The Patriots got a total team effort in their first of two games in Los Angeles, hammering the Chargers with an efficient offensive attack, a defense that pitched their first shutout of the season and special teams that were truly special, scoring two touchdowns and making further impact in field position.
For one game, everything for the 2020 Patriots was working, with players young and old all getting in on the action and everyone stepping up and making timely plays. But with a quick turnaround to Thursday night's contest with the Rams, the Pats will have little time to savor this dominant performance, but can file it away as a blueprint for how they'll have to play the rest of the season.
Here's everything that stood out in the re-watch in this week's After Further Review.
First Drive Finish
The Patriots first drive was the perfect table-setter for the game as Josh McDaniels put on display how the 2020 offense needs to operate. At the center was, of course, Damien Harris' hard running ability and the new wrinkle on the second play was a wildcat formation with a direct snap to Harris. They'd use the wildcat twice on the drive, but also sprinkle in a variety of runs like the option, read option, screen passes and designed quarterback runs as Cam Newton had 12 rushing attempts in the first half alone.
There was also plenty of pure fullback leads and a couple play action shots, one of which was missed to Jakobi Meyers. Newton also showed good blitz awareness on one play near the end zone, dumping it off to James White. The play picked up just three yards, but it was a marked improvement over the sacks the offense had been taking under similar heavy pressure.
The offense often left Joey Bosa unblocked on many of their read option plays, forcing him to choose who to tackle and they had success getting around the talented defender with this attack. Overall, Bosa was disruptive and gave plenty of the linemen all they could handle, but the offense made sure to never let him make a game-changing play.
This drive embodied the intelligent design of the attack by Josh McDaniels and the excellent execution by his players. It was a potpourri of different runs that got the Chargers on their heels early on and allowed New England to dictate how the game would unfold.
But the biggest key was the offense's red zone performance, as they were relentless on the opening drive and seized the initial touchdown lead. The team has had plenty of slow starts this year, going most of the season without scoring a touchdown in the first quarter. But in this game they would not be denied, scoring touchdowns on their first three red zone possessions and blowing the game open.
Earlier this year, they might've been settling for field goals and those kind of games can stay interesting until the end. The Pats offense made sure that didn't happen.
"Oh man, it was the right way we wanted to start the game," said Newton after the game. "We had that as a key to victory this week and I think we hit pretty much most of them, not only scoring on our first possession in the first half but also in the second half as well. Major kudos to the offense on that, but more or less, it was set up by a great defensive performance, having great field position all game and we just wanted to maximize it through that whole game."
Defense Dominates Third Down
The defense's first drive wasn't as well-executed as the offense's, but for the second week in a row they got a stop in the high red zone and were rewarded with a missed field goal by the opposition. At 12 plays, 45 yards, it would be the longest drive of the day for the Chargers, and the closest they'd get to the end zone all game long, fizzling out at the Patriots 28-yard line.
The Chargers went 7-for-18 on third downs as the Pats defense brought one of their most disruptive games of the season and it was a group effort, with numerous players coming through with solid plays, like Stephon Gilmore and Deatrich Wise on this drive. Wise's third-down sack was a great team rush.
Overall, the front has settled into a pretty good rotation of role-specific players, highlighted by the front foursome on passing downs -- Adam Butler, Wise, Josh Uche and Chase Winovich, who have been generating pressure without requiring any exotic blitzes or looks. The new-found speed of this grouping jumped off the screen all night, with Uche playing a career-high in snaps (36) as the game shifted towards more pass defense when the Pats built their lead.
After the first drive, the Chargers would run just 10 more plays in the first half, slowly watching the game slip from reach, as the front and back of the defense were working in excellent sync. Winovich had an interception, Butler deflected a pass and had a sack, Uche had three QB hits and Wise had a sack and two QB hits.
Not to be overshadowed, the early-down work of Lawrence Guy, Byron Cowart, Anfernee Jennings and John Simon played a big part in making long third-down yardage, along with the continued growth of Ja'Whaun Bentley.
