No trick (plays), just a treat.
After three wins only over opponents with losing records, New England finally shut down a high-powered opposing offense AND came away with a victory. The Patriots were able to limit the potent Buccaneers and Cowboys offensively earlier this season, but couldn't find a way to finish things off on the scoreboard. On this Halloween, they celebrated a far-from-perfect victory by doing enough, especially in the fourth quarter, to earn a quality win on the road.
Although, the Patriots could be forgiven for thinking they were playing in front of a Gillette Stadium crowd at times, as an overwhelming number of New England fans traveled to the West Coast to cheer on their favorite team in person.
The decibel level may have made life difficult for Chargers QB Justin Herbert, but so did the Patriots defense. Give that unit a lot of credit for the way they neutralized a talented, high-scoring group of Chargers, particularly in crucial third-down situations. It wasn't quite the throttling they gave Herbert as a rookie in this same stadium last season, but Herbert had been a spotless 5-0 in his year-and-a-half long NFL career when facing a team for the second time after having lost to them the first time around.
In several games this season, New England's offense has had to rely on gadget plays (a.k.a. trick plays) in order to manufacture momentum and points and large chunks of yardage. Not on this day, though. They ran the ball effectively and converted half their third downs, which helped rookie QB Mac Jones overcome one of his less accurate days as a pro.
Here's how it all looked from this writer's vantage point:
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No surprise at all that L.A. went for and made a 4th-and-1 from the New England 7-yard line on the game's opening drive. The Chargers, under first-year head coach Brandon Staley, came into this matchup having made two-thirds of their previous dozen 4th-down attempts.
They also converted nearly half their 3rd-down attempts all season, but against the Patriots' defense, Herbert and the Chargers went just 4-for-12 (33 percent success rate). This was the critical stat in New England's ability to prevent the Chargers from mounting sustained drives.
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Edge rusher Matthew Judon's sack of Herbert in the first quarter saw Judon come unblocked from the back side and chase down Herbert from behind. Judon would later share a sack with rookie D-lineman Christian Barmore, giving Judon eight total sacks on the season so far. It had been a relatively quiet past few weeks for the player who's been New England's most impactful defender this season. These plays marked Judon's first sacks since the Houston win in Week 5.
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Can't fault the Patriots and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for deciding to go for a 4th-and-goal from the Chargers' 1 during the second quarter, given the position on the field and the fact that the Patriots were successful 75 percent of the time (3 of 4 conversions) on 4th down plays entering this game. The result, obviously, wasn't ideal for the Patriots (an incomplete pass by Jones), but the decision made perfect sense.
Maybe a bit surprising that McDaniels called back-to-back throws from short range, especially given L.A.'s struggles defending the run this season (allowing an average of more than 162 yards per game).
Then, after a great three-and-out forced by the Patriots D on the ensuing Charger possession, New England quickly found itself back in the L.A. red zone, but again, a couple of throws by Jones failed to connect. New England chose to let Nick Folk kick the three points this time.
McDaniels may have been trying to take advantage of a depleted Chargers secondary, as L.A. was dealing with a couple of in-game injuries to the cornerbacks Michael Davis and Asante Samuel Jr. It just wasn't a pinpoint accurate day for Jones, who attempted many throws deep downfield, leading to his eight first-half overthrown balls (10 total overthrows on the day). This was the highest number in that category for Jones since his nine overthrows and 21 total incompletions against the Saints in Week 3.
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Mac Jones on the day
Mac Jones vs. LAC
Mac Jones in 2021
New England may finally be settling on an offensive line. For the second consecutive game, it went this way from left to right: Isaiah Wynn (LT), Ted Karras (LG), David Andrews (C), Shaq Mason (RG), and Mike Onwenu (RT). This group allowed just one sack of Jones all day, and New England ran the ball well enough (141 total yards, but just a 3.6-yard average).
The rushing numbers might've been better if not for a couple of O-line mistakes. While briefly subbing for Wynn at left tackle, Justin Herron drew a holding penalty that nullified a Damien Harris TD run. Two plays later, wide receiver Kendrick Bourne fumbled after a catch, giving L.A. the ball.
Wynn came back in on the next Patriots possession, yet promptly incurred a holding penalty of his own, wiping out another long Harris run.
Overall, though, this looks like the most effective starting five the Patriots might have.
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Special teams units turned in a solid effort after some mistake-prone games earlier this season. Gunner Olszewski, who earned 2020's All-Pro punt returner honors thanks in large part to a long punt return TD here at SoFi Stadium against the Chargers last season, enjoyed another positive day in L.A. He returned four punts for an average of 20 yards each (a long of 27) and returned one kickoff 26 yards.
Punter Jake Bailey, another Patriots All-Pro in 2020, hasn't had the best start to 2021, but against the Chargers, he dropped two of his three punts inside the 20-yard line, while averaging nearly 50 yards per kick. And the aforementioned Folk had a perfect 4-for-4 day booting field goals.
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Chargers safety Derwin James (forced fumble, third-down tackle-for-loss on Brandon Bolden) didn't play in last year's game because he was on IR. He nearly changed the game for L.A. with his presence on the field today. But it was a former Chargers safety, now in the New England secondary, who made the play of the day.
Powerful Play/Player of the Game presented by Enel
Adrian Phillips' pick-six INT. Down 17-16 in the fourth quarter and facing 3rd-and-10 from the L.A. 22, the Patriots needed one more big play to get the ball back. Herbert seemed to hurry a throw to his short right side to tight end Jared Cook, who didn't appear to be on the same page with his quarterback. By the time Cook turned to find the football, it was in the arms of Phillips. The safety then popped up from the ground after making the diving grab and raced about 25 yards to the end zone. Jones' ensuing two-point conversion pass to Jakobi Meyers gave the Patriots a sudden 24-17 advantage.
Meanwhile, Phillips' first INT, at the end of the first half, led to one of Folk's field goals. In all, Phillips' two interceptions produced 11 New England points and tipped the outcome in the Patriots' favor.