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Chargers Win Battle of Inept Offenses, Shutout Patriots 6-0

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New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson is attended to by medical staff during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The New England Patriots played host to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. It was not the marquee matchup of the NFL’s Week 13 schedule. New England and Los Angeles were ranked 30 and 25 respectively in the most recent NFL Power Rankings. A combination of dreary weather and struggling teams saw tickets up for sale for $20 or less. With the addition of the throwback uniforms, it truly felt like a return to the early 1990’s in Foxboro.

With a combined 6-16 record entering the game, nobody was expecting a clinic in quality play at Gillette Stadium. And, with the play nearly as sloppy as the weather, nobody got one. Ultimately, Los Angeles was able to do just enough to get the victory.

Offenses Struggle to Start

Inept offensive play is the best way to describe the start to this one. New England received the opening kickoff and quickly went 3-and-out. Los Angeles got the ball back and did the same.

On New England’s second possession they were able to move the ball. Their running game was hard for L.A. to slow down. Of the 14 plays on the Patriots drive, there were 11 runs, two passes, and a penalty. Rhamondre Stevenson got the bulk of the work. Stevnson took eight carries for 38 yards on the possession. Unfortunately, he also ended the possession when his eighth rushing attempt of the drive resulted in a fumble, which the Chargers recovered. To make matters worse, Stevenson also injured his leg on the play. He would not return.

Following the turnover, there was more from the team’s punters. Los Angeles’ J.K. Scott and New England’s Bryce Baringer stayed busy in this one. Each team punted in their next two possessions after Stevenson’s fumble. During that stretch, they picked up a combined two first towns, both by the Chargers. Otherwise, there was nothing to show from either side.

Chargers Take Control, Slightly

The Los Angeles Chargers did not exactly have an offensive explosion after the first punt of the second quarter. But in this game it appeared even a safety might be enough points to emerge victorious.

All of the alternating punts gradually worked field position in Los Angeles’ favor. After a Bryce Baringer punt was returned 8-yards, Los Angeles had the ball at the New England 47-yard line with 11:35 remaining in the second quarter. Two completions and two runs got the ball down to the 20-yard line. Chargers QB Justin Herbert then threw consecutive incompletions. This resulted in a field goal attempt, which Cameron Dicker knocked through. With 9:13 left in the second, Los Angeles took a 3-0 lead to break a scoreless tie.

This was far from the start of an offensive explosion. The next three possessions resulted in two Patriots punts, with a punt from the Chargers in the middle. But on Baringer’s fifth punt of the half, Chargers returner Derius Davis fielded a 57-yard punt at his own 37-yard line and retuned it 34 yards to the Patriots 27-yard line. With only 1:34 remaining in the first half, it appeared the game would go into halftime 3-0, but the New England Patriots special teams let them down.

New England’s defense was able to hold Los Angels to another field goal attempt, which Dicker converted for his second score of the half.

In seven first half possessions, the Patriots had five punts, a fumble, and the end of the half. In six first half possessions, the Chargers punted for times and kicked two field goals. Their two scores were set up by the defense forcing a turnover, and their special teams returning a punt. Both offenses were awful.

Punt Competition Continues

The second half did not result in a flip switching that generated more offense for either team. Los Angeles punted on their first possession. The New England Patriots offense then appeared ready to finally make some noise.

New England’s first drive of the second half started out strong. The first three plays produced two solid Ezekiel Elliott runs and a completion from Bailey Zappe to DeVante Parker. The Patriots eventually worked their way down to the Chargers 32-yard line. But as soon as they’d reached scoring position, they were bounced out of it. Consecutive sacks moved the Patriots 11 yards backward, and out of field goal position. They were forced to punt again.

Los Angeles answered New England’s 12-play drive with a 12-play drive of their own. It also ended in a punt.

Following three punts to starts the second half, the two teams traded punts once again. They once again mirrored each other’s ineptitude, this time exchanging eight-play drives that resulted in punts. The best offensive opportunity of the half fell incomplete on a drop by Chargers wide receiver Quentin Johnson. So, of course, the Patriots responded in kind with an incompletion on a deep throw through the hands of wide receiver Tyquan Thornton.

The game began to feel like a “whatever you can do, I can do worse” contest.

Glimmer of Hope for New England

Despite their offensive putting up no points, New England was never out of the game. Los Angeles’ Pro Bowl QB Justin Herbert didn’t lead Los Angeles’ offense to much more success than Bailey Zappe’s New England. squad When the Patriots got the ball back at their own 20-yard line with 10:13 left in the fourth quarter, the deficit was still only six.

Tyquan Thornton took a jet sweep handoff for a 39-yard pickup. It was the biggest offensive gain of the afternoon for either team. The Gillette Stadium crowd was the loudest they had been all afternoon. Fans attempted to will something positive to occur. New England drove down to the opposing 28-yard line, ready to finally put some points on the board.

But a sack knocked drove them back to the 30, setting up a fourth-and-five. Bill Belichick opted to try and pick up the first down, bypassing a 47-yard field goal attempt in the rain. Chargers safety Darwin James stepped up and picked up yet another snap New England turned the ball over on down, remaining without points.

The Patriots defense was able to get the ball back, but another impressive punt by the Chargers J.K. Scott pinned New England back at their own 13-yard line. Just the same, with 4:36 left in regulation the Patriots had the ball and a chance to take the lead.

Nail in the Coffin

When Bailey Zappe hit DeVante Parker for a 14-yard completion to begin the drive, hope was very much alive in Foxboro. Two plays later, Chargers cornerback Essang Bassey was called for a questionable pass interference call. Brandon Staley challenged the call, saying the ball had been tipped, but the penalty was not overturned. New England had a fresh set up downs at their own 40-yard line.

But after a two-yard run from Elliott came three straight incomplete passes. For the second straight possession the Patriots turned the ball over on downs.

The Patriots defense, which had been so solid all day, had the opportunity to give the ball back to the offense for one final try. With enough timeouts remaining, New England needed to prevent a first down. After stuffing two run plays they were in a position to do just that. But Justin Herbert was able to find Alex Erickson on third-and-12. The 23-yard gain was more than enough for the first down, and quashed the hopes of a Patriots comeback. The Chargers were able to take a knee and claim a road victory in Foxboro.

Final score: Los Angeles Chargers 6, New England Patriots 0

What’s Next?

The New England Patriots (2-10) hit the road to play the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) on Thursday Night Football