The Patriots and Chargers fought back-and-forth in an AFC contest between two talented young quarterbacks looking to make a statement but with Mac Jones and Justin Herbert both struggling to find a passing game rhythm it was a game defined by key turnovers and defensive plays.
Adrian Phillips' second interception of the game was returned for a touchdown to give the Patriots a fourth-quarter lead and the team would play complementary football from there on, closing out the Chargers and giving New England their biggest win of the season, 27-24.
After a sporadic start, the Pats defense kicked into gear, containing an explosive Chargers offense for the rest of the game, while it was the ground game that helped New England own the time of possession.
Here are the five key takeaways from the Patriots win!
Big plays gash Pats early
The Patriots defense gave up big plays on two of their first three possession and both led directly to touchdowns. The first came on a 41-yard catch by Keenan Allen on the Chargers' first drive of the game, as the Pats D got an up-close look at LA's most potent passing connection. They'd follow that up shortly after by converting a fourth-and-1 from the Patriots' seven-yard-line and then Austin Ekeler dragged most of the Patriots defense into the end zone for an early 7-0 lead.
It was certainly not the start the Patriots were looking for, and although they'd force a punt on their second possession, the big play came back to haunt them again on the third Chargers drive, with backup running back Justin Jackson ripping off a 75-yard rush that set up another touchdown.
After seeing improvements by the run defense in recent weeks, this was a major breakdown as the Patriots started slow, couldn't contain the big plays and quickly saw the Chargers put up 14 points. But the Pats D would get right later in the first half, forcing two punts then grabbing an interception. They'd carry that success into the second half, forcing a three-and-out on their first possession and barely flinching from there on out.
The big play problems would pop up again late in the third quarter when Austin Ekeler squirted through the middle of the line for a drive-starting 28-yard rush. This time, however, the defense would hold the Chargers to a field goal.
The Chargers would also grab a late-game 24-yard touchdown to make things interesting.
Passing offense hits speed bump
After finishing off their first drive of the game with a Damien Harris touchdown, the red zone offense slowed down on the ensuing possessions of the first half, despite having sustained success moving the ball down the field.
The Patriots looked to match the Chargers' fourth-down aggressiveness, going for their own fourth-down attempt from the Chargers' one-yard-line but Mac Jones' intended fade pass to Jakobi Meyers fell incomplete. After the Patriots defense stepped up and forced a Chargers punt off a three-and-out, Jones again moved the team down the field, but this time the drive flamed out at the six-yard-line as they would be forced to settle for a field goal.
The red zone struggles would translate into a more overall slowdown, as Mac started 6-of-9 passing but then hit a 2-of-13 stretch, unable to capitalize on an Adrian Phillips interception that set the offense up on the LA 40-yard-line. The Pats would pick up just 10 yards and be forced to settle for a field goal that made it 14-13 at the half.
The offense would find enough of a stride at the end of the game to seal the win, with a major cap tip to the defense's two takeaways.
Mistakes cost points
The Patriots leaned into their run game in the second half and for good reason after Mac Jones and the passing offense slowed down in the second quarter. Immediately, the offense began to march down the field with relative ease, as the Chargers 32nd-ranked run defense came as advertised and Damien Harris and his position mates all had success.
But as has been the case too often this season, the critical mistakes started popping up, taking points off the board. First came a holding penalty on Justin Herron that took a 28-yard Harris touchdown rush off the scoreboard. Then, just two plays later, Kendrick Bourne would lose his second fumble of the season, putting the ball on the ground inside field goal range. That gives the Patriots six fumbles on the season, second-worst in the league and already one more than they had in all of 2020.
Isaiah Wynn would pick up a holding penalty on the next drive as well that would take another 20-plus-yard run off the board for Harris and the Pats would be forced to settle for a third-quarter field goal that gave them their first lead of the game, 16-14, but it would be a short-lived lead until Philips' interception would again turn the tables.
New England scored 11 points off turnovers though, as they made the Chargers pay for their mistakes more than they had to pay for their own.
Mac, run game bring it home
With Mac Jones and Justin Herbert both struggling to move the ball through the air for much of the contest, the defining unit of the game was the Patriots ground attack, with their three backs finishing with these totals:
- Damien Harris: 23 carries, 80 yards, touchdown
- Rhamondre Stevenson: 7 carries, 26 yards
- Brandon Bolden: 4 carries, 26 yards
After the defense helped the Patriots secure a late-game lead with Adrian Phillips' pick-six, Josh McDaniels put the ball in his running backs' hands and they delivered, putting the game away the old-fashioned way, grounding and pounding.
But Mac Jones did his part as well, delivering some key throws on the final drive as New England secured the victory with a final field goal. Though Mac threw for just over 200 yards, the Patriots played enough complementary football to pull out the hard-fought win.
Patriots are now 4-4
With the impressive win, the Patriots have climbed back to 4-4 on the season, and given the state of parity in the AFC, they're firmly back in the middle of the playoff conversation. It wasn't a perfect effort and many of the self-inflicted wounds still need to be cleaned up, but that doesn't take away the first win of the season over a team with a winning record.
New England will look for their third-straight win next Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.