If the Patriots haven’t provided a satisfying win for you so far this season, their blowout performance over the L.A. Chargers on Sunday should do the trick.
Coming into this game, the Patriots were once again considered underdogs; because even though the Chargers had a 3-8 record, their performance in game was not that of a 3-8 team. However, one of the most interesting stats for this season is the Patriots records when they’re considered favorites versus when they’re not.
Since week 5, when New England is not favored to win, they came into Los Angeles with a 2-1 record. But, as the favored team, they are 1-3. Kind of sets the “any given Sunday” saying in stone, eh?
Sunday’s win was a showcase of pure classic Patriots football. The team did their job and played a well-rounded game, demonstrating the definition of what coach Belichick describes as “complementary football.”
It was a dominating performance all around on Sunday as the Patriots showed what they are truly capable of when fully prepared and working together as a team. It is best described by Cam Newton in his post-game presser saying, “Today was a great example of who we felt like we were all year.”
With a handful of wins under the belt coming into this game, none of those wins were as well played as this game on Sunday. It was a vintage showing of Patriots football at its finest, dominating their opponents no matter what was presented to them. As the season nears its end, it appears the team is finally functioning near their full capacity.
With a few tough games left on their schedule, it is the perfect time for New England to be performing this well. The playoffs are still a possibility for them too, and if the team can continue their success over the next 4 games, there will be a well-deserved spot in the post-season for them.
Is it ever a dominating Patriots victory if the special teams doesn’t have a huge day? Sunday’s performance was a classic Belichick performance, as he always touts the importance of complementary football.
With the special teams having a great season as it is, they were able to put on quite the show against the Chargers. Taking advantage of the many mistakes L.A. made during the day, special teams put on a clinic on how the game should be played.
Not only was Gunner Olszewski able to have a 70-yard return touchdown (the first since 2014), but they were also able to block the Chargers field goal attempt right before halftime. Newcomer Cody Davis made the block, allowing Devin McCourty to make the scoop and run it back for the 44-yard touchdown. With these two scores from the special teams unit, it was the first time since 2001 for the Patriots to have both happen in the same game.
On top of all that success, special teams star Justin Bethel saved a punt from going into the endzone for a touchback in the 3rd quarter, with the assist from Cody Davis downing the ball at the 5-yard line. All together the unit had downed 3 punts inside the 10, as Jake Bailey continued on his incredible season of punts.
This week proved that all parts of a game are crucial to a teams’ success. The Chargers special teams made many mistakes throughout the day, consistently having only 10 men on the field during a punt return etc. but the well-disciplined Patriots were able to shine once again with their near impeccable special teams performance.
Who could’ve guessed this would be the week where Gunner Olszewski would have a breakout game, especially in the way that he did?
With Brandon Bolden opting out of the season and him being the usual punt returner, those duties have been given to Olszewski this year in his place. Since the season began, he hasn’t been great at giving the Patriots offense good field position. But that changed on Sunday with some great returns, continuing with his success from last week.
Early in the 2nd quarter, the Chargers punted the ball from their own 21-yard line after going 3 and out. Olszewski was back to receive the punt and surprised everyone with a 70-yard punt return touchdown. With a great return touchdown last week being taken back due to a (questionable) penalty, this officially gave Gunner his first TD as a pro. But his great day did not stop there. Adding to an already successful day, he was able to have yet another big punt return in the 3rd quarter; this time running it back for 61 yards.
As the game continued, and the Patriots overall domination continued with it, Cam Newton was replaced by Jarrett Stidham in the 4th quarter for the remainder of the game. On his first drive, Stidham lead the team on 4 plays for 61 yards, ending the drive with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Olszewski.
Many have been critical of Gunner’s performance this season. But it appears the Patriots have plans to continue using him on special teams, where he has been flourishing the last few weeks. If he can continue on this current streak, the Patriots are bound to be more successful the rest of the year.
As a highly critiqued area of the defense this season, the pass rush has progressively gotten better over the last several weeks. Facing young and fast quarterbacks this past month (Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Deshaun Watson) has put a lot of pressure on guys like Chase Winovich and Adam Butler to really step up and get to the quarterback.
Justin Herbert has been a breakout star this season, despite the Chargers’ poor record. Averaging 320 passing yards per game and a candidate for rookie of the year, he was not a quarterback to be taken lightly.
Over the last few weeks, the Michigan alumni duo of Josh Uche and Chase Winovich have been a great pairing, bringing the pressure to the quarterback every game. Add in Adam Butler, the three helped bring the heat to Herbert any time he dropped back to pass, pressuring the quarterback 47% of those times.
On top of that, the team was able to sack Herbert 3 times in this game and knock him down 11 times. Deatrich Wise got the first sack early in the 1st quarter, setting the tone for the rest of the game. Later in the 3rd quarter, Lawrence Guy got the sack for a loss of 9 yards. And finally, another big sack came in the 4th quarter by Adam Butler, getting to Herbert and getting a turnover on downs.
Winovich also had a key interception on L.A.’s first drive of the 3rd quarter, making the great grab at the LAC 32-yard line. With him leading the pass rush, and joining forces with Uche and others, this team has the potential to dominate with their pressure on future quarterbacks.
Defense – Stephon Gilmore & J.C. Jackson
It’s difficult to discuss a game this season, and many years prior, and not talk about the team’s incredible secondary. With a slow start for Stephon Gilmore, as well as missing some games due to injury, he has reverted to his DPOY performances over the last handful of games.
