The New England Patriots may not have played their best four quarters of the season, but they put together their best fourth quarter of the season in Week 8. And that’s what mattered against the Los Angeles Chargers in the Patriots’ 27-24 win on Sunday afternoon.
“The second and third quarter were not good enough,” quarterback Mac Jones said after the game. “We finished strong. That’s just the moral of the story: finish strong. … I think we’ve been on the other end of it, with it being close and not finishing. We’ve played well early and not played as well as it went on. And today was a little bit of the reverse.”
That about sums it up.
The Patriots coaching staff made a series of puzzling decisions in the second quarter — with a bad play-call on fourth down, a strange abandonment of the run in the red zone and a rushed final drive at the end of the half — and Jones had a rough run of incompletions that spanned from the second quarter into the third. But the Patriots recovered with a pair of interceptions from safety Adrian Phillips, including a pick-six and a massive, 7-minute drive from the offense. That closed things out.
Here are the winners and losers from the game.
Winner: Safety Adrian Phillips
The safety logged two game-changing interceptions, one in the closing minutes of the first half and one in the closing minutes of the second half.
That fourth-quarter pick-six was a tremendous way for the Patriots’ defense to finish strong. They’ve had moments where they let up points and allowed their opponent to mount a comeback — an issue that has been partially due to the offense struggling. But Phillips really helped shut the door on the Chargers. (The offense helped, too, when they got back on the field with that 7-minute drive.)
The first interception ended the Chargers’ momentum to close out the half. Rather than L.A. putting up points, the Patriots managed to get a field goal in before the quarter ended.
Loser: CB Jalen Mills
He was in coverage for a handful of chunk plays (a 14-yarder to Mike Williams, an 18-yarder to Jalen Guyton) but no play was more impactful than the touchdown he allowed to rookie Josh Palmer.
Mills lost a jump ball scenario against Palmer — even with help over the top from Phillips. Palmer’s 24-yard touchdown put the Chargers within a field goal with a minute left in the game. New England recovered the onside kick that followed Palmer’s score. Still, Mills’ shortcomings allowed L.A. to hold on hope.
Winner: RB Damien Harris
The biggest stat for Harris: No fumbles. In a game where Harris and the running backs needed to bring stability to the offense, they didn’t turn over the football. That was huge.
When Jones grew erratic for a stretch, Harris was consistent. He finished the game with 23 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown. The running backs finished with 39 carries for 141 yards. The 3.6-yard average might not seem all that impressive, but it was just enough. Harris was the lead back, grinding away at the Chargers defense with first downs at key points in the game.
Loser: The left tackles
When Justin Herron entered the game briefly to replace an apparently injured Isaiah Wynn, Herron committed a holding penalty that erased a 28-yard touchdown. When Wynn returned, he also committed a holding penalty, which erased a 23-yard run. Harris’ stats might have looked a lot better if not for these costly holding penalties. New England also would’ve put up more points.
Winner: DT Christian Barmore
He was disruptive for most of the night. There was just so much to like about the way he ate up space in the pocket, whether he was logging sacks or not.
He finished the night with .5 sacks and four tackles. But he was powering through double teams with shocking regularity and even drew a holding penalty — on a double team. He’s really developing into a key pass-rusher on the defense.
Hopefully he can continue to develop into an every-down player with more contributions in the run game.
Loser: QB Mac Jones
The first half was frenetic for the rookie. He had a sensational first drive, with Jones racking up 56 passing yards, including a 44-yard strike to Nelson Agholor. Perhaps he was a bit big for his britches. Perhaps offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels developed too much trust in the young QB. But the second and third quarters were ugly, with Jones overthrowing Jakobi Meyers on a fourth-down conversion attempt, then overthrowing Agholor in the closing moments of the second quarter, then overthrowing his receivers at multiple points in the third.
That’s why Jones felt the Patriots should’ve had a safer lead by the fourth quarter. He did a nice job protecting the lead after the Phillips’ pick-six. And it’s good the Patriots keep giving him the opportunity to air out the ball. Perhaps that part of his game will click soon. But for now, it’s a clear weak point.
Winner: WR Nelson Agholor
He finished with three catches for 60 yards, including the beaut from Jones. He was open in the closing moments of the second half on the misfire I’ve maligned Jones for. Had Jones been on-target for that pass, Agholor would’ve gotten the Patriots inside the red zone with roughly 25 seconds left in the half.
I knocked Agholor earlier this week for a lackluster start. This was a step in the right direction.
Loser: WR Kendrick Bourne
He had been one of Jones’ favorite targets on the season with big plays at big moments, with clutch touchdowns against the Buccaneers or the Cowboys. That’s why it was tough to see Bourne fumble away the football. Belichick treated Bourne like the coach has with every fumbler this season: Belichick sent Bourne to the bench. N’Keal Harry took over. Bourne finished with seven targets, four catches and 38 yards.
Winner: EDGE Matt Judon
He’s good every week, but it’s important not to overlook his contributions. He managed 1.5 sacks. On both those big plays, the Chargers punted on that same set of downs, unable to overcome the loss of yards from Judon. Judon also finished with five tackles, helping out in the run game. He’s just been the Patriots’ most consistent player.
Plus, he was a happy man after the game.
“I keep telling ya’ll. We know what kind of team we have. We just have to go out there and prove it,” he said postgame.
Winner: KR/PR Gunner Olszewski
The Patriots Pro Bowl returner loves beating up on L.A. teams. After Sunday’s performance, he had 272 punt yards in his three appearance at SoFI stadium against the Rams and Chargers over the last two years. He added four punt returns for 80 yards and one kick return for 26 yards.
“LA is growing on me,” he said postgame.
He has been an electric returner.
Winner: K Nick Folk
He has just been so good for the Patriots this year, hitting 20 of 21 kicks and making 4 of 4 on Sunday. The only miss? An important one: a 56-yard field goal in the closing minutes of the team’s loss to the Buccaneers. The problem, however, was that it was dumping rain and that would’ve been Folk’s career long. He has been otherwise brilliant in a season where he’s had a few injuries, currently a left knee issue.