Final, Patriots 45-0: Dominant special teams, a swarming defense, a powerful run game and a breakout performance by Gunner Olszewski powered the New England Patriots to a blowout win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
Olszewski scored on a 70-yard punt return and added a receiving touchdown ? the first two scores of his NFL career ? in the Patriots? most comfortable victory of the season.
New England also got two rushing touchdowns from quarterback Cam Newton and another touchdown by Devin McCourty off a blocked field goal. Newton finished with just 69 passing yards on 19 attempts before being relieved by Jarrett Stidham once the game was in hand.
The Patriots? pass rush smothered standout rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, sacking him three times and hitting him 11 times. Herbert threw two interceptions with no touchdowns.
Squarely in playoff contention at 6-6, the Patriots will stay in Los Angeles this week in preparation for their Thursday night matchup with the Rams.
Fourth quarter, 6:50, Patriots 45-0: Have a day, Gunner Olszewski.
Olszewski now has a receiving touchdown to go along with his two big punt returns, scoring on a 38-yard catch-and-run from Jarrett Stidham.
Fourth quarter, 8:13, Patriots 38-0: Cam Newton’s day is over. Jarrett Stidham is checking in at quarterback with the Patriots in full control of this contest.
This is the first we’ve seen of Stidham since Week 7 when he replaced Newton in a blowout loss to the 49ers. Ball security should be a focus for the second-year QB, who’s thrown four interceptions in 27 career pass attempts.
A fourth-down sack by Adam Butler ended the Chargers’ latest possession.
Fourth quarter, 11:21, Patriots 38-0: The Patriots followed up Olszewski’s punt return with a 32-yard Nick Folk field goal.
Fourth quarter, 13:25, Patriots 35-0: Those special teams issues we just mentioned? Here’s another one:
Gunner Olszewski just returned a punt 61 yards — his third 50-plus-yard return in the last two games.
The Patriots will take over on the Chargers’ 17-yard line looking to pad their lead.
Third quarter, 0:27, Patriots 35-0: This game has been an absolute travesty for the Chargers’ special teams.
On top of the punt-return and blocked-kick touchdowns they’ve allowed, L.A. also has missed a field goal, sent 10 players out for one punt return and sent 12 out for another.
That last blunder extended the Patriots’ latest drive, which ultimately ended in a Jake Bailey punt that Justin Bethel downed inside the 5-yard line.
Oh, and on that punt, the Chargers had just 10 players. That’s just inexcusable.
Third quarter, 5:11, Patriots 35-0: That’s J.C. Jackson’s seventh interception of the season. Only Miami’s Xavien Howard has more.
Third quarter, 8:44, Patriots 35-0: This is getting out of hand.
Chase Winovich intercepted a Justin Herbert pass on the opening series of the second half, and the Patriots turned the turnover into a touchdown, with Cam Newton delivering a 5-yard strike to N’Keal Harry.
The interception was Winovich’s first as a pro. He also did not have any picks at Michigan, as he hardly ever dropped back in coverage at the college level.
That’s been a recent development for the second-year edge rusher, and he’s impressed in that role since taking it on three weeks ago.
Harry’s touchdown was his second of the season and first since Week 4. It came after a third-down conversion by Newton, who followed Sony Michel’s lead block on a read-option.
The 6-foot-4 wideout was a contested-catch expert at Arizona State but rarely has put those skills on display with the Patriots.
Halftime, Patriots 28-0: The Patriots capped their most dominant first half of the season with their second special teams touchdown of the afternoon.
Cody Davis blocked a 58-yard field-goal attempt by Michael Badgley, and Devin McCourty ran it back 44 yards for a touchdown.
The player New England targeted on this block? That’s former Patriots tight end Stephen Anderson. Special teams coordinator Cam Achord must have seen something in Anderson he believed he could exploit.
It was the second touchdown of the season for McCourty, who also had a pick-six back in Week 2.
Second quarter, 0:46, Patriots 21-0: An illegal hands to the face penalty on third-and-19 cost the Chargers dearly.
The penalty (on defensive tackle Jerry Tillery) extended a drive that culminated in Cam Newton’s second rushing touchdown of the day.
This is the first time the Patriots have led by more than four points at halftime all season.
New England went extremely run-heavy in the opening half, with Newton rushing 12 times (for 46 yards) and passing just 10 (seven completions, 42 yards).
Damien Harris also has 63 rushing yards on 12 carries, and Sony Michel has 14 on two carries, both of which resulted in first downs.
Second quarter, 6:32, Patriots 14-0: The Patriots’ pass rushers are doing a terrific job of hassling Justin Herbert in third first half.
Rookie Josh Uche slammed Herbert to the turf on L.A.’s latest third down, forcing another Chargers punt.
Second quarter, 8:05, Patriots 14-0: Sony Michel sighting.
The running back checked in during New England’s third possession and picked up 10 yards on his first carry since Week 10.
