Phil Perry's Report Card: All gifts accepted
Perry's Report Card: All gifts accepted
FOXBORO - It's kind of an awkward phrase. It doesn't necessarily roll off the tongue. But Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have said it often enough over the years that it has become gospel in New England: Before you can win, you have to know how not to lose.
Though the Chargers have been in every game this season, they have shown a remarkable inability to grasp that concept in 2017. Missed kicks doomed them twice early in the season, and when they arrived at Gillette Stadium at 3-4 instead of 5-2, they continued to create self-inflicted wounds that did them in.
There was the illegal touch penalty on Tyrell Williams that wiped out a touchdown. There was the illegal pick that erased a Travis Benjamin score. There was an inexplicable Philip Rivers fumble. There was Benjamin's inability to get out of bounds on his team's final drive. There was The Punt Return To Nowhere that led to a Patriots scoring a safety.
It was too much to overcome on the road, at Gillette Stadium, against a team that generally avoids piling up those kinds of mistakes like the plague.
By sidestepping disaster, the Patriots were able to make up for some mediocre performances and beat a pretty good football team (if not a genius one) to go into their bye week at 6-2. Click through for the grades for each position group:
Tom Brady made plenty of plays that made him look like the guy who would make the Patriots look good for entrusting him with their short and long-term futures. He once again caught an opposing defense with 12 men on the field to pick up a first down. He cycled quickly through his progressions -- moving his feet like he has on the sidelines with elastic bands around his knees -- to his Brandin Cooks for six yards. He dropped a flat-footed dime to James White for 25. He ducked out of a Joey Bosa sack early, and he later absorbed a Melvin Ingram hit to find Rob Gronkowski for a first down. But there were other moments where his timing seemed off. He had plenty of time to find Chris Hogan streaking for a touchdown on a flea-flicker but instead threw into double-coverage toward Cooks and the ball was nearly picked. He threw low twice to Cooks, hurting the speedster's ability to make yards after the catch. He was sacked twice after holding the football for an extended period. His offense was just 1-for-4 in the red zone. Though he did well to help his linemen by climbing the pocket and avoiding the talented Chargers pass-rush, his accuracy just wasn't consistent. That's been the case for a few weeks in a row now. Perhaps the bye week comes at just the right time for him.
RUNNING BACK: B+
It's not often the running back grade is this high when the Patriots average just three yards per carry, but what James White and Rex Burkhead did in the passing game -- with the Chargers protecting against the threat of the big play deep down the field -- helped give Bill Belichick's offense life. White converted a third-and-11, a third-and-2 and a third-and-10 for first downs by making tacklers miss after the catch. Burkhead, in his second week back after an extended period away from the field, showed some juice once again, catching seven passes for 68 yards. Dion Lewis was the lead back once again and averaged just 2.9 yards per carry but the Patriots had issues keeping the Chargers blocked, stopping several runs before Lewis could get started. He's still able to make something out of nothing as he did when he avoided linebacker Hayes Pullard near the line of scrimmage to pick up seven. James Develin played a season-high 29 snaps in what was a game where the Patriots knew they were going to have to try to establish the run in order to chip away at the Chargers pass-rush.
WIDE RECEIVER: C
What a difference a few months can make. In Week 1, the Chiefs were intent on taking away the short middle. They dared Tom Brady to try them deep, and it worked. But since then the Patriots have been one of the most explosive offenses on a per-play basis in the NFL. The result? The Chargers went into Foxboro looking to take away the deep stuff. That left Brady's backs some room to work, but it didn't leave much for his receivers. Brandin Cooks did more work over the crowded middle than we've seen from him for much of the year, but he ended up with just five grabs for 26 yards. Chris Hogan got free on play-action for a 19-yard pickup and finished with 60 total receiving yards, but he was knocked from the game in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury. He also had some difficulty securing blocks on runs, which is usually one of the strengths of his game. Danny Amendola, who is dealing with a knee issue, saw 32 snaps but caught just two passes for 14 yards.
