The New England Patriots came into Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers with slim hopes to make the playoffs as the AFC playoff picture continues to heat up. They played their first of two games at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, in four days as they will play the Rams there on Thursday. The Patriots won the first of two games at Los Angeles as they played their most complete game of the season, dominating the Chargers 45-0. Here is my breakdown of the game.
While the Patriots dominated the game, their offense was the least impressive of the three units in this game. The offense gained a total of 291 yards on offense, only 33 more than the Chargers. Cam Newton threw for under 100 yards for the third time this season and the second consecutive game. He threw for only 69 yards but threw his fifth touchdown pass this season, a five-yard pass to N’Keal Harry in the third quarter to give the team a 35-0 lead. As the Patriots led in the fourth quarter with a comfortable 38-0 lead, backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham got his first action since the Week 5 Monday game at Kansas City. He completed two passes for 61 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown pass to Gunner Olszewski.
The running game was solid as Damien Harris ran for 80 yards on 16 carries while Newton made his usual contributions to the running game with 48 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns. He was effective around the goalline as his two touchdowns were from one and two yards. Sony Michel got his first carries since he got injured during their 36-20 win against the Las Vegas Raiders with 35 yards on 10 attempts. The offense was not overly impressive and the limitations are still there. While the running game was solid, it hasn’t been as explosive since Harris ran through the Baltimore Ravens’ defense in the monsoon a few weeks ago. Luckily, the defense and special teams have been spectacular the past several weeks and it hasn’t mattered when it comes to winning games.
The defense pitched their first shutout since their 33-0 win at the New York Jets on Monday Night Football last season. Coming into the game, Bill Belichick had an impressive record of being 20-5 against rookie quarterbacks. He faced Justin Herbert, one of the frontrunners for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and shut him down. Herbert threw for only 209 yards on 53 pass attempts and two interceptions, the worst performance of Herbert’s rookie season so far. Belichick’s defense confused Herbert and made him look lost all game long. The Patriots also showed some pass rush with three sacks in this game as Deatrich Wise Jr., Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler all got to Herbert. J.C. Jackson picked up another interception, his seventh of 2020, and Chase Winovich picked up his first career interception in the third quarter.
The run defense also stepped up as they held the Chargers to 70 yards rushing, their third-lowest in 2020. The fact the team displayed consistent pass rush and confused a rookie QB, which had been tearing up the league this season showed how good Belichick still is as a defensive guru. The game was possibly the biggest coaching mismatch this season and despite the offense not dominating, the scoreline perfectly represented how much the Patriots dominated the Chargers. It was also the Patriots’ sixth-straight win over the Chargers.
Once again, the special teams stood out in the win. Olszewski is starting to break out as a playmaker on this team as not only did he catch the previously mentioned touchdown pass from Stidham, but he also made huge plays on punt returns for the second-straight game.
Last week, Olszewski was denied a punt return touchdown on a questionable blindside block on Anfernee Jennings. This week, he would not be denied his touchdown as he returned a punt 70 yards in the second quarter to put the team up 14-0. He also returned another punt 61 yards early in the fourth quarter to set up a field goal to put the team up 38-0. His emergence with the absence of former punt returner Julian Edelman has been critical toward their success. He has added another element of playmaking to a team with a struggling offense.
The special teams magic did not end there. Nick Folk made all seven of his kicks and on the other end, the Patriots preserved their shut out and came away with more points. At the end of the first half, Cody Davis blocked a Michael Badgley field goal and Devin McCourty proceeded to return it 45 yards for a touchdown, giving the Patriots a 28-0 lead at the half. The Chargers are notorious for bad special teams play, but the Patriots are making special teams plays rarely seen even in the height of the Brady/Belichick dynasty. If the offense can pick up the slack over the next couple years and the special teams stays this consistent, it will help build the team back up to a contender.
The Patriots will look to make it a sweep of the two Los Angeles teams as they will face the Rams on Thursday Night Football.