The NFL Draft is officially in the books, and everyone seems to be more or less spent from completely overreacting to it, so may as well hop back on the countdown horse and check another item off of our list of the Top 20 Most Memorable New England Patriots Moments of 2021. OTAs start pretty soon, so I better get a move on here.
The list so far:
20. The Patriots trade Stephon Gilmore to the Panthers for a sixth-round pick.
19. A Week 1 goal line fumble costs the Patriots the game at home against the Miami Dolphins.
18. A four interception day secures New England’s first win of the season against the New York Jets.
17. Mac Jones hits Nelson Agholor for the first TD of the season against the Miami Dolphins.
16. A 41-yard Kendrick Bourne TD reception opens the game up against the Tennessee Titans.
15. A late Nick Folk field goal caps off a 15 play game-winning drive over the Houston Texans.
14. Mac Jones is named the starter over Cam Newton.
13. Nick Folk can’t connect on a 56 yard FG attempt to complete the comeback against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
At No. 12, a great play against a team that always seems to show up on these countdowns, year-in and year-out.
12. An Adrian Phillips pick-six seals the game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
If you’re having a hard time remembering the last time the Chargers beat the Pats, I certainly don’t blame you; for non-division teams that always seem to play each other, you’d figure that the Bolts would have taken home a win against the Pats every once in a while. But you’d have to go all the way back to the 2008 season, when Philip Rivers threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns against the Matt Cassell-led Patriots, to get there. Even during last season, where New England was completely anemic on offense and limped to a 7-9 season, one of those wins came in a 45-0 blowout on the road.
Was 2021 the year that Los Angeles finally got back in the black against New England? Would second-year man Justin Herbert pull off a Halloween Day miracle against rookie Mac Jones, who had just hung 54 on the New York Jets the week before?
The answer, of course, is no.
Unlike 2020, however, this game was far from over by halftime. L.A. actually took a 14-13 lead into the locker room at the close of the second quarter and had more or less stifled the New England offense for much of the game up until that point. The Patriots offense was only able to find the end zone once all day, on their very first possession of the game; other than that, it was punts, field goals, and turnovers on downs.
It was the New England defense, then, that was the hero of the day. Of L.A.’s 11 possessions (12 if you count a kneel-down before halftime), the Chargers punted five times, and none of those punts came after more than six offensive plays. The D also forced three sacks on the day, and picked off Herbert twice.
It’s the second of these interceptions that proved the most important, as the Chargers were up 17-16 in the third quarter and driving. The Patriots had fumbled on their opening drive of the second half, and somehow managed to need 10 plays to go just 31 yards before kicking a 48-yard Nick Folk field goal to bring the score to within one. A Los Angeles score here would put the Chargers up by eight, and with the offense clearly struggling to score, that might have been enough to possibly put it away.
On 3rd-and-9 from the LAC 22 yard line, Herbert took the snap out of an empty backfield and had fairly decent protection; tight ends Jared Cook stayed in to block Matthew Judon before breaking into his route, and a delayed Chase Winovich blitz got picked up fairly well. However, there appeared to be a miscommunication between Cook and Herbert, as Herbert threw the ball well before Cook even turned around, and out towards the sidelines as opposed to the in-cut that Cook seemed poised to make. It was perhaps a hot read situation in which one player saw one thing, and another player saw another.
What safety Adrian Phillips saw, however, was the chance to make a play against his old team. Making a break on the ball, Phillips made a beautiful diving grab right at the 26-yard line, rolled to his feet, and took off for the end zone, nothing between him and the score but green and Herbert, who didn’t have the speed or the angle to stop him. Phillips ran into the end zone untouched to give New England their first lead of the day. It was a lead they would not relinquish, as Mac Jones was able to hit Jakobi Meyers for the two-point try to put the Patriots up a full score.
They would also tack on a 30-yard field goal to completely put the game away on their next possession, a 14-play, seven-minute drive that left the Chargers down 10 with only six minutes remaining in the game. The field goal would prove huge, as L.A. was able to get into the end zone — but with just 40 seconds on the clock, they had to try for the onside kick, which New England recovered. Ballgame.
With the victory, the Patriots had won two straight for the first time all season. It was a full team effort; the offense did enough to win, special teams won the field position battle, and the defense made stops. But it was this Phillips pick-six that ended up being the real decider, putting the Patriots in position to get to 3-4 instead of a much bigger hole at 2-5. And plus, I always love it when a free agent gets the chance to make his former team pay for letting him go, and so I think this is a great spot for this moment here at Number 12.
See the pick six here.
Full game highlights here.