All together, the Patriots defense was swarming to the ball all night, causing disruption and gang tackling the ball carriers. Maintaining that level of play might be the biggest key of the final four games of the season, especially against the Rams passing attack.
Special Teams Blows it Open
A week after seeing his punt return touchdown called back, Gunner Olszewski took another one to the house against the Chargers and this time it would stand, giving the Patriots a 14-0 lead that was seemingly the biggest turning point in the game.
This was just the first of many quality special teams plays on the day, illustrating how deadly a well-coached third unit can be and how they can directly impact wins.
Olszewksi's punt returns, including this 70-yard touchdown and another 61-yarder in the second half, were the easy highlights, but they were far from alone.
Just before the half, the Patriots would overload the left side of the Chargers field goal formation, leaving one blocker for two Patriots. Both Cody Davis and Justin Bethel would get by the blocker with Davis blocking the attempt and Devin McCourty taking it to the house for a shocking 28-0 lead as the first half expired.
After making a goal-line stand before the half last week, the defense came up with not only a stop, but put points on the board. It was an excellent continuation of solid play at the end of the second quarter.
The kickers were not to be outdone either, with Nick Folk nailing six extra points and a field goal to remain on his hot streak, while Jake Bailey continues to flip field position, chipping in two punts that were downed inside the 10-yard line.
Nothing better illustrated the difference in these two teams than the special teams performances. For the Patriots it was one of their biggest keys to victory and if they can keep it up, they'll be hard to beat.
Second-Half Takeaways Seals It
Coming out of halftime with a 28-0 lead was a bit of a foreign feeling for these 2020 Patriots but they just continued to pour it on in third quarter, erasing any doubt that this game might swing back into the Chargers' favor.
On LA's first drive of the second half, the Patriots defense continued to fight them on every down. While the third-down defense's disruption was a huge key all game long, it was Chase Winovich's restraint and smarts that got him the first interception of his career.
A high-motor player, Winovich's biggest growth has come in his play recognition and this play was a perfect example of his development. Winovich played patient on the back side instead of charging forward after Herbert. When he saw the crosser coming his way, Winovich instantly recognized where the ball was going and used his speed to get to the catch point, making a dynamic pick that would set up yet another touchdown score.
J.C. Jackson would get in on the takeaway parade on the very next possession with his eighth interception, second-best in the league. This was the first multiple takeaway game for the Pats defense since the 49ers game.
Takeaways can be fickle. The 2019 Patriots defense had just one takeaway in their final three games last season, a big factor in why they lost two of those three games. If the 2020 Patriots want to avoid a similar fate, plays like these must continue.
Experience Adding Up
Patriots fans were getting impatient to see the younger players get a chance to emerge and now, as we enter the final quarter of the season, we're seeing significant progress from some of those players.
Kyle Dugger has been playing three-quarters of the snaps over the last three weeks as he is emerging into a near every-down player. That experience is paying off weekly, as it is for Uche, who is starting to show the pass rush acumen his former coaches raved about this offseason. Uche is a unique combination of speed and strength and NFL offensive tackles are having problems with him every week.
Anfernee Jennings also showed some pop against the Chargers, logging 44 snaps, his highest total since playing 53 against the 49ers. He clearly has the length to be another versatile second-level linebacker and the experience is starting to add up and quicken his processing speed.
Even undrafted rookie Myles Bryant played 33 snaps and could be thrust into bigger action this Thursday if injuries to J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones prove to be significant. Rookie tackle Justin Herron got a solid 28 snaps as well, while Terez Hall continues to make strides and picked up his first two passes defensed against Los Angeles.
Add all this to the season-long solid play of Michael Onwenu and it's clear the Patriots have found some young players to build around. They could still use contributions from some other youngsters, like the tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, but if there's one great long-term takeaway from this game, it's that the youth movement is in full effect and things are looking brighter on the horizon.