The Los Angeles Chargers sure looked like a team that is built for the playoffs in their 23-17 win at the Baltimore Ravens over the weekend.
It may not be pretty, but the Patriots may have an idea on what it will take to beat the Chargers in their divisional matchup this Sunday at Gillette Stadium, if last year’s regular-season meeting is any indication.
The two teams met in Week 8 in 2017 in Foxborough, with the Patriots prevailing, 21-13, to improve to 6-2. The loss dropped the Chargers to 3-5 on the season, but they have become one of the best teams in the league this season and have gone 19-6 since that defeat.
Rob Gronkowski scored the only touchdown for the Patriots on a two-yard reception in the second quarter. The rest of New England’s points came via four field goals from Stephen Gostkowski and a safety.
The Patriots piled up 414 yards, but the offense sputtered in the red zone, scoring just once in four trips inside the 20. To offset the Chargers’ pass rush, the Patriots went to their running backs throughout the game, both on the ground and in the passing game. Rex Burkhead had 11 touches for 83 yards, including seven receptions for 68 yards. James White had six touches for 87 yards. Dion Lewis and Mike Gillislee combined for 28 touches for 87 yards. New England held the ball for nearly 37 minutes and ran 82 plays.
Although Lewis and Gillislee are no longer with the team, Burkhead and White, who combined for 12 catches for 153 yards in that 2017 contest, could play a big role on Sunday as the Patriots look to counter the aggressive pass rush of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
In addition to moving on from Lewis and Gillislee, the Patriots also do not have wide receivers Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks from last year’s team, although neither receiver figured prominently in the offense that day, with the two combining for seven receptions for 40 yards.
The Chargers’ addition of rookie safety Derwin James, who was named to the All-Pro team this season, could make throwing the deep ball even more difficult for the Patriots this time around. But rookie running back Sony Michel could add a new wrinkle for the Patriots, who were also without wide receiver Julian Edelman for last year’s game.
The Patriots’ offensive line, with Nate Solder and LaAdrian Waddle at the tackle positions, did a nice job of protecting Brady, who completed 32 of 47 passes for 333 yards. The trio of Bosa, Ingram, and Chris McCain, who is not on this year’s team, combined for six tackles, a sack, and a quarterback hit. Overall, Brady was sacked three times.
This year, it will be Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon tasked with walling off the Chargers’ pass rush, along with the cohesive three-man interior combo of Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason.
Defensively, the Patriots yielded 157 rushing yards, although 87 of those came on a touchdown in the first quarter by Melvin Gordon, who would finish with 132 yards on 14 carries. Gordon has been banged up this season, missing four games with a right knee injury. He injured an ankle in the final game of the regular season but still managed to play against the Ravens and had 13 carries for 40 yards, although he did injure his left leg.
Los Angeles quarterback Philip Rivers went 17 for 30 for 212 yards and a touchdown against New England, with wide receivers Travis Benjamin and Keenan Allen combining for nine receptions for 125 yards. It was an impressive performance for a defense that was without linebacker Dont’a Hightower, defensive tackle Malcom Brown, or cornerbacks Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore. The Chargers converted just three of 10 third downs.
The Patriots had the edge on special teams, with Jonathan Jones and Brandon King tracking down Benjamin after he misplayed a punt and tackling him in the end zone for a safety. Lawrence Guy also managed to block a field goal.
That could prove to be pivotal once again, as the Chargers struggled at times against the Ravens, getting both a field goal and a punt blocked.