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Patriots vs. Chargers: 3 storylines to watch

Philip Rivers was an MVP candidate early in the 2014 season.Getty Images

The Patriots generally don’t lose a lot of games in the regular season, but they almost never lose two in a row.

That’s bad news for the Chargers, who will host a Patriots team fresh off a 26-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers. The loss snapped New England’s seven-game winning streak. The Chargers, on the other hand, are coming off a big win in Baltimore.

Since the beginning of the 2003 season, the Patriots are 36-4 in regular-season games following a loss, including nine straight wins since 2012. In his career, Tom Brady is 37-8 in games following a loss.

In other words, expect Bill Belichick to light a fire under his team’s collective you-know-what this week in San Diego, a place the Patriots travelled to immediately from Green Bay and spent the week in.

Sure, some of the players had a little fun at the Los Angeles Clippers game with Justin Bieber on Monday night, but the focus has shifted back to football.

Here are three things to watch for:

1. To run or not to run

Good luck trying to figure out what the Patriots are thinking when it comes to running the ball. Jonas Gray ran for 201 yards three games ago – and has had one carry since. LeGarrette Blount had two touchdowns in his first game back with the Patriots, but just 10 carries last week in Green Bay. With the Patriots playing catch-up to the Packers all game, they weren’t as balanced as they would have liked on offense. But it would be a big surprise to see the Patriots go down double-digits to the Chargers. Establishing the run game early against the Chargers’ 15th-ranked run defense should be a priority.

2. Flowing Rivers

Philip Rivers can throw the ball with the best of them, but he does have a bit of a different style than Andrew Luck or Aaron Rodgers. He’s less mobile and more of a pocket passer than those two. If he gets too much time to throw . . . watch out. Rivers and wide receiver Keenan Allen are back at it, as Allen has 225 yards and three touchdowns over his last two games.

“He’s very dynamic with the way he can throw the ball, along with the skill guys he has,” Patriots defensive lineman Chris Jones said of Rivers. “He uses all of them to his advantage.”

3. Old vs. new guard at TE

Before Rob Gronkowski, there was Antonio Gates. There IS Antonio Gates. The 34-year-old Chargers tight end is in his 12th season and still going strong with nine touchdowns and counting this year. He’s 10th all-time in touchdown receptions (96) and first as a tight end. Gronk (51 TDs) isn’t there yet – but he’s climbing up the ranks fast.

 
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