The New England Patriots earned their best win of the season Sunday by going into SoFi Stadium and beating a good Los Angeles Chargers team 27-24.
The victory is the Patriots' first against a team with a winning record in 2021, and it gets them back to the .500 mark and within striking distance of a wild card playoff berth in the AFC.
The Patriots offense didn't play anywhere near as well as it did last week versus the New York Jets, but this group made enough clutch plays late in the game to seal the win. The biggest factor in the outcome was the Patriots' defense, which stifled Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert for the second consecutive season.
Next up for the Patriots is a Week 9 road game against the Carolina Panthers. But first, here are four instant takeaways from this exciting Week 8 matchup.
1) Defense stepped up
The Chargers have an elite passing attack led by second-year quarterback Justin Herbert, and running back Austin Ekeler is one of the most versatile players at his position. Despite all of the weapons L.A.'s offense has at its disposal, this unit didn't do much against the New England defense.
The Patriots limited Herbert to just 18 completions on 35 attempts for 223 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He's now thrown four interceptions in two career games against Bill Belichick's defense.
New England's defense toughened up after the Chargers scored a touchdown to lead 14-7 in the second quarter. Here's the end result of L.A.'s next nine drives to end the game:
- End of Half
- Field Goal
- Touchdown (down two scores late)
The pivotal play of the game was Adrian Phillips' interception returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The score put New England up 24-17 with 10:11 remaining. Phillips tallied two interceptions against his former team and made several other key plays throughout the afternoon.
The pass rush also was impressive. New England tallied three sacks and rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore was disruptive all game and made life miserable for L.A. offensive line.
The Patriots defense has played pretty well overall this season, giving up just 20.5 points per game -- the sixth-fewest in the league.
2) Game-sealing drive a sign of progress
The Patriots got the ball back up 24-17 with 9:40 left in the fourth quarter and drove 54 yards on 14 plays, culminating with a 30-yard field goal that gave New England a 27-17 advantage. Most importantly, the drive chewed up 6:56 of the clock, preventing the Chargers from having enough time to mount a successful comeback.
It was one of those "gotta have it" drives the Patriots have not consistently put together late in games this season, especially against good teams like the Chargers.
Mac Jones was accurate with the football, completing all of his pass attempts on this pivotal drive. The run game kept the clock moving and picked up first downs. The offensive line was solid and didn't commit any momentum-killing penalties.
This was the kind of drive that we saw Tom Brady engineer so many times during his 20-year career in New England. Seeing this new-look offense led by Jones do it in a clutch spot should give the entire team a lot of confidence entering a critical stretch in its schedule coming up.
3) Nick Folk remains clutch
Where would the Patriots be without Folk? The veteran kicker has been one of the team's most valuable and clutch players all season.
Folk converted on all five of his kicks Sunday, including a 4-for-4 mark on field goal attempts. Two of them were from 48 yards out. Folk's run of 40 consecutive field goals made from inside 50 yards is the longest active streak in the league.
His 94.1 field goal percentage through eight games is the fifth-best among all kickers.
Overall, special teams was very much a strength for the Patriots against the Chargers. In addition to Folk's accurate kicking, Olszewski tallied 106 yards on five returns (one kick return, four punt returns).
4) Still a few too many mistakes
Another week, another costly fumble for the Patriots that likely cost them points.
On a drive in the third quarter, Patriots quarterback Mac Jones completed a pass to wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, who fumbled at the Chargers' 30-yard line. Without the fumble, the Patriots would've been in range for a field goal attempt.
The Patriots have lost six fumbles through eight games in 2021, which is the second-most in the league behind the Kansas City Chiefs (eight). They lost five fumbles all last season.
Fumbles have been among the most glaring of the Patriots' issues through eight games, but penalties also have been a problem for this team.
Damien Harris had a 28-yard touchdown run in the third quarter taken away because of a holding penalty on left tackle Justin Herron. On the next drive, Harris had a 23-yard run nullified by a holding penalty on left tackle Isaiah Wynn.
Luckily for the Patriots, these mistakes didn't prevent them from winning this game. However, the Pats need to clean up these mistakes if they're going to be in the mix for a playoff berth late in the season.