Bill Belichick is back and the New England Patriots are back to .500 after Sunday’s 27-24 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.
“We come out with a win and certainly it’s a great feeling,” Belichick said as he celebrated with a big cigar in one hand and a glass of merlot in the other.
OK, fine so maybe there was no cigar. Or wine.
But, you see, that’s not the point.
The point is these Patriots are getting better.
And they’ve just proven it by beating a team that had previously beaten Kansas City and the Cleveland Browns. And the Patriots accomplished the feat in Los Angeles, where they’ll stay overnight before traveling back to Foxboro, MA.
“[Los Angeles] is a team that’s been playing good football and wining games,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “We’re learning as a team how to play off each other and how to execute at critical moments.”
McCourty added the Patriots are “playing a lot of smart football that leads to a win.”
Please remember the NFL is a week-to-week league and this week’s success doesn’t promise a repeat next week. But the Patriots have the feel of a team that’s on to something.
After three losses the first four games of the season, the Patriots have turned that around, winning three of their last four.
And the victory over the Chargers is going to lift the confidence and spirit of Belichick’s team. That’s not me saying that. That’s them saying that.
“We played in a lot of these games and fell short but now we’re starting to turn the page,” offensive lineman Dave Andrews said.
The Patriots believe they’re a team that’s improving. They lost close games to the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this season but some of the plays they failed to make in those losses are starting to go their way now.
So where is New England’s improvement manifesting?
“Everywhere,” running back Damien Harris said. “We just keep building confidence. We know what the formula is. We know what it takes to play well….
“We’ve been playing better football week after week after week.”
Start with the defense. It seemed to baffle Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert on Sunday.
Herbert, the offensive rookie of the year last year and developing as an elite quarterback this year, completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes most of the afternoon until late in the fourth quarterback when he faced something of a prevent defense while in desperation mode.
Herbert finished with 18 completions in 35 attempts for 223 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
Both interceptions were made by safety Adrian Phillips and both led to points. The first interception led to a field goal and Phillips returned the second for a touchdown.
Credit Belichick’s game plan for a lot of this.
“They did a good job disguising what they were doing,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said of the Patriots. “We knew they were going to mask their coverages and end up playing zone, but we just didn’t get any of those completions on early downs that would really get us in a good position to be successful.
“We didn’t hit the explosions when they were available and weren’t quite able to put it together today. You got to give credit to New England. They had a good plan.”
The Patriots plan was to keep Herbert from finding his favorite receivers deep. The Patriots were willing to let the Chargers run the ball and bleed a little that way rather than taking mortal wounds from big plays.
And the Chargers did rush for 163 yards and average 8.2 yards per carry. But the tradeoff was receiver Keenan Allen was contained and receiver Mike Williams was basically erased from the offense.
Williams caught two passes for 19 yards.
You know who does that? Who picks a player or two on the opposing team’s offense to simply shut them down?
The Patriots’ plan on offense this season has been to run the football and stay ahead of the sticks, so to speak, to avoid asking rookie quarterback Mac Jones to have to carry a big load.
Jones also completed only 18 of 35 passes and had a modest 218 passing yards. But he didn’t make a mistake and the Patriots offense used key field position from the Phillips turnover and punt returns from Gunner Olszewski to do enough damage.
“That was a great football team win today,” Andrews said. “I think it just makes you believe in the process.”
And later he added, “We can see ourselves getting better.”