Patriots

4 things to know about the Los Angeles Chargers, who have shown potential but struggled in close games

"It looks like he's going to be a good quarterback for a long time," Bill Belichick said of Justin Herbert.

Justin Herbert is widely considered one of the NFL's brightest young stars. Jae C. Hong/ AP File Photo

At 3-8, the Los Angeles Chargers are out of the playoff picture, yet their record doesn’t tell the full story.

With rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, wide receiver Keenan Allen, and defensive end Joey Bosa leading the way, the Chargers have made life difficult for several contenders. The sample size is great enough now where it’s clear their ability to put a scare into the league’s top teams is not a fluke.

They’ve taken the Super Bowl-contending Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints to overtime, pulled ahead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by double digits at halftime, and led the Las Vegas Raiders in the fourth quarter, but they’ve lost all four of those games and several others in similar fashion.

The Chargers aren’t contenders themselves quite yet, but with a core as explosive as the one they’re building, it may not be long before they’re in the mix in years to come.

They’ll host the Patriots (5-6) this Sunday, at 4:25 p.m. EST.

Justin Herbert has made it clear he has a promising future.

Herbert, the No. 6 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, is considered by many as the favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the year.

The 6-foot-6 former Oregon star ranks second in the league in passing yards per game (301) and has thrown 23 touchdown passes to seven interceptions.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick called Herbert “impressive” and a “very talented player” who’s tall, has a good arm, and can make every throw. Belichick said he’s athletic, can escape the pocket, and is smart, and he believes he’s just getting started.

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“It looks like he’s going to be a good quarterback for a long time,” Belichick said.

Despite Herbert’s individual success from a statistics standpoint, his consistency hasn’t translated to wins. Herbert, who has started every game since Week 2, has only registered victories against the winless New York Jets and the one-win Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Chargers are No. 3 in the NFL in total offense (397.8 yards per game), but seven of Herbert’s eight losses have been by one possession.

“It’s definitely tough for us, but there’s nothing we can do to change the past,” Herbert told reporters earlier this week. It’s always about going forward and doing everything we can this week to give ourselves a shot on Sundays.”

Herbert described the Patriots defense as “really fun to watch on film.” He credited the unit for having great players and coaches who make life difficult for the other team.

“They’re about as good as it gets,” Herbert said. “It’s a great challenge for us, a great opportunity for us, to go up against one of the best defenses in the world.”

They have a handful of explosive playmakers.

One of the main reasons for Herbert’s success – in addition to his obvious talent – is that he has several experienced and dangerous weapons around him.

Allen – a player head coach Anthony Lynn on Thursday made clear is the team’s No. 1 target – led the Chargers in receiving yards in six of their 11 games. On the season, he’s first in catches (85), receiving yards (875), touchdowns (seven), and yards after the catch (411).

Lynn praised him for his intelligence, size, and quickness and said he’s a receiver who “gets underrated” a lot because he doesn’t have the same top-end speed as some other stars. He said Allen reads coverages very well and is able to consistently find the soft spot of the defense.

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“Once you get that chemistry, that me-to-you chemistry with him and the quarterback, that can be pretty lethal,” Lynn said.

Outside of Allen, wide receiver Mike Williams (32 catches for 529 yards and four touchdowns), tight end Hunter Henry (48 catches for 502 yards and three touchdowns), and running back Austin Ekeler (28 catches for 229 yards in just five games) are a few of Herbert’s favorite targets.

Ekeler returned to action last week against the Buffalo Bills after missing close to two months due to a hamstring tear. He carried the ball 14 times for 44 yards and saw a whopping 16 targets from Herbert en route to 11 catches for 85 yards.

Bill Belichick described Joey Bosa as “a one-man wrecking crew.”

Belichick called Bosa, the No. 3 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, “one of the most disruptive players in the league.”

He highlighted his motor, strong hands, and good instincts and said that if he’s not making the play, he’s “screwing the play up and forcing the ball to somebody else.”

“He’s definitely the guy to stop,” Belichick said.

Belichick referenced the Chargers’ game against the Bills last week, when Bosa became the third player in NFL history to record three sacks, five quarterback hits, a pass breakup, and a fumble recovery.

“He’s a one-man wrecking crew,” Belichick said.

Bosa missed two games due to a concussion, but he’s been a catalyst nearly every time he’s played. He missed practice Wednesday with a shin injury and was limited Thursday, but it appears he’s on track to play.

Linebacker Kyzir White, safety Rayshawn Jenkins, and cornerback Michael Davis are a few other defensive players to keep an eye on Sunday.

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The Chargers have the 25th-ranked scoring defense in the NFL (27.3 points per game).

All 11 of their games have been decided by 10 points or fewer.

The last time the Patriots were up against an opponent not in the hunt, they stumbled against the 3-6 Houston Texans – another team with talent on both sides of the ball that has lost close games all season.

Though the Chargers are young at certain positions, they shouldn’t be taken lightly. All 11 of their games have been decided by 10 points or fewer, with five of their losses coming by five or fewer.

In addition to their overtime losses to the Chiefs and Saints in overtime, they also fell to the Denver Broncos by one point in regulation. The Chargers have lost four times after holding a double-digit lead.

All of the Patriots’ last five games have been decided by seven points or fewer, winning games by three, six, and three in the last four weeks.

If both teams’ tendencies hold true, Sunday’s clash could be a tight one.

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