One word you wouldn’t use to describe the Patriots’ 23-14 Sunday night win over the Chargers is “pretty.”
This one was a grind from the start, and when the Pats couldn’t convert a second-and-goal from the 1-yard line into seven points on their opening drive, we got a little preview of the frustrating New England offense for the majority of the night.
How frustrating? After throwing an interception at the end of the second quarter, the Patriots went three-and-out four straight times in the third quarter.
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Despite those issues, New England remained in the game from start to finish due to its strong defense. The Pats “D” allowed just one touchdown in the second quarter. That’s it.The Chargers got seven more points in the second quarter on a fumble recovery with the Pats defense watching from the sideline.
San Diego was blanked in the second half, never going on a drive longer than five plays or 30 yards. New England’s average points allowed per game was lowered to 20.5, good for ninth in the NFL.
It’s an impressive feat, and even more impressive when you consider the team was without its two 2012 NFL first rounders in Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower.
Hightower had taken the “green dot” (the helmet that allows players to communicate with coaches on sideline) from Jerod Mayo after he went down for the season, but with Hightower out, the duty fell on second-year linebacker Jamie Collins. And he was more than ready for the responsibility.
Collins, who now has 95 tackles on the year, led the Pats with nine combined tackles, including two sacks. Not only that, but the score dictates the level of communication he kept with his teammates and coaches.
“He’s done a good job of rushing, excellent job of communicating and working with his teammates and getting other guys in the right spots,” Bill Belichick told reporters earlier this week. “I really can’t say enough about the job he did [Sunday] night.”
Collins wasn’t alone in stepping up. Players like Jonathan Casillas, Alan Branch, and Akeem Ayers weren’t even on the team at the start of the season, but they’ve joined during its course and played prominent roles in Sunday’s win as well.
There are never any guarantees that acquisitions like those will pay off, but they have for the Pats this season.
“All three of those players have definitely helped us,” Belichick said, “both with their playing time, their performance and I’d say the rapid pace at which they’ve picked things up.”
With the Patriots setting their sights on a first round bye and home-field advantage, it’s clearly all hands on deck from here on out.