Three things we learned in a 21-13 Patriots win over the Chargers Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
1. Red Zone Blues
It’s too easy, and really does no good to use Julian Edelman’s absence for the excuse as to why the Patriots have been so dreadful in the red zone as of late. But the team that was only 2-of-5 within 20 yards of the end zone during last week’s victory over the Atlanta Falcons, was only 1-of-4 one week later against the Los Angeles Chargers. Coming into the game, New England had scored on 53.33 percent of their red zone visits in 2017, only 16th-best in the league. Over the previous three games, however, that percentage had dipped to 45.45. On Sunday, the 25 percent success rate will help highlight an issue that will need focus during the upcoming bye week, a red zone offense that has, suddenly, become the question mark on this team that the much-maligned defense had been over the season’s first handful of games. That unit had another solid outing against the Chargers, save for Melvin Gordon’s 87-yard touchdown run in the first half. For the second-straight week, the Patriots held an opposing quarterback to fewer than 300 yards (212). That seemed an impossible task a fortnight ago. Now, the focus of weakness shifts to the red zone offense.
2. Hogan Down; Trade Winds Blowing?
Tom Brady (he’s 40, you know) had a solid game aside from his offense’s troubles in the red zone, completing 32 of his 47 passes for 333 yards, while nimbly avoiding Chargers pressure the bulk of the contest. He found Rob Gronkowski for the 72nd touchdown between the pair over their careers, and spread the ball out to eight different receivers on the day, highlighted by an 85-yard day afternoon from running back James White. But Brady also may have lost a valuable piece during the fourth quarter, when wide receiver Chris Hogan (five catches, 60 yards) went down with what appeared to be a shoulder injury. According to CBS sideline reporter Evan Washburn, Hogan appeared to be in some pain on the Patriots sideline and even released what Washburn called “a pretty strong scream” while being attended to by New England medical personnel. Does the possible absence of Hogan mean the Patriots might dip into the possibility of trading for disgruntled Pittsburgh wide receiver Martavias Bryan before Tuesday’s deadline? Cue the speculation music.
3. A Special Mix
The safe guess here is that Chargers punt returner Travis Benjamin won’t be repeating as AFC special teams player of the week after this game. It’s hard to put a finger on what exactly Benjamin was thinking during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium, when he muffed a New England punt near the 10-yard-line. After recovering with the ball, Benjamin decided to run from coverage — into the end zone — where he was pinned down by Matthew Slater and Jonathan Jones, giving the Patriots a safety and a 9-7 lead. That was the good news for the Patriots special teams, which overall had a pretty good day in kick coverage. The bad news was highlighted by the field goal unit, where Stephen Gostkowski was 4-for-6, accounting for 12 of his team’s 21 points on field goals, but also was responsible for two misses, his second and third of the year. That was a big factor in the Patriots allowing the Chargers to stick around with some hope until the final second of the game, when Jones picked off Rivers’ final throw.