’ run game has a chance to become truly dominant as this season continues.
8. Bill Belichick versus Justin Herbert: Justin Herbert is one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s had just about enough of the Patriots, though.
Herbert has put up the two worst passing ratings and two worst completion percentages of his career against New England. He never looked comfortable on Sunday, and it led to him struggling once again against the Patriots. Many people, including myself, have questioned the coaching at times this season, but there is no doubt about it: the Patriots out-coached the Chargers on Sunday, and it led to them pulling out the road win.
9. A note on the officiating: I’m not going to sit here and complain too much about the officiating, because you can’t blame them for what happens on the field. However, since the Patriots won on Sunday, I think I’ll spend at least a little time complaining. There were multiple plays that I just can’t believe weren’t penalties — two of them on back-to-back plays at the goal line. The first was the holding flag that was picked up; the officiating crew said that because Hunter Henry was blocking it was OK, which makes absolutely no sense, because you’re still not allowed to hold the offensive player.
Then, Jerry Tillery decided he was going to take a free shot on Mac Jones after the whistles had been blown, and everyone had stopped. For whatever reason, there was no flag thrown. It was 4th-and-goal, and would have given the Patriots a first down, and four new chances to punch it in.
Later in the game, it seemed that Kyle Van Noy had been held in the end zone, which would have been a safety. Even after a challenge by Bill Belichick, however, the decision was that the penalty-worthy hold did not occur in the end zone. This, of course, ended up helping the Patriots, as Adrian Phillips would have a pick-six just a few plays after the missed safety.
As is always the case, the refs missed calls on both sides, but there were some calls that really would have helped the Patriots out that weren’t made this week, a few of them pretty obvious.
10. It’s a new season: The Patriots are at .500 for the first time since beating the New York Jets in Week 2, and they all of a sudden have some hope as to where they are headed. They dominated last week’s rematch against the Jets, but we all dismissed it as being no big deal because of the quality of the opponent.
Now, the Patriots followed up that blowout with a win against one of the best teams in the AFC. They have some winnable games coming up, and have a chance to make some noise towards the end of this season. With this team 2-4 after a disappointing overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys, there were a ton of questions and concerns.
Now they have won two straight, and look to be righting the ship at the perfect time. Next up is a very winnable game against another QB who has struggled against the Patriots, Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers. Of course, it is also going to be against a good defense with a supremely motivated Stephon Gilmore. The Patriots will try to improve to 5-4, which would give them a winning record for the first time since Week 3 of last season.
Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast. Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats.