When the Patriots ran:
The Patriots wanted to run the ball and they did early and often against one of the worst run defenses in football. The problem was, they didn’t do so effectively. Josh McDaniels switched things up and tried to find a hot hand as three running backs received at least four carries, but none was successful. Dion Lewis once again the lead dog but he found little room to run, picking up just 44 yards on 15 carries (2.9-yard average). Mike Gillislee (11 for 34, 3.1-yard average) wasn’t any better and Rex Burkhead failed to add a spark on his four attempts, which accounted for just 15 yards. Overall New England attempted 32 runs and gained a grand total of 97 yards for a paltry 3-yard average. Only 11 of those runs were efficient, and one of those was a Tom Brady sneak for a first down. The Chargers haven’t stopped the run all season but they did so effectively on Sunday.
When the Patriots passed:
Every once in a while even the talking heads in the media get things right and Sunday was one such occasion. Given the Chargers ferocious pass rush, many felt the Patriots would use plenty of quick throws to the backs to get the ball out of Brady’s hands quickly and that’s exactly what McDaniels dialed up on Sunday. Brady completed 32 of 47 attempts for 333 yards and a touchdown. Fourteen of those completions went to the running backs for 163 yards. By comparison, Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks each had five receptions but those 15 grabs accounted for 143 yards, although Gronk had the touchdown. It was a wise game plan because despite the quick throws the Chargers rush came as advertised, sacking Brady three times and pressuring him on exactly half (25) of his 50 overall attempts. Brady did a nice job of moving in the pocket and the backs – White in particular (five catches, 85 yards) – were outstanding after the catch. The efficiency allowed the Patriots to control the ball throughout the game, and even though they settled for field goals it was enough to stay on top.
When the Chargers ran:
This was is tougher to call than the numbers might indicate. Los Angeles racked up 157 yards on only 21 carries for a scintillating 7.5-yard average, but 87 of those came on Melvin Gordon’s touchdown run that opened the scoring in the first quarter. Otherwise Gordon was held in check with just 45 yards on his other 13 carries, which translates to just 3.4-yards a pop. Considering the front seven was without Dont’a Hightower and Malcom Brown, that performance was acceptable. But it’s hard to eliminate an 87-yard run, and truth be told the Chargers appeared to be inches away from several other big plays. Overall the Patriots did enough to prevent the Chargers from controlling the game on the ground despite Los Angeles’ efforts to do so. The big play happened but the majority of the game saw some toughness up front.
When the Chargers passed:
Similar to the running matchup, this one is tough to call. When the Chargers actually dropped back and passed, they generally found success. Fortunately for New England, head coach Anthony Lynn insisted on keeping things on the ground and made life easier on the Patriots. Philip Rivers only attempted five passes in the first half, completing four of them for 62 yards. Yet the Chargers kept running the ball. In the second half things opened up a bit but the Patriots remained fortunate that a pair of Chargers passing touchdowns was called by due to penalties. Rivers wound up completing 17 of 30 for 212 yards and a touchdown, picking on Johnson Bademosi often after the break. Travis Benjamin (five catches, 64 yards, 1 TD) and Keenan Allen (four catches, 61 yards) did most of the damage, but in reality the Chargers stopped themselves – including the game’s final play when Rovers inexplicably threw short of the end zone right to Jonathan Jones for the game-sealing interception. The numbers looked good for the Patriots but the overall execution was nothing special.
Stephen Gostkowski missed two field goals and the Patriots picked up another penalty in the kicking game, and the Patriots still held an overwhelming advantage on special teams. That’s how pathetic Los Angeles was in the kicking game. Nick Novak missed a 51-yard field goal that would have opened the scoring. The Chargers kick returners insisted on taking Gostkowski’s high kickoffs out of the end zone and got nailed at the 15, 12 and 21 on three straight kickoffs. Benjamin turned in the mother of all return gaffes when he muffed Ryan Allen’s punt near the sideline and retreated 12 yards backward into his end zone, where he was tackled by Brandon King for a safety. The Chargers also went offside on the opening kickoff of the second half, then watched Lewis take the rekick back 71 yards. Drew Kaser also struggled punting the ball, allowing Danny Amendola a couple of chances to field his short line drives effectively. Overall this was the difference in the game as the Chargers gave away five points on the safety and countless yards in field position throughout. Given this performance the visitors were fortunate to be in the game.