Taylor McCloud — Pats Militia
After defeating the Atlanta Falcons 23-7 last week, the New England Patriots looked to stay on track against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. As so often has happened in the last two decades, the Patriots accomplished exactly what they set out to, defeating the Chargers 21-13.
Coming into the contest, most eyes were on the Patriots defense, and for good reason. Dont’a Hightower, the defense’s leader and best player, had his season cut short last week when it was announced he’d torn his pectoral muscle, an injury requiring surgery. This was a huge blow to the defense, which had been among the worst in the NFL for the first seven weeks of the season. Fans were curious to see how they’d respond to even more adversity.
Fortunately, they were presented with a relatively good performance. LA quarterback, Phillip Rivers was held to 212 yards through the air, and only one touchdown. Melvin Gordon, the Chargers’ running back, racked up 132 yards on the ground, but 87 came on one play, a long touchdown in the first quarter. After that, he was held in check by a patchwork linebacker corps, and his team was only able to score 13 points.
For the third week in a row, they held their opponent under twenty points, something which looked impossible through the first four weeks. They also held the opposing quarterback under 300 passing yards, something which they had not done through the first six weeks of the season.
I’m not going to overreact and say the Patriots killed it on defense, but they played well enough. Without Hightower, they showed resolve and gave the team exactly what they needed to win the football game.
Tom Brady did the same.
The veteran quarterback had yet another eye-opening day against LA. On 32/47 passing, Brady threw for 333 yards and one touchdown, this two-yard strike to Rob Gronkowski.
— Sports Degens (@TheSportsDegens) October 29, 2017
But it was three of the four Pats runningbacks who shouldered the offensive load on Sunday. Dion Lewis, who got the start in backfield, ran for 44 yards on 15 carries. James White, the greatest football player of all time, caught five balls for 85 yards. Rex Burkhead also provided a spark catching the ball out of the backfield, catching seven balls for 68 yards. It was a solid performance for the three-headed monster of Lewis, White and Burkhead. (Mike Gillislee underwhelmed, as he has for the past couple of weeks.)
However, the offense could have played much better. Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks, two of the NFL’s most electric playmakers, were held in check for the majority of the day. But those two weren’t the only problems, the entire offense turned in a frustrating performance. On what seemed like every possession, they’d begin driving down the field and stall out after a couple of first downs. Gaining first downs certainly isn’t the worst strategy, but it’s not going to be enough for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. The offense has to get it going. For weeks now, we’ve heard about how the group is building chemistry and how things are getting better every day. Well, I’d like to see some proof. There have been flashes here and there, but nothing consistent. As I said, it’s frustrating.
So are missed field goals by Stephen Gostkowski.
Because the Patriots couldn’t get in the endzone after the Gronkowski touchdown, they were forced to attempt six field goals. Gostkowski hit four of them, including one in the last two minutes of the game, but he did miss two of them.
Normally, I’d be ripping my hair out. I’d be calling for Gostkowski’s head. I’d be livid, but right now, I’m not, and for a couple of reasons.
One, there (currently) aren’t any better options than Gostkowski. He’s attempted 23 field goals and hit 23 of them. That’s a FG% of 87. That’s the #16 FG% in the NFL, exactly middle of the pack. But it doesn’t feel like it. Until Sunday, Gostkowski had been solid, and I’d take one solid kicker over the carousel of shitty kickers so many other teams walk through their doors.
And two, I’m not going to blame Gostkowski for the offense not getting it done. Is it his job to make kicks when the offense stalls in field goal range? Of course. But it’s also the offense’s job to put the ball in the goddamn endzone. They’ve got the best quarterback in the NFL, the best tight end in the NFL, one of the better receivers in the NFL and a quartet of more-than-capable runningbacks, they have to score more touchdowns.
That being said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect this type of game from the Patriots. With Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower out of commission, this team is without two of their four most important players. That’d bring other teams to their knees, but the Patriots are standing tall. They’re 6-2. They’re in first place in the AFC East. They’re the #1 power-ranked team in the league. They’re fine. Even though key guys are out, and things haven’t looked up to normal standards, the Pats are winning football games.
Like Bill Belichick eluded to yesterday, that’s all that matters. The manner in which the team wins isn’t important. What’s important is that the team continues to win football games. And with five of their next eight games coming against AFC East teams, they should be able to do just that. They’ll take this week, their bye week, and regroup. They’ll figure out how to move on without Hightower, maybe make a deal or two before the trade deadline, and shift their focus to the back half of the season.