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Patriots 21, Chargers 13: 10 observations from win to close out first half of season

Ryan Hannable
October 29, 2017 - 4:00 pm

FOXBORO — The Patriots will go into their bye week feeling good.

Tom Brady and the Patriots beat the Chargers 21-13 Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. It was their fourth straight win and improved their record to 6-2 on the year.

Brady paced the offense going 32-for-47 with 333 yards and a touchdown.

Once again the game came down to the final possession as the Chargers were in Patriots territory, but Philip Rivers' 23-yard throw to the end zone on the final play was intercepted by Jonathan Jones.

Here are 10 quick observations from the game.

1. It wasn’t a Canton-worthy performance by the offense, but it was enough to get the win. The running game was OK, passing game successful at times, and the offensive line did a good enough job against pass-rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. This was without starting right tackle Marcus Cannon, who left the game with an ankle injury close to halftime. Nate Solder deserves a ton of credit, as he had arguably his best game of the year. LaAdrian Waddle did a nice job filling in as well.

2. Brady was up-and-down, as he was tremendous in the early going, but sporadic as the game went on. He completed passes to eight different receivers, including four of them having at least five catches. Also, he was 14-for-15 with 163 yards when targeting running backs. The pressure got to Brady more in the second half and he was forced to move more in the pocket buying himself more time to throw. It wasn't his best game by any means, but did more than enough to get the win.

3. The game turned early in the second quarter when following a Ryan Allen punt to the Chargers 11-yard line, Travis Benjamin muffed it and then ran backwards before being tackled in the end zone for a safety. It was the first safety on a punt return in the NFL since the Saints recorded a safety on a punt at Tennessee on Sept. 21, 2003. Additionally, it was the first Patriots safety on special teams since Dec. 9, 1979. This play was a major momentum swing and the Patriots rode it the rest of the first half.

4. One critique of the Patriots offense was its inability to score touchdowns in the red zone. It was 1-for-4 in the game and this has been a season-long issue. This is one of the areas they will likely focus on during the bye week as they need to clean this up for the stretch run and postseason. 

5. Another poor sequence was after a 71-yard kickoff return by Dion Lewis to open the second half, the Patriots got no points out of it as Stephen Gostkowski missed a 43-yard field goal. The Patriots offense was once again inconsistent, but maybe this is just the norm as it is still dealing with the effect of losing Julian Edelman for the season. No longer will 30-plus points a game be a lock.

5. Overall, the defense did well against the Chargers offense. Certainly there were some suspect plays, but the unit played well for really the fourth straight week. Johnson Bademosi did appear to come back to Earth as Philip Rivers targeted him on a number of throws. It will be interesting to see what happens when Stephon Gilmore returns, likely Nov. 12 in Denver following the Patriots’ bye. He was inactive on Sunday.

6. The defense did have a big breakdown as Melvin Gordon had an 87-yard touchdown run early in the first half for the first score of the game. Cassius Marsh appeared to lose containment and Gordon took advantage running past a number of Patriots defenders. It was the longest run allowed by the Patriots defense in the Bill Belichick era. The Patriots did a good job against the run after that play as Gordon finished with 132 yards.

7. The Patriots used all four of their running backs for the second straight game. Lewis was the lead back with Rex Burkhead seeing a significant amount of time as well. James White was the third-down back and Mike Gillislee the short-yardage back. It appears the offense has somewhat settled into roles in the backfield.

8. Without Dont’a Hightower, David Harris saw a lot more action in the middle of the defense along with Elandon Roberts. This moved Kyle Van Noy to playing on the edge more, but also in the middle at times — almost identical to what Hightower did. It also appeared he wore the green dot. Harris and Roberts blitzed a lot more than in the first seven games of the season and it appeared to fluster Rivers at times.

9. Gostkowski missed two field goals in the game. He had only missed one in the first seven games of the season. There was some wind on the field, but it wasn’t a major factor. It shouldn’t be viewed as a major concern as he’s gone through funks in the past, but certainly something to be aware of in the second half of the year.

10. The Chargers continued the trend of other teams beating themselves when coming to Gillette Stadium. Los Angeles committed several bad penalties, including an offsides on the kickoff to start the second half and a 51-yard field goal try on fourth-and-1 on the opening drive that missed. It would have been a much smarter decision to go for it, especially since rarely do teams beat the Patriots with field goals. They also had two touchdowns called back because of penalties.

Brady went over 300 yards passing for the 81st time in his career and fifth time this season, matching his 2016 total.

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