With his weekly assignment always being to cover the opposing offenses’ top receiver, this week Gilmore had Keenan Allen in his sights. Coming into the game, Allen lead the league in targets and receptions, giving secondaries a difficult task of shutting him down. But he met his match on Sunday. This IS Stephon Gilmore we’re talking about.
Allen ended the game with 5 receptions on 11 targets for a mere 48 yards, 24 of which came from one catch. Gilmore made him a nonfactor in this game, once again. Having success all season long eliminating opponent’s top receiving threats, Gilmore has allowed an average of less than 25 yards-per-game over the last 6 games, on track again for an all-pro season.
As if having Gilmore wasn’t good enough, J.C. Jackson had himself a day as well. On top of contributing to shutting down Mike Williams, Jackson grabbed his 7th interception on the season in the 3rd quarter. He has now become second in the league for INT by corners in 2020, making an easy case for the Patriots to re-sign him this offseason. (for BIG money, too)
Quarterbacks – Cam Newton & Jarrett Stidham
Coming off an unimpressive day last week against the Cardinals, Cam Newton ended this game with another lackluster stat line. But stats do not tell the entire story.
His day may have ended with only 12 receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown, but Cam made his presence known once again on the ground. With 14 carries for 48 yards, he was able to run in 2 touchdowns in this game, breaking another record with his performance.
Because of those 2 touchdowns, this became Cam’s 4th game this season with double-digit rushing touchdowns. Not only that, this marked his third season with double-digit rushing touchdowns, (2011, 2015) making him the only quarterback in NFL history to have done that in more than one season.
There are plenty of reasons you can criticize his performance week to week, but it’s difficult to ignore his contributions each game. As a mobile quarterback, and a huge one at that, Cam is able to make plays that many other quarterbacks can’t. He is able to continue plays with his legs when receivers can’t get open. He is able to add points to the board each week with his dominating presence, consistently putting his body on the line for the sake of the game.
Newton plays a vital role in this season’s Patriots offense. Some may not like it; some may not believe he is “the guy.” But you must give credit where credit is due and earned. And Cam deserves credit for what he did in this game this week.
Because the team slaughtered the Chargers, Jarrett Stidham came into the game in the 4th quarter, taking over for the final 3 drives for the team. With no chance in sight for the Chargers to take the lead, Stidham was able to take advantage of his chance and really show how horrible L.A. played all game long.
On his first drive, Stidham led the team on a touchdown drive in just 4 plays. Making a great pass to Sony Michel for 23 yards on the first play and ending with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Olszewski, Stidham was able to add another 6 points to an already massive shutout score.
Because of his easy score in garbage time, this won’t quiet the Stidham faithful from wanting him to take the reins from Newton this season. It’s obvious Newton has had struggles recently in the passing game and Sunday’s game was another example of that. However, it’s silly to ignore what he brings to this team. It may not always be a pretty statistical day, but there have been many games that were won this season because of Newton’s performance.
As a heavily criticized player on the Patriots roster this season, it was nice to see N’Keal Harry show some more of what he is capable of on Sunday.
His stat line for the day is nothing to impressed by, but he was able to help add to the score with his 5-yard touchdown grab in the 3rd quarter. Using his size and strength to his advantage, Harry made a great contested catch in the endzone, only his second touchdown on the season.
This score was a great example of how the Patriots should try to use him in future games. At
6′ 4″, 225 pounds, Harry has the potential to be a key red-zone threat for the team, and we know that he has all the belief and trust in the world from Cam Newton to do just that.
Harry hasn’t had the season that most feel he should as a first-round drafted receiver, and in most ways that is a fair assessment. But if the Patriots can figure out the best way to use his strengths to their benefit, if it’s not his speed then his size, he could become very impactful for this offense.
Sony Michel & Damien Harris
It was another game and another big performance from the run game, but specifically Damien Harris. Although he didn’t add to the score this week, Harris did have 16 carries for 80 yards on the day. He also had 1 reception for 15 yards, which was a nice change for the running back as he is predominately used on the ground.
On the first drive of the game, Harris was used on two wildcat plays, gaining 15 yards total from the two. With Rex Burkhead out for the season, and James White having limited touches this season compared to years prior, it would be good for Josh McDaniels to incorporate Harris into the passing game more. If Harris can become a dual threat back, the sky is the limit for this backfield.
After finally making his return to action last week but not getting any touches, Sony Michel was back on Sunday, taking a backseat to Harris as RB2. Ending the day with 10 carries for 35 yards while also having 1 reception for 23 yards, it was good to see Michel back producing for the offense.
There isn’t a whole lot to critique in this game, unless you really want to nit-pick. There are always parts of a game and a team that need improvement, but this game had great football in all aspects.
It’s not often you can celebrate a win as a win in its entirety, especially with the Patriots this season. It may be better late than never, coming in week 13, but just take this win and enjoy it for what it is.
The Patriots play on a short week, staying in Los Angeles to play the Rams on Thursday night. It will be another difficult game for both sides of the football while also having a lot of implications based on the result. Winning this game could help propel New England into the playoffs. Losing this game could seal their fate of missing the playoffs for the first time in years.
(Photo credits: Cody Davis – Robert Gauthier of Los Angeles Times, Chase Winovich – Ashley Landis of AP Photo, Jarrett Stidham and Cam Newton – NBC Sports)
–Sara Marshall is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow her on Twitter @sarmarxo