By Cameron Buford, whatsgoodinsports.com
The New England Patriots visit the Los Angeles Chargers for the second consecutive season. Though this is a new look Chargers team, lead by a new head coach Brandon Staley, many Chargers players have talked about the 45-0 beatdown the Patriots brought with them into SoFi Stadium last season. Brandon Staley was adamant that he did not discuss that game during their preparation this week, as his presence alone makes this Chargers squad a much different team.
Both teams exchange early touchdowns early in the game. The Chargers got a key 41-yard pass from Justin Herbert to Keenan Allen, on 2nd & 4, down the right sideline, was the play that led them to their first score of the game. This initial Chargers drive was capped off by an Austin Ekeler 5-yard touchdown run, where he was aided by his linemen and Justin Herbert. As Austin kept his legs moving, his teammates pushed the pile forward.
On the Patriots’ first drive of the game, rookie quarterback, Mac Jones hit Nelson Agholor on a 44-yard pass to get them deep in Chargers’ territory. With seemingly all the time in the world, Jones drops back and hits his fullback, Jakob Johnson, for a modest gain before Damien Harris crosses the goal line on the next play to tie the game up. This Patriots touchdown drive completed a ten-play 75-yard drive.
The Chargers offense, which would receive consistent pressure from the Patriots throughout the game, would be forced to punt after picking only one first down. After third-year defensive lineman Jerry Tillery recorded his first sack of the season, the Chargers defense forced a punt from the Patriots on their second drive of the game.
Throughout the season, the Chargers have struggled to find someone to share the rushing load with Austin Ekeler. Justin Jackson took advantage of his opportunity and stepped up in his game. On only his second carry of the game, Jackson pressed the defense trying to get outside the tackle, then exploded through the gap he found. The Patriots’ defense could only drag him down after a seventy-five-yard gain. Which would be Jackson’s, and the Charger’s biggest rush of the season. This led to Herbert finding Keenan Allen for a 5-yard Touchdown catch, which would also give them a Chargers a 7-point lead early in the quarter.
On the following drive, rookie quarter, Mac Jones led his Patriots deep into Charger’s territory. Jones would hit for Chargers Tight End Hunter Henry for a 33-yard gain giving them first and goal from the Chargers four yards line. The Charger’s defense would stiffen up and keep the Patriots from scoring a touchdown on the first, second, and third down. On fourth down, the Chargers defense forces an incomplete pass from Mac Jones, which would give the Chargers back the ball on the one-yard line.
After only gaining six yards on this drive, the Chargers would then be forced to punt the ball back to the Patriots. They would pick up a couple of first downs on this drive, which led them to kick a 24-yard field goal. This field goal would narrow the Charger’s lead to 4 points midway through the second quarter.
The team’s two defenses forced each other to punt the ball after modest gains on each series. A Justin Herbert pass to, usually reliable, Austin Ekeler bounced off his hands and into the hands of former Charger Adrian Phillips for a critical turnover in this game. This turnover would cost the Chargers 3 points, as the Patriots kicked a field to narrow the lead to one point at the half of this game.
The Patriots elected to receive the ball coming out of the half once they won the coin toss at the beginning of the game. After picking up a few first downs on their initial drive, coming out of the half, Derwin James forced a fumble by the fifth-year receiver Kendrick Bourne, to give the ball to the Bolts offense. This would also be James’ third forced fumble of the season. In doing so, he became the first Chargers defender to force three fumbles in the team’s first seven games of a season since DE Marcellus Wiley achieved this feat in 2001.
However, this is the second consecutive game where the Chargers haven’t found a consistent rhythm. Following this gift from the defense, they could only muster up only one first down and were forced to punt. Allowing the Patriots to go on a ten-play drive and take a two-point lead as they drove the ball to the Charger’s 30-yard line before kicking the go-ahead field goal.
On their next drive, Austin Ekeler single-handily tried to get the offense on the field by ripping off a 28-yard gain and carrying a few bodies on the play. He then caught a checked-down pass for another nine yards to put them in scoring position. The newly acquired field kicker Dustin Hopkins would then convert the first field goal of his Chargers career of 48 yards, which would give the Chargers back the lead in this game.
The Patriots capitalize on a miscommunication between Justin Herbert and Jared Cook, as Adrian Phillips’ diving interception allowed them to take the lead on his interception return. Not only in back-to-back plays but in back-to-back games, Herbert has been off target with his passes, which cost them in this game.
The Chargers would have a chance to tie the game up with a touchdown drive of their own. However, an offensive holding call would derail that drive and force them to punt the ball back to the Patriots. “Penalties, turnover drops, you name it we did.”Keenan Allen said with frustration in his postgame presser. He also added why he is frustrated with these results, “the frustration with me is every year, it’s the same thing every year!” “Today, I don’t think they did anything that stopped us. AP (Adrian Phillips) had a couple of good plays on his interceptions. One was a tip, and the other was a miscommunication. Outside of that, it was penalties and us.”
The Patriots would essentially put the game out of reach with an additional field goal as the Chargers, were forced to punt the ball after suffering another crippling penalty. Though, Justin Herbert did hit Josh Palmer for a touchdown to narrow the lead to 3 points. However, the damage in this game was already done.
In his postgame press conference, Brandon Staley said about their offense execution, “We played a good defense today. That happens in the NFL. I’m not concerned. I wish we would have performed better today. We have to do a better job coaching moving forward. We have to do a better job playing. But, when you play against good teams, you’re going to have games like this. What we have to be able to do is execute our offense better. If we execute our offense better, it’ll look like it did on the first drive. We have to be able to sustain our offensive execution over time. You can’t just have a quick drive or two. We have to stay in rhythm, then we’ll be better, and we’ll have a lot more production moving forward.”
I I am confident this team could get back on rhythm, though it is understandable to be concerned about the inconsistencies of this offense. Coach Staley preached the need for “patience and discipline” after the game and would also add in his Monday morning media availability, “That’s why they say, patience is a great teacher.” As, this young team can learn from these early challenges, which should pay off for them, in the long run, this year.
Kindly share your thoughts on the Charger’s current losing streak and let me know if you think they can rebound from this recent adversity. You can find me on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I encourage you to forward any suggestions on what topics, angles, or players on this Los Angeles Chargers team you would like to read about this season.
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