Pats Outlast Chargers In Gritty Game At Gillette
It most certainly wasn't pretty, but the New England Patriots found a way to claw out a close, 21-13 win over the LA Chargers at Gillette Stadium, Sunday afternoon.
Here are some initial thoughts, following the gritty win:
Brady Back To Form- After a pair of rather pedestrian outings, at least from a yards perspective, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was back to his top form Sunday. Brady completed 68% of his passes, as he finished 32 of 47 on the day. He also got back over the 300 yard plateau for the fifth time this season and first in the past three weeks, as he totaled 333 yards through the air. Add a goal line completion to tight end Rob Gronkowski for the team's only touchdown and it was a pretty good day for the GOAT.
Riding The Backs- Brady and the Pats really rode the strong play of their backfield group, Sunday. After the first half, Rex Burkhead, James White and Dion Lewis combined for nine receptions for 120 yards. By the end of the game they had added to those numbers to close the day with 14 receptions for 163 yards. Burkhead and White did most of the damage, from a receiving standpoint, combining for 12 of those 14 catches for 153 yards. Overall, all three of Lewis, Burkhead and White went over 50 yards of total offense on the day.
Missed Opportunities- While the Pats offense seemed to control most of the game, running 82 plays over the course of 36:59 of game time, they left a lot of unfinished drives on the field. In total, the Pats ran 10 drives on the day and got into the end zone once. Of those other nine drives, they punted three times and settled for six field goal attempts. Those six field goal attempts yielded 12 points, as Stephen Gostkowski missed twice from 43 yards out. What is more troubling, however, is that those field goal attempts were snapped from, in order, the 6,18, 25, 25, 25 and 8-yard lines of the Chargers. That's three times in the red zone, twice inside the 10-yard line and three times just outside of the red area. Against better teams, those types of missed chances will be extremely costly. Going 1-4 in the red zone and 1-3 inside the opponent's 10-yard line is simply unacceptable.
Wide Left & Right- As mentioned above, it wasn't only the New England offense that missed some nice opportunities, throughout the game. Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed two of his six field goal attempts, sending one 43-yard kick wide left and a second of the same such distance wide to the right. Now, it was a windy day at Gillette, but 43-yarders are typically less-than-difficult boots and the two misses ended up making this game a last possession battle. if Gostkowski keeps one of those two misses in between the uprights, this game would have actually been as well in hand as it felt at times.
Special Teams Success- While Gostkowski missed two kicks, the rest of the special teams effort for the Pats was rather superb on the day. Repeatedly, the Pats had tremendous coverage on kicks, pinning the Chargers inside their own 25-yard line seemingly every time they got the ball. They also got the benefit of some sloppy play by LA's special teams units, namely punt returner Travis Benjamin's moronic decision to field a punt that was on it's way out of bounds then circle back all the way into the end zone and get tackled there for a safety and a double penalty on a Chargers blocker on a fair catch punt return later in the game. The Pats also had nice pressure on a missed LA field goal attempt early in the game. Overall, aside from the two misses, the Pats shined on special teams.
A Strong Defensive Effort- Though they weren't on the field nearly as much as the LA defense was, the New England defense played pretty well in the absence of Dont'a Hightower. Save for the 87-yard, first quarter touchdown run by Melvin Gordon on a broken play, the Pats held LA to 262 yards on their other 51 plays. They also held the opposing quarterback under 300 yards for the game for the second straight week, as Chargers QB Philip Rivers totaled 212 passing yards. The Pats kept the Chargers out of the red zone all day and limited LA to just 30% on third down conversions, while capping the game with an interception by Jonathan Jones.
Stepping Up- With Hightower out with a pectoral injury, the Pats called upon the tandem of Elandon Roberts and David Harris to fill the void Sunday. Both guys stepped up in certain situations and found ways to make plays in the middle of the field, as starting linebacker Kyle Van Noy spent a lot of time in Hightower's familiar spot on the edge. Roberts had a couple of big run stops, shooting the gaps, early in the first half, which killed a couple of early LA drives. Harris showed up later in the game with a couple of nice plays, including bringing pressure on Rivers on what ended up as a 20-yard sack and flattening Gordon with a monster hit on the same play. He also had another nice play late in the game to blow up a screen pass. He noticed the screen call, as he got to the line on the blitz, backtracked and was able to help stop the play in it's tracks. If the two guys can keep showing up on film in positive ways, they could help ease the burden of losing Hightower without having to go outside the organization.
Onto The Bye- The Pats now enter their bye week at 6-2 overall and atop the AFC East. With the trade deadline on Tuesday and players banged up, including receiver Chris Hogan, who suffered a bot-so-good-looking shoulder injury, the Pats couldn't be more happy with the timing. Hogan, who left the locker room in a sling, is a key cog on offense, so giving him, along with others, time to rest will be important. New England will now have a nice chance to get themselves right for the playoff push.