No breakthrough for Herbert, Chargers against Patriots

INGLEWOOD  (News4usonline) – The New England Patriots paid a visit to SoFi Stadium last season and beat the Los Angeles Chargers pretty good. In 2020, Cam Newton and the Patriots waltzed their way to a 45-0 win. 

Well, this season the Patriots have a different look at the quarterback position. Rookie Mac Jones has supplanted Newton as the starting quarterback for New England. Newton was cut and is no longer with the ballclub. 

The stench of that embarrassing defeat at home still sticks in the craw of some Chargers like wide receiver Mike Williams.    

“We know what happened last year, and we’re going to do everything possible not to let that happen again,” Williams said during the week leading up to the Chargers meeting up with the Patriots for the second straight season at SoFi Stadium. 

In last December’s matchup, Los Angeles quarterback Justin Herbert, playing in his rookie year, threw two interceptions and passed for just 209 yards. The Chargers’ running game was limited to just 70 yards in the loss.

Williams himself caught just four passes for 43 yards. The overall vibe of how the team played was reflective of how they played, Williams said. 

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) hands the ball off to running back Austin Ekeler (30) against the New England Patriots. The Patriots defeated the Chargers, 27-24, at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, October 31, 2021. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline

“Everything in that game was bad,” remarked Williams. “Everything was bad in that game. We don’t want to talk about it.”

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler said it was time to turn the page from last season’s game against the Patriots.

“This is a whole new year,” Ekeler said. “Our team is so different than it was last year. That’s how the NFL is. Teams turnover, new guys come in, people get traded, people go all over the place — the draft, obviously. I feel like this is a new opportunity in this new season.”

Ekeler and the Chargers showed everyone, including the Patriots, that this is indeed a new season by putting points on the scoreboard on the game’s opening drive. Ekeler punched in a 5-yard run for a touchdown after the Chargers had driven the length of the field.

To illustrate that this was a new day, Chargers head coach Brandon Staley made a gutsy call, electing to go for a first down on a fourth-and-1 inside the Patriots’ 10-yard line rather than kick a field goal. After getting the first down, Ekeler put the Chargers on the board first with his short touchdown run.

So, remember the ineptitude of the Chargers running game last year in the game between the two teams? Justin Jackson took Los Angeles over the 100-yard mark in the second quarter when he busted a 75-yard run that eventually led to a Herbert 5-yard touchdown throw to Keenan Allen.

A new year, a new attitude.

“It’s a new year, a new team on both sides of the ball. I feel like it’s going to be different,” Williams quipped.”

Unfortunately for the Chargers, the results were the same as last year: a loss. The Chargers started strong but saw the Patriots respond with a 27-24 win. It was a hard-fought contest, something that lacked in the Chargers’ defeat last year.

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) heads up the field against the New England Patriots on Sunday, October 31, 2021. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline

“I loved the way that we started the football game, but I don’t think that we established any rhythm after that,” Staley said during his postgame press conference. “That second quarter was tough for us. We didn’t establish anything in the second quarter. I felt like we didn’t establish that rhythm early in the game. They were down some guys and did a good job disguising what they were doing.”

Staley continued, “We knew they were going to mask their coverages and end up playing zone, but we just didn’t get any of those completions on early downs that would really get us in a good position to be successful. We didn’t get the explosions when they were available and just weren’t quite able to put it together today. You have to give credit to New England. They played well. They had a good plan.”

The difference between how the Chargers played last year against the Patriots and how they played against New England this time around is like apples and oranges. Last year, the Chargers were completely shut out. With Staley operating in his first season as head coach, the Chargers put up a much different fight.

Even with Herbert not at his sharpest, the Chargers still gave New England fits with the run game, accumulating 163 yards rushing the football. But two interceptions by Herbert ( 18 of 35 for 223 yards, 2 TDs, 2 Ints) stung.

“Offensively, it was a tough day out there,” Herbert said. “I turned the ball over too many times and you can’t do that and expect to win in this league, especially with a team like that, they play well on all three phases. I thought the defense did a great job getting us stops today, but it fell on us.”

New England head coach Bill Belichick has won six Super Bowls. Win, lose or draw, the defensive guru was not going to make it easy for Staley and Los Angeles. After the Chargers put up their 14 points, things got a little sticky for Los Angeles as the first half wore on.

Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) fends off a New England Patriots defender during an NFL game played at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, October 31, 2021. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline

On two of their last four drives of the first half, the Chargers went three and out. Then on their next to final possession in the second quarter, Herbert threw a pick to former Charger Adrian Phillips after an overthrow to Ekeler across the middle of the field.

The Patriots got a 48-yard field goal from Nick Folk out of the deal to close the half with a 14-13 deficit. Had it not been the outstanding play of their defense, the Chargers might have found themselves down instead of being up a point at intermission.

The Chargers stuffed the Patriots on a fourth down inside the 10-yard line to deny New England any chance at adding to their total. The defense came through again in the third quarter when a forced fumble that was recovered by Nasir Adderley blocked the Patriots from scoring again.

New England finally broke through the Charger wall of defense to take the lead at 16-14. Then with 39 ticks remaining in the third quarter, Dustin Hopkins converted his first field goal attempt as a Charger, booting a 48-yard field goal to make things interesting going into the fourth period.

Interesting turned into disbelief when Phillips intercepted Herbert a second time, this time taking the second-year quarterback’s wayward pass to tight end Jared Cook back to the house to complete a 26-yard touchdown return to give New England the lead.

It was an extraordinary play made by Phillips, who laid out horizontally to the turf to catch the football. Phillips then picked himself up off the ground and ran into the endzone. The play helped preserve New England’s victory.

“He does a good job of seeing the routes, seeing the quarterback, having vision on the ball. Just good awareness,” Belichick said. “He’s a good football player. He did that when we opened last year against Miami, the first game in the 2020 season where he made the play on the slant route. He makes those plays in practice, too. He knows football and has good hands.”

Featured Image Caption: Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) heads downfield on a sramble against the New England Patriots on Sunday, October 31, 2021. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline