Sunday, October 31, 2021

Pats Outlast Chargers, Top Them 27-24

The Patriots made great in-game adjustments and outlasted the L.A. Chargers for a 27-24 win. The result moves them to 4-4 on the season, 1.5 games back of the Bills in the AFC East and just outside the playoffs in the AFC (#8 team, top 7 make the post-season). Next week is another road trip, this time to Carolina to take on the Panthers -- losers of four of their last five games.

This game was all about adjustments. L.A. scored touchdowns on two of their first three drives. But in the next eight Chargers possessions, the Patriots score more points (7, on a pick-six) than L.A. did (3). It was a combination of causing offensive confusion, missed opportunities and untimely penalties, and two interceptions by former Charger Adrian Phillips.

Phillips' pick-six was the difference in the game, giving the Patriots a touchdown lead that they made hold up. The secondary in general had tight coverage or no coverage. But it was enough to slow down the Chargers.

The Patriots offensive line played very well, except for two unfortunate holding calls that brought back big runs. The backs ran for decent yardage and were rarely stopped for short yardage -- and they also held onto the ball with both hands all the time; Ramondre Stevenson never giving up the ball until the official asked for it. (If only Kendrick Bourne had been as careful.)

QB Mac Jones completed passes to eight different receivers, was poised and efficient, and didn't turn the ball over. In fact, for the first time in a while he didn't really put the ball in harm's way. His completion percentage was lower than usual (51.4%) and the yards were down (218), but he looks like what the Patriots usually expect from a quarterback -- protect the football, hit the open receiver, and don't make the big mistake.

Defensively the plan was to get pressure with the front four, which mostly worked. There were a few blitzes, but the Pats seemed hesitant to give up big passing plays. In fact, two of the Chargers three longest plays were runs that broke loose, not pass plays.

Special teams went in the Patriots favor, though not as much of a blowout as last year's game. Nick Folk has been clutch all season, Jake Bailey is consistent, and the coverage and return teams were superior to L.A. all day long.

But in my opinion, this game was about the coaching. The Patriots offense struggled early and got better as the game proceeded. The defense struggled early but basically shut the Chargers down for the last 40 minutes. That comes down to adjustments and in-game coaching.

The real question going forward is if the Pats should add someone before this Tuesday's trade deadline. Two weeks ago I wrote that if New England lost either of their next two games they should be sellers at the deadline. But they won them both. So should they add someone to make a run at the playoffs?

My answer is "yes," but with one proviso. Go ahead and add a player or two if you think they can help you this year *and* next season. But not if the player won't help next year. At 4-4 they are on the edge of being in the playoffs. But even if they make the playoffs they are unlikely to win it all this year.

No rookie quarterback has ever won a Super Bowl. And even if the Pats make a run and get to the post-season, they are likely to be a low seed, so it would mean three road wins to get to the big game.

So if they identify an offensive lineman, linebacker, or cornerback who can help this year -- and who is under contract and can help the team in 2022, too -- then go ahead and pull the trigger. (This also goes for players who you are confident you can re-sign in the off-season, if they aren't already under contract for 2022.)

But don't mortgage the future to "go for it all" this year. They've never really done that in the past, anyway, so I don't expect they would do it now. But at 4-4, with a improved O-line and running attack, some momentum on their side, and a good win in Los Angeles, why not make a run and bring in players who can help you now and in the future?

Where does that leave us? The next five games aren't easy. They can win at Carolina and they have a Thursday tilt in Atlanta that should go their way. The other three are home games against two home dates against the Browns and Titans (division leader) and a road game at the Bills (division leader).

They can't go any worse than 3-2 if they want to stay in the playoff hunt. And 4-1 would put them in control of whether they made the post-season, but that's a lot to ask against that level of competition.

But at least we are talking about it and the season isn't a washout at this point :)

Biggest ongoing problem: In relation to any playoff run, the past is the future. The biggest concern will be those close losses to the Cowboys, Buccaneers, and the terrible 1-7 Dolphins. Win any of those games and you're 5-3 and competing for the division.

Non-QB MVP: Phillips, who's first INT was a great athletic play, and who's pick-six was the difference in the game. He also defended two passes.

Statistical oddity: A sign of the Patriots offensive improvement is that they averaged 4 punts per game in their first four weeks but just 2.25 punts per game in the last four.

Water-cooler wisdom: "The P-word is starting to float around in the back of my head."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 4-4!

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