INGLEWOOD, CA (News4usonline) – This was ugly. There is no positive spin you can take on the Los Angeles Chargers’ 45-0 defeat at SoFi Stadium. The Chargers got whupped by the New England Patriots in all three phases of the game: defense, offense and special teams. This loss was an equal opportunity humiliation for Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn and his team.
“Let me just start out by saying that was one of the worst football games that I’ve ever been a part of in my 30 years in the National Football League as a player and a coach,” Lynn said in his opening remarks with media following the game. “It’s not acceptable. It’s not indicative of the men in the locker room. I watched closely —not one guy on that field quit. This team will re-group, will battle and will bounce back. We will make sure —I know that I will personally make sure —that will never happen again. That was unacceptable and embarrassing. I’ll do the best that I can to answer your questions, but I’ll tell you right now that I don’t have a lot to say.”
When you get your hat handed to you the way the Chargers did there really isn’t too much to talk about. Their play on the football field said a whole lot. If there is a focus as to what went wrong for the Chargers against the Patriots, let’s start with the special teams unit.
If this was a grade card from A to F, the Chargers’ special teams flunked their weekly exam against the Patriots. The Chargers’ special teams surrendered a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown by some dude named Gunner (Olszewski) and allowed a blocked Michael Badgley field attempt to turn into a 44-yard touchdown return by Devin McCourty just before the first half ended.
“Unacceptable,” Lynn said. “Special teams, unacceptable. Period.”
The big deal about McCourty’s score is that any semblance of hope the Chargers may have had going into halftime of battling back and overcoming New England’s double-digit lead was smacked down like a fly-swatter taking out a pesky fly. Instead of looking at a 21-3 deficit heading into intermission, the Chargers opened the third quarter instead trailing 28-0.
So much for plans.
“We were doing all that we could with no timeouts left to move the ball down the field and get into field goal range where we could get some points before the half and then come out and have the ball,” said Lynn. “We felt like that could have given us a little momentum going into the locker room, so that was the plan.”
Lynn and his coaching staff were faced with two options: a field goal attempt or a hail mary pass in the endzone. The Chargers opted to go with the right leg of Badgley.
“That’s a tough situation but we believe in our field goal unit,” said Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert. “I’d put those guys in that position again and I know [Michael Badgley] is going to step up and make it. It’s just one of those tough outcomes where they got us. We didn’t execute and we need to be better. I’ve said that a lot but that’s what it has to be like. We have to learn from it and we have to get better. We’ve got another week of football and another opportunity to get better and play the game that we love.”
For the first time this season, the Chargers looked out liked they were simply outclassed on the football field. It wasn’t a close call. All season long, Lynn and his staff have had the team well-prepared and mentally checked in every single game that Los Angeles played through Week 11. The Chargers’ record (3-9) reflects that attitude with one-score defeats in their first eight of nine losses on the season.
Then Week 12 happened. The Patriots rushed for 127 of their 165 yards on the ground in the first half, physically wearing down and dominating the Chargers defense. Well, we know the story about New England’s special teams contributing to the lopsided loss. The Patriots’ defense was also as part of this win for New England as anything else.
Herbert came into the game riding the coattails of being named the NFL’s Rookie of the Month for October and November. Herbert had just set a new league for rookies for touchdown passes in a month (11) against the Buffalo Bills in November. He also equaled Andrew Luck’s mark for most 300-yard passing games in a season by a rookie with six. In the first 10 games he started this season, Herbert threw for at least one touchdown pass.
All of that haughty stuff was put in the closet by New England’s defense. The Patriots bullied and harrassed Herbert all afternoon, limiting the Chargers quarterback to 209 yards passing from completing 26 of 53 passes. Herbert was also sacked three times and knocked to the ground at other times. That’s not to mention the Patriots defense putting a big fat zero on the Chargers’ end of the scoreboard.
New England coach Bill Belichick liked the overall play of his team against the Chargers.
“Well, it’s similar to what happened last week,” Belichick said. “We had explosive plays in the kicking game last week and had them this week. We had some big plays offensively and defensively. Again, it’s great when all units are able to contribute and we can play complimentary football. That’s always our goal. That’s always how we try to prepare to play each week. It doesn’t always work out quite the way it has the last two weeks, where we’re scoring on special teams or setting up big field position swings, but it’s always nice when that happens. I’m just proud of how hard our guys have worked and how those little things become big things and become big plays. Like I said, the leadership that we’ve gotten from each of the respective sides of the ball has been very important, and that constant, diligent attempt and effort to just steadily improve as the season’s gone along.”
When it comes to leadership on the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots are under new management this season. After two decades of the Tom Brady era, the physicality of “Superman” Cam Newton is now the face of the Patriots franchise. Leading a team is nothing new for Newton. He’s been there and done that with the Carolina Panthers.
The former league MVP gives the Patriots (6-6) a bruising-type of offense, something the Chargers have lacked this season. That may be coincidental in the way the Chargers have won or lost games this year.
With Herbert driving the bus, the Chargers lost two overtime games (Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints), had two contests come down to the last play of the game (Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders) and had opportunities to flip some of their close defeats. But the Chargers-Patriots game was nothing like what Lynn and his team had experienced this season.
The Chargers looked as if they reached the tipping point of a season gone bad. They broke. At least it appeared that way. It was not a good look. The avalanche started when Newton, who rushed for two touchdowns and passed for a score against the Chargers, took the Patriots 75 yards on the game’s opening series for a touchdown.
“Oh man, it was the right way we wanted to start the game,” Newton said. “We had that as a key to victory this week and I think we hit pretty much most of them, not only scoring on our first possession in the first half but also in the second half as well. Major kudos to the offense on that, but more or less, it was set up by a great defensive performance, having great field position all game and we just wanted to maximize it through that whole game.”
Newton and the Patriots were methodical in their game approach on how to keep the ball out of Herbert’s hands. New England’s first scoring drive took a little over seven minutes off the clock as the Patriots churned out 13 plays to wear down the Chargers’ defense. Newton’s dive over the goal line gave the Patriots a 7-0. On that drive, Newton threw the ball only twice.
It was run, run, and run some more for Newton and the Patriots. That took a toll on the Chargers because they had no answer to counter stopping the NFL’s No. 5 rushing offense. The Patriots came into their AFC matchup against the Chargers averaging 149 yards on the ground. New England had 127 yards rushing after two quarters. By that time, the train wreck had already taken place for the Chargers.
While the Chargers contemplate what’s next, the Patriots are moving forward with their playoff aspirations, said Newton.
“We just have to understand that we have to take it one game at a time,” Newton said. “We understand what position we are in, and everything is pretty much in front of us. We just have to really hone in a focus on the opponents that we have to face that week and maximize each and every opportunity that we do get. If we keep that going on, we’ll be in good graces.”