It's a tough pill to swallow when you become the first professional football team in almost 95 years to allow 10 points or less in three straight games yet still lose all three games, but the Patriots defense continues to stick together through a tumultuous season.
The D turned in another stellar effort on Sunday, holding a potent Chargers offense to just two field goals. Over the previous two games, the Pats shut down a pair of backup quarterbacks but their performance against Justin Herbert was a different kind of impressive. LA never got past New England's 20-yard line. They averaged 1.2 yards per attempt on the ground and were five-of-15 (33%) on third down.
It wasn't perfect, some Chargers drops played a role in short-circuiting a couple of drives, but it was the kind of performance that most weeks should result in a victory.
"The standard is high. From a man, to a man, we know what we have got to do," said Jabrill Peppers, one of the team's breakout defenders this season. "Play for the man next to you, we don't ask for much but your best. We have got to do more, we have to get some more takeaways, we have got to start scoring on defense. We are going to find ways to rectify the situation and make it right, but right now we are just not doing enough."
Whether it's concerning or impressive, the shutdown effort came without the defense recording a takeaway or a sack.
"I thought they were really good," said Herbert of the Pats D. "They're really well-coached and they're really talented on that side of the ball... they fly around, they communicate really well, and, you know, they play passionate, fast defense, so it's always a tough matchup going against them."
"That's a good defensive group over there, Bill [Belichick], Steve [Belichick], that group, they do a great job coaching on defense," said Chargers head coach Brandon Staley. "They've got a lot of good players on defense and they play together well. It was just a tough game. It was a defensive game, and, you know, our guys were able to make one play at the end to seal it and that's what we needed to do on offense."
The Chargers only scores came on two second-quarter field goals that were the result of scoring drives totaling 11 plays for 34 yards, with both coming off of short fields due to first, a short punt coupled with an eight-yard return that set LA up at the NE 47, and then, a 34-yard punt return that started them at the NE 27.
Without help from special teams, the Chargers got across midfield just three times, and all those possessions ended in punts. Two of them were aided by a recent issue for the Patriots defense, big plays. A first-quarter 26-yard crosser to Gerald Everett helped the Chargers get as far as New England's 38-yard line on one. In the third quarter, a big 27-yard pass to Quentin Johnston was part of a drive that went from the Chargers seven-yard line all the way to the Patriots' 36.
Neither of those big plays hurt the Patriots on the scoreboard, though a third and final big play, the third down conversion to Alex Erickson effectively ended the game, going for 23 yards.
Sunday also continued a stretch of excellent run defense by the Patriots, as they allowed just a total of 29 rushing yards. They've allowed over 100 yards on the ground just once in the past seven games.
"I think it's just that they are a big front, there isn't going to be a ton of space when they are that big inside," said Chargers right tackle Trey Pipkins. "That is the biggest challenge is creating as much space as we could in the run game."
Following the 6-0 loss, the Patriots defense did the best they could to park their frustrations. Though the team has fallen to a 2-10 record, the defense has continued to fight together.
"When you guys come in here in the off-season, come here during camp and hear us say 'I'm playing for my brother', 'I'm playing for the guy next to us', those words aren't just words. Those are actions. You guys are seeing it. We are playing for each other right now," said Jalen Mills.
There will be little time to lament the Chargers loss, as a date with the Steelers on Thursday night is awaiting. While much uncertainty lingers across the roster, the defense is one sure bet to continue showing up.
"It's a short week, so we've got to prepare quick and get ready," said another of this season's defensive standouts, Jahlani Tavai. "So, we can't really dwell on this game too long, and we've got to get ready for Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has a strong offense, and come tomorrow, we'll correct those mistakes that we had today and move on."