The Patriots allowed just six points to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday but failed to put any points on the board themselves, dropping their fifth-straight contest while being shut out for the second time this year. The Patriots fell to Los Angeles by a score of 6-0 in a game that featured 15 total punts by both teams combined.
Bailey Zappe got the start for the Pats, and while he avoided making any game-changing turnovers and connected on a handful of downfield throws, it was not enough to overcome a Chargers team that avoided any similar kinds of mistakes and rode some key special teams plays to get their two field goals.
Here are the key takeaways from the game.
1. Stevenson Fumble & Injury Derails Promising First-Quarter Drive
After trading three-and-outs to start the game, the Patriots offense started to put together a drive midway through the first quarter, converting three third-and-shorts as they advanced the ball into Los Angeles territory. Rhamondre Stevenson was particularly effective on the drive, picking up two of the third downs himself and running with the same hard-charging style that he's returned to in recent weeks as the team's running game has taken off.
Unfortunately, the drive came apart on its 13th play as Stevenson was tackled in the middle of the line with a player falling into his legs. Stevenson fumbled the ball as well on the play as his ankle twisted awkwardly. He limped off the field and went straight to the locker room as LA took over. It looked like a significant injury and forced the Patriots to lean on Ezekiel Elliott, who himself was on the Injury Report this week with a thigh issue. Elliott was the only healthy full-time back left on the gameday roster, with Ty Montgomery a potential alternate option though his snap totals have been extremely limited on offense this season.
Luckily, the Patriots defense forced a second-straight three-and-out as the Chargers netted just 14 total yards through their first two possessions.
2. Chargers Get Three
Despite hitting on two big plays -- a 26-yard catch-and-run by Gerald Everett and a 15-yard out route by Keenan Allen -- the Chargers remained stuck in neutral thanks to good play by the Patriots defense that contained the potent attack.
After three straight punts to start the game, LA took advantage of a short punt by rookie Bryce Baringer that gave them good starting position near midfield. The Chargers picked up just 27 yards on the drive but it was enough to set them up for the first score of the game, a 38-yard field goal by Cameron Dicker that made it 3-0 LA with 9:09 to play in the second quarter.
New England's performance on third down by not allowing a conversion through LA's first four attempts was a key in keeping Herbert and the Chargers contained. Jonathan Jones had good coverage on the third down before the field goal, sticking with Keenan Allen and preventing the completion. Jalen Mills also had a key pass breakup on the drive that prevented a touchdown as Herbert continued to fire the ball downfield.
New England's offense didn't have much more success than LA, converting some early third-and-shorts but failing to move the chains on any third down longer than three yards in the first half.
3. Special Teams Spark Three More Chargers Points
The Chargers were able to extend their lead to 6-0 at halftime by winning the field position battle, first holding New England to a three-and-out deep in their old territory, then taking the ensuing punt back 34 yards, all the way to New England's 27-yard line, their deepest foray into Patriots territory of the half.
Once again the Patriots defense stepped up and did not allow a first down, even with their backs up against the wall deep in their own territory. LA settled for a 38-yard field goal that extended their lead but it was a win for the offensively-starved Patriots, who produced just 107 yards in the first half, yet remained a touchdown away from taking a lead. The Chargers weren't much better with 118 yards but got some big plays, including Derius Davis' 34-yard punt return, that helped them put some points on the board.
4. Keep on Punting and Punting and Punting...
During a back-and-forth punt-fest in the third quarter that featured three combined punts and no points scored, the Patriots showed some signs of life, partially helped by the emergence of two big plays from DeVante Parker, a 21-yarder and a 27-yarder. Those plays played a part in helping New England establish better field position.
That punt-fest continued well into the fourth quarter, despite a 39-yard rush by Tyquan Thornton that demonstrated the kind of speed potential that second-year receiver has. That drive came to an abrupt end after sacks on third and fourth down, as New England tried to stay aggressive with the game clock winding down. The Patriots passed up a potential field goal attempt that would've been just under 50 yards. Instead, they saw their fourth-down pass protection crumble as they allowed their fifth sack of the game to that point.
Yet again the defense forced another punt by the Chargers, bringing us to a total of 15 punts in the game with just under five minutes left to play, but New England could not capitalize late in the game.
A final Patriots drive would come to an end with an incomplete fourth-down pass as New England was shut out at home for the second time this season and held under 10 points for the fifth time in 2023. The Chargers closed the game out by converting one final third down, taking to the air with a clutch pass from Herbert that went for 29 yards and sent LA to the victory formation.
5. Patriots are 2-10
The Pats fall to 2-10 on the season with this loss as the change to Zappe did little spark their offense to new levels. Worse yet, they appear to have lost Rhamondre Stevenson to an ankle injury that looked significant. Stevenson has been their best offensive player over the last month-plus of game action and it would be a major blow to lose him for any length of time as one of the few bright spots on that side of the ball. Yet even with some hard running from Ezekiel Elliott, the Patriots could not move the ball enough nor find a way to put up enough points to put even a low-scoring contest in the rain in question.
Credit should go to the Pats defense that hung tough against Herbert and the Chargers all game long, making yards come at a premium. They allowed some big plays but never allowed those big plays to get into the end zone. Paired with excellent third-down play, the Patriots defense once again did enough to get a win if their offense had held up their end of the bargain.
It will be a quick turnaround for New England as they'll travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers on Thursday Night Football and injuries to Stevenson, as well as Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett, will be major things to monitor that could have an impact.