Patriots dominate Chargers to win 45-0

Gunner Olszewski celebrates after returning a punt for a touchdown during the first half of Sunday's game. ASHLEY LANDIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Needing a victory to keep pace with the rest of the AFC playoff aspirants on Sunday, the Patriots answered with a thunderous 45-0 blowout of the Chargers in Los Angeles.

In a game that was never really in doubt, Cam Newton had a pair of rushing touchdowns, while Damien Harris added 80 yards on 16 carries. Jarrett Stidham (2-for-3, 61 yards, one touchdown) finished up for the Patriots, who scored 45 or more points in a game for the first time since a 51-17 win over the Jaguars in Week 3 of the 2015 season.

On the other side of the ball, Justin Herbert failed in his attempt to become just the sixth rookie quarterback to beat Bill Belichick in his first start against the Patriots, going 26-for-53 for 209 yards and a pair of interceptions in the loss.

The Patriots (6-6) won for the fourth time in the last five games, while the Chargers (3-9) lost for the fifth time in six games. It was the first shutout of the season for New England, and the first since a 33-0 win over the Jets last October.

New England was in command of this one from start to finish, playing their most complete game of the 2020 season: the ground game powered the offense, while the defense contained Herbert’s passing prowess all afternoon long.

But special teams was the real difference. Olszewski delivered a pair of electrifying punt returns, including a 70-yarder for a touchdown in the second quarter that really got the ball rolling for New England. In addition, Cody Davis blocked a Los Angeles field-goal attempt at the end of the second quarter and Devin McCourty ran that one back 44 yards for another touchdown to make it 28-0 at the half.

It was the third time in 20 years the Patriots got two special teams touchdowns in the same game, and the first time since a 2018 win over the Bears in Chicago.

It was more of the same in the second half, as Newton found N’Keal Harry for a 5-yard touchdown pass, Nick Folk added his 20th straight field goal, and Stidham hit Olszewski for a 38-yard touchdown pass to make it 45-0.

Here’s how it happened.

Pats break new ground – 7:16 p.m.

The last time the Patriots finished with 45 points or more was Week 3 of the 2015 season when they beat the Jaguars, 51-17.

Olszewski makes it 45-0 – 7:08 p.m.

A 38-yard touchdown pass from Stidham to Olszewski makes it 45-0 with 6:50 remaining. Young receiver did a nice job finding the seam — he now as a special teams’ touchdown and an offensive touchdown.

Here comes Stidham – 7:03 p.m.

The Patriots will get the ball back with 8:13 to go in regulation, and Stidham will take over for Newton. Newton finishes 12-for-19 for 69 yards and a touchdown, to go along with 14 carries for 48 yards and two rushing touchdowns.

Folk makes it 38-0 – 6:55 p.m.

Folk is now 20 for his last 20, nailing a 32-yard field goal to make it 38-0 with 11:21 to go in regulation. Nice time for the Patriots to start thinking about getting some second- and third-teamers some game reps. It looks like they have already started rotating guys like Dalton Keene into the game. I wonder if we’ll see Stidham for Newton sooner rather than later.

Olszewski comes up big again – 6:51 p.m.

Gunner Olszewski comes up with a 61 yard punt return here early in the fourth quarter on a play where he was maybe one defender away from taking it all the way back for a second time this afternoon. (Olszewski has 145 yards on three punt returns today and is averaging 48.3 yards per return.) An impressive performance for the New England special teams’ unit this afternoon, one that stands in sharp contrast to the Chargers. It’s 35-0 with 13:25 left in regulation.

Pats up 35-0 after three – 6:44 p.m.

New England holds a 35-0 lead at the start of the fourth quarter.

A special day – 6:32 p.m.

Today marks the first time the Patriots have had two special teams’ touchdowns in a game since a 38-31 win over the Bears in 2018.

J.C. Jackson joins pick party – 6:30 p.m.

There’s 5:11 to go in the third quarter, and J.C. Jackson just picked off Justin Herbert. The Patriots have the ball at their 20 and a 35-0 lead. The last time New England had a lead this big, it was the second half of their 43-0 Week 2 win over the Dolphins last season.

Harry gives Pats 35-0 lead – 6:19 p.m.

N’Keal Harry pulls in his second touchdown catch of the season, as he collects a 5-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton. It’s 35-0 with 8:44 left in the third quarter. Anthony Lynn is wondering when we can move to a running clock. This is exactly the sort of blowout the Patriots can use.

Winovich picks off Herbert – 6:12 p.m.

Chase Winovich just came away with his first interception of the season, and the Patriots are set up with terrific field position.

McCourty shows his speed – 6:06 p.m.

Halftime takeaways – 5:55 p.m.

Two quarters are in the books in Southern California, and the Patriots hold a 28-0 lead. Here are a few takeaways.