Cam Newton also scrambled for 14 yards but later fumbled a shotgun snap, putting the Patriots in a third-and-17 hole. A subsequent 10-yard completion to N’Keal Harry picked up some of that yardage, but not enough.
Second quarter, 14:20, Patriots 14-0: Touchdown, Gunner Olszewski.
And this one will count.
After tight coverage from Stephon Gilmore and Jonathan Jones forced a Chargers three-and-out, Olszewski returned Tyler Long’s punt 70 yards to paydirt.
Olszewski picked up key blocks from Matthew Slater, Donte Moncrief, Adrian Phillips, Rashod Berry and Justin Bethel and shed Long’s tackle attempt before tightroping his way into the end zone.
Olszewski had a punt-return touchdown called back for a penalty last week. This was the first score of his NFL career.
First quarter, 1:25, Patriots 7-0: The Chargers picked up four first downs on their opening drive but came away with no points after Deatrich Wise sacked Justin Herbert on third down and Michael Badgley shanked a 46-yard field goal.
Stephon Gilmore isn’t shadowing Keenan Allen on every play, but he’s traveling with the star Chargers wideout on third downs. That’ll be a fun matchup to watch today. Gilmore made a nice play to stop Allen short of the sticks on one third down, but the Chargers proceeded to convert on fourth-and-inches.
First quarter, 7:50, Patriots 7-0: The Patriots, plagued by slow starts this season, opened with a heavy dose of Damien Harris, giving the ball to their impressive lead back on four of their first five plays.
Those plays picked up 15, 7, 8 and 11 yards, with a Jakobi Meyers drop sprinkled in. The 7-yarder came off a direct snap out of a Wildcat formation — the first time we’ve seen that look from the Patriots.
Cam Newton also gained 14 yards on a read-option keep, picked up the first down up the middle on fourth-and-2 and rushed 4 yards to the goal line and leaped over the pile for a 1-yard touchdown.
It was Newton’s 10th score of the season.
The Patriots rank last in the NFL in first-quarter scoring this season, but they’ve scored a touchdown on their opening drive in two of their last three games.
First quarter, 15:00, 0-0: The Patriots will receive the opening kickoff.
4:15 p.m.: The Patriots need some help if they want to climb back into playoff position.
So far, they’ve received none.
Losses by the Indianapolis Colts and/or Las Vegas Raiders would have benefited New England, but they both barely escaped in their 1 p.m. ET games.
The Houston Texans fumbled inside the Colts’ 10-yard line to lose 26-20, and the Raiders beat the winless New York Jets 31-28 on a desperation bomb to Henry Ruggs III.
Gregg Williams’ defensive call on that play — a Cover Zero blitz on third-and-10 with 13 seconds remaining — was baffling, to say the least.
The Miami Dolphins appear well on their way to victory, too, leading the Cincinnati Bengals 19-7 with less than five minutes to play.
2:55 p.m.: Here are today’s Patriots inactives:
— Quarterback Cam Newton is active after an abdomen injury limited him in all three practices this week. Cornerback J.C. Jackson (hip) also is active.
— Rookie tight end Dalton Keene gets the nod over Jordan Thomas. Keene, who’s fresh off injured reserve, is active for just the second time this season. Thomas did not play an offensive snap last Sunday.
— Terrence Brooks is a healthy scratch. He’d been active for every game this season but played just two defensive snaps last week, taking on a smaller role following the emergence of rookie Kyle Dugger.
— Defensive tackle Byron Cowart is back after missing last week’s game with a back injury. His return bumps Isaiah Mack off the gameday roster.
— Of the 12 Patriots players listed as questionable, only Taylor — who likely would have been inactive regardless — won’t dress.
Here are the Chargers’ inactives:
11:30 a.m. ET: The New England Patriots are on the West Coast today, taking on the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of an L.A. back-to-back.
Here’s a rundown of Saturday’s Patriots roster moves:
— Signed wide receiver Donte Moncrief and defensive tackle Akeem Spence to the 53-man roster from the practice squad
— Activated tight end Dalton Keene off injured reserve
— Elevated outside linebacker Rashod Berry from the practice squad
— Waived wide receiver Isaiah Ford
Twelve Patriots players are listed as questionable, including quarterback Cam Newton:
LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (groin)
DT Adam Butler (shoulder)
DT Byron Cowart (back)
S Kyle Dugger (toe)
K Nick Folk (back)
TE Ryan Izzo (hamstring, hand)
CB J.C. Jackson (hip)
FB Jakob Johnson (knee)
G Shaq Mason (calf)
QB Cam Newton (abdomen)
WR Matthew Slater (knee)
RB J.J. Taylor (quadricep)
This is a must-win game for the Patriots if they hope to remain in playoff contention. They currently sit at 5-6 after winning three of their last four games. L.A. is 3-8, with seven of its losses coming by eight points or fewer.
Click the link below to read our full Patriots-Chargers preview. Kickoff is set for 4:25 p.m. ET at SoFi Stadium.