TIGHT END: C+
After the game, Rob Gronkowski alluded to the fact that he may be experiencing some heavy legs at the moment. Against Los Angeles he said that from play to play he felt like either he "has it" or doesn't. It would be understandable if he was looking forward to the bye as he's played all but eight offensive snaps in the last three weeks since sitting out a Week 5 matchup with the Bucs. Against the Chargers, Gronkowski had five grabs for 57 yards and a short touchdown. His best catch, fighting through a hold, might have been his 26-yarder in the fourth quarter so he finished strong. But he also had two drops, had some weird spacing in relation to other Patriots targets in the end zone on a Brady incompletion, and he looked to be responsible for a couple of blown-up running plays. (On one he blocked Joey Bosa while Chris Hogan and Marcus Cannon also took the defensive end. Hard to tell if Gronkowski screwed that up, but somebody screwed did.) Dwayne Allen did some damage as a run-blocker, staying in for 15 run-blocking snaps, and he drew some attention in the end zone to set up Gronkowski's score. Allen was not targeted in the passing game. Jacob Hollister caught one pass for 13 yards in four snaps.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B-
The five protecting Tom Brady on Sunday get credit for this: They did not allow the tandem of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram to ruin the game. Was it perfect? Far from it. But when the opposition has the combination of speed and power that those two do, you're going to be in a tip-your-cap situation pretty often. The Chargers were able to sack Brady three times, but two of those may have been on the quarterback for not dumping off the football or throwing it away more quickly. They also surrendered a pair of hits -- one on an Ingram spin move that Joe Thuney had no shot to stop -- but Brady seemed to finish the game no worse for wear. That's a win. And to do it all with Marcus Cannon missing the majority of the game in favor of LaAdrian Waddle, it's an effort they'll take. That they didn't have more room to run, particularly in the red zone, could be a problem moving forward, but in a survive-and-advance situation Dante Scarnecchia's group did just that. They'll have the bye week to rest before taking on Von Miller and the Broncos in Denver in Week 10.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
The Patriots held the Chargers to an average of 3.5 yards per carry outside of the 87-yard touchdown run submitted by Melvin Gordon. That blemish -- which took advantage of a hole opened up on Cassius Marsh's edge -- aside, not a bad day against a team the Patriots knew would be committed to the run. And to do what they did without both Dont'a Hightower and Malcom Brown? Impressive. Marsh did make a hustle play down the line of scrimmage, catching Gordon from behind, to help the effort. He was bothered by a shoulder injury. This group only had one sack -- thanks to an assist from a weird Philip Rivers fumble -- but its grade got a significant boost for what it did at the end of the game. Trey Flowers came through with a couple of pressures and a batted pass at the end of the game. He also made one of the more impressive effort plays of the game when he leaped over the Chargers offensive line to get on the right side of the line of scrimmage before a River spike. That's a player who played more defensive snaps than any edge player in the league going into Monday night. Wild. Deatrich Wise had one hit and a pair of hurries, including one on the final throw of the game that forced Rivers into an ugly interception.
This wasn't their first game without Dont'a Hightower, but it was their first game knowing they would be without Hightower for the season. They acquitted themselves fairly well. Elandon Roberts returned after miss a week with an ankle injury and factored into the equation as one of their key communicators while Kyle Van Noy took over Hightower's hybrid end-and-backer role. Roberts was blown up on the 87-yard Melvin Gordon touchdown, and he occasionally got washed out of the play on pressures where it looked as though the Patriots wanted to turn four-man fronts into five-man diamond fronts, earning themselves one-on-one matchups across the board. But, early on especially, he made his impact felt as he squeezed into openings on the line to stuff Chargers runs. Van Noy played every snap, had a pass breakup, and was in on two stuffs himself. In 21 snaps, a season-high, David Harris looked solid. It was his pressure that forced Philip Rivers from the pocket when Rivers inexplicably fumbled. For a group that has been in flux lately because of injury, it was a fine day.
Johnson Bademosi had a busy day at corner, but he handled himself in some tough matchups with sneaky-good (but at times obviously-unaware) Chargers receivers. Keenan Allen caught a pair of passes on Bademosi for 15 yards. Antonio Gates got him for 16, and Mike Williams got him for seven. In all, Bademosi was targeted seven times, and that doesn't include the play when Tyrell Williams mistakenly ran out of bounds before coming back in to catch what looked like a touchdown pass. Can't have your route end up on the wrong side of the sideline. Malcolm Butler wasn't targeted all that often but he was close on Travis Benjamin's touchdown. I wouldn't put that one on him, though. The Patriots were in what looked like Cover-2. Butler had the short zone near the sideline and read Rivers. McCourty had the deep half on that side of the field, but because of the No. 2 receiver running up the seam, McCourty was stressed and couldn't leave that responsibility. Had Patrick Chung been able to re-route the No. 2 receiver inside, then McCourty may have been freed up to make a play on the football. Good throw by Rivers. Good design by the Chargers. Not excellent execution by the Patriots at the line of scrimmage. Jonathan Jones deserves a mention for his game-ending pick and impressive last-split-second pass breakup on Allen. Clean and tidy first half as the Chargers only attempted five throws.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
Joe Judge's coverage teams have been perhaps the most consistent group on the Patriots roster on a week-to-week basis and they were tremendous once again Sunday. Bill Belichick even went out of his way to mention his special-teamers off the top of his postgame remarks to players in the locker room. The Chargers average drive began at the 20 as they had series begin at their 9, 12 (twice) and 15. Ryan Allen's directional punt helped set off the ridiculous set of events that had Travis Benjamin end up in his own end zone during a return, which led to the rare punt-turned-safety. The Patriots also capitalized on a re-kick opportunity, taking advantage of a tired Los Angeles kick team -- which had just sprinted about 80 yards down the field -- to pick up 71 yards with Dion Lewis. The only blemish here were the two misses from Stephen Gostkowski. Not his best day, but his first off-day in some time, and his kickoffs continue to be well-placed to impact field position.