•Cam Newton: 7-10, 42 yards, 12 carries, 46 yards, 2 rushing TDs

•Damien Harris: 12 carries, 63 yards

•Sony Michel: 2 carries, 14 yards

•Damiere Byrd: 2 catches, 2 targets, 16 yards

•Justin Herbert: 9-for-20, 85 yards

•Austin Ekeler: 3 carries, 12 yards

•Keenan Allen: 2 catches, 3 targets, 27 yards

•The Patriots’ special teams have played well for much of the season, and on Sunday, they continued to shine. In the first half, Gunner Olszewski took a punt back 70 yards for a touchdown, Jake Bailey did his part to tilt the field in favor of New England, Nick Folk handled his four point-after attempts without an issue, and a blocked field goal as the half expired resulted in a touchdown for Devin McCourty. After the big return last week from Donte Moncrief and Folk’s current streak of 19 straight made field goals, today is another terrific chapter in what is turning into a good story for this group.

•Can we call Damien Harris a rookie? I mean, he barely saw the field last year, so really, he’s fundamentally a first-year player. Regardless, even if we can’t call him a Rookie of the Year, we need to come up with some sort of honor for what he’s been able to accomplish this season. He was impressive in the early going against the Chargers, running the wildcat on two first-quarters plays and accounting for 78 yards from scrimmage in the first half. Great start to the game for Harris.

•Impressive play-calling here in the early going from Josh McDaniels and the offense. There’s no way to quantify it, but it just feels like McDaniels and Newton are on the same page, with the OC offering plays that are more in Newton’s comfort zone. The offensive totals aren’t overwhelming, but he looks like his skills fit with what McDaniels and Belichick are aiming to do more the last week or two. Oh, and love the direct snaps to Harris — the guy is emerging more and more as a dependable offensive presence, and that’s a great way to utilize all his skills. It’s also a good way to provide a bit of an offensive jolt.

•One more note: I believe that Belichick and McDaniels have figured out Gus Bradley. Not sure about the specifics, but coming into this one, in his last three games against the Patriots as either a DC or head coach, Bradley’s teams have allowed an average of 38 points per game to New England. The Chargers; defense has allowed 14 points in the first half today.

•The Patriots defense has done very well over the first two quarters, limiting the Chargers’ potent passing attack. Allen has two catches for 27 yards over the first two quarters, and has basically been a nonfactor. Herbert came into the game leading the league with seven completions of 50 or more yards. He had none in the first half. Los Angeles was 1-for-6 on third down. One more thing: The Patriots appeared to send more rushers in the first two quarters than they have this year — is that part of trying to make a rookie QB uncomfortable or just an added defensive wrinkle? We’ll see.

The Chargers will get the ball to start the second half.

Pats make it 28-0 – 5:54 p.m.

Another special teams TD — this one off a blocked field-goal attempt — makes it 28-0. McCourty brings it all the way back. Everything is coming up Patriots this afternoon.

Another Pats TD – 5:47 p.m.

That was a soul-sucking drive on the part of New England, which took 16 plays, went 54 yards, and took 5:41. Newton capped it off with his second rushing touchdown of the afternoon. Very good start to the afternoon for the Patriots. It’s 21-0 with 51 seconds left in the first half.

Pats in command – 5:25 p.m.

The Patriots get the ball back after the Chargers’ punt, and this game has settled into a nice rhythm for New England. Los Angeles is 0-for-5 on third down, and hasn’t been able to generate any sort of offensive consistency. Newton is 4-for-6 for 23 yards to go with eight carries for 41 yards and a rushing touchdown. It’s 14-0 with 6:32 left in the first half — the Patriots have possession at their own 46.

Happy returns – 5:03 p.m.

BOOM. Olszewski takes it 70 yards for the touchdown. A thunderbolt of a return — that was set up by blocks from Slater and Berry — gives the Patriots a 14-0 lead here with 14:02 to go in the first half. Whoa. There are all sorts of questions about the state of the Patriots, but special teams has been really solid for most of the season.

Pats lead after one – 4:58 p.m.

Bleh. A forgettable series there for the Patriots — the exact opposite of what they accomplished on that first offensive sequence. The Chargers will get the ball back here as the first quarter comes to a close. New England leads 7-0: Newton is 3-5 for 13 yards, while Damien Harris has six carries for 36 yards and one catch for 15 yards.

Herbert impressive early – 4:51 p.m.

Watched a lot of Herbert over the course of the week in anticipation of this game, and what I saw over the course of the last few days has played out here in the early going. Smart, talented, poised. He’s got good pocket presence. One of the things that allowed the five rookie quarterbacks who have beaten Belichick  to achieve success is the fact that they were smart and made good decisions against New England. We’ve seen that in the early going from Herbert. That being said, the Chargers just stalled on third down, and missed a field-goal attempt. The Patriots are up 7-0 with 1:25 left in the first quarter, and will get the ball at their own 36-yard line.

Strong start – 4:38 p.m.

From a play-calling perspective, I love the way the Patriots’ offense started this afternoon, with a series that included two direct snaps to Damien Harris that gave the Patriots a 7-yard pickup and a 5-yard gain. It was one of several highlights on that first drive for the young running back out of Alabama, a series that included a 15-yard pickup on a screen pass. (Harris had 51 yards from scrimmage on the opening drive.) There was also a nicely executed fourth-down pickup by Newton. After a delay inside the 5-yard line, it’s 7-0 with 7:50 left in the first quarter on a 1-yard dive from Newton. It’s the 10th rushing touchdown of the season.

Pats open on offense – 4:24 p.m.

Los Angeles wins the toss and defers. Patriots start with the ball. Time for the foosball!

Official Price Prediction – 4:20 p.m.

The Patriots are going to win this one. It’s not going to be a blowout, but given the Belichick-Gus Bradley dynamic, as well as the fact that rookie QBs have almost always struggled against Belichick, they’ll still come away with the victory. Herbert will still get his numbers, but I’ll go Patriots 34, Chargers 27.

Little help? – 4:15 p.m.

The Patriots could have used losses from Cleveland, Miami, Indy, and/or Las Vegas, but it doesn’t look like any of that will happen. There’s still the possibility of getting some help if Dallas beats Baltimore. But so far, not a lot of help from the rest of the league when it comes to New England’s playoff chances.

Latest betting info – 4:01 p.m.

Saw a few different spreads this week, all of which favored the Chargers. Our pals at Odds Shark had Los Angeles as a 2-point favorite in this one, which still feels off to me. I don’t know if I’m just looking at this one through a New England prism, still seeing the team that beat the Cardinals last week, or what. But I think the Patriots win this game this afternoon for a few reasons, including the fact that, at least historically, rookie QBs in their first start against Belichick have struggled. Only five first-year quarterbacks have beaten Belichick in their first game against the Pats: Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, and Colt McCoy. Justin Herbert is playing well, but he won’t be the sixth. Sure, he’ll put up good numbers today, but I just don’t trust that Chargers’ defense. In the same way Belichick has Norv Turner’s number, I think he’s just figured out Gus Bradley. In the end, it should be one of the reasons behind a New England win. I also think that these two teams will surpass the over — 59.

Long time coming – 3:39 p.m.

Big day for Folk? – 3:29 p.m.

Nick Folk, the defending AFC Special Teams Player of the Week at Southern California native, looks like someone who will enjoy kicking in these conditions this afternoon.

Pats’ fans rooting guide – 3:25 p.m.

Most of the games that could impact the Patriots’ playoff chances are part of the 1 o’clock block of contests: Jets-Raiders, Bengals-Dolphins, Colts-Texans. (Of you’re late to the party, New England fans should be rooting for New York, Cincinnati, and Houston — those wins would provide a boost for the Patriots when it comes to playoff possibility.)

Newton to Harry – 3:12 p.m.

Patriots announce inactives – 3:08 p.m.

The Patriots just announced their inactives for this afternoon’s game. Here’s who they are, and here’s what it means from a personnel perspective.

Defensive tackle Isaiah Mack is a healthy scratch. The 24-year-old was acquired off waivers from Tennessee earlier this season. His loss will thin the depth along New England’s defensive line. The same is true for the loss of Tashawn Bower, a 25-year-old defensive end up has been shuttled between the practice squad and the active roster all season.

Tight end Jordan Thomas is another healthy scratch. Thomas was claimed off waivers last month — he has no catches on two targets in two games for New England this season. His loss signals that Dalton Keene — who was spotted warming up beforehand by our guy Jim McBride — is ready to return to the field this afternoon after an extended stretch on the sidelines.

Strong safety Terrence Brooks is a healthy scratch as well. The 28-year-old has played in 11 games this season, but has seen his playing time dwindle over the last month-plus — on Nov. 1 against the Bills, he played 100 percent of the defensive snaps. Last week against the Cardinals, that was down to just two defensive snaps.

The least surprising? Brian Hoyer. The veteran has been firmly ensconced as the No. 3 quarterback for an extended stretch, and so it’s no shock that he’s sitting behind Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham again this afternoon. (This is also a fairly easy sign that indicates Newton’s ab injury that landed him on the injury report this past week isn’t serious.)

Keene could play? – 2:45 p.m.

California Dreaming – 2:45 p.m.

Welcome back to football! This afternoon, the Patriots will meet the Chargers in sunny Southern California. New England is looking to stay in the postseason picture, while Los Angeles is trying to take another step forward with rookie quarterback Justin Herbert. Keep it here all afternoon for the latest on this one. We’ll have news from L.A., as well as a look around the league at some games Patriots’ fans should be interested in, inactive analysis, the latest betting news, and much more. But first — as always — we’ll kick things off with our pregame reading list.

Pregame reading – 2:30 p.m.

Chad Finn: Quarterback envy? Patriots may be jealous of Justin Herbert, but they should handle the Chargers


Chad Finn: N’Keal Harry might be the biggest bust at receiver in Patriots history

What to know about the Chargers, whose 3-8 record doesn’t tell the full story

Here’s how the Patriots’ playoff hopes can strengthen in Week 13

What NFL experts are predicting for Sunday’s Patriots-Chargers game

Damien Harris: ‘I want to be like James White when I grow up’

Cam Newton says he’ll be ready for Chargers, adds he’s ‘yet to play’ his best football

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