It Wasn’t Always Pretty, But Patriots Finally Get Elusive Signature Victory

New England is back to .500 on the season

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The Patriots on Sunday beat the Chargers for their first win over a playoff-caliber opponent since … beating the Chargers last December.

It was by no means a masterpiece, but New England earned an important, 27-24 victory over Los Angeles at SoFi Stadium, with many Patriots fans in attendance.

The win, which moved the Patriots to 4-4, came in spite of Mac Jones’s worst game as a professional. Really, this game was more about four Nick Folk field goals (including two 48-yarders), tough running from Damien Harris and a Patriots defense — led by safety Adrian Phillips — that gave Justin Herbert fits. More excellent punt returning from Gunner Olszewski (somebody loves Los Angeles) also helped New England’s cause.

In those respects, Sunday’s win was the kind of all-phases effort that has eluded Bill Belichick’s team this season. But also wasn’t without some of the issues that have plagued the Patriots since Week 1.

There was questionable play-calling, especially on a fourth down in the second quarter. There was a long Chargers run that saw poor speed and tackling from the Patriots’ defense. Kendrick Bourne got benched after fumbling. Damien Harris had two big runs, including a touchdown, negated by holding penalties.

Bill Belichick threw an ill-advised challenge flag. Timeout management was questionable. Jones made rookie mistakes.

“Certainly some things we could’ve done better, we left some plays on the field,” Belichick said after the game. “Could’ve coached better, could’ve played better. Could’ve taken advantage of a couple of opportunities that we missed on.”

So, again, the Patriots have a lot to work on before visiting the Carolina Panthers next weekend.

But here’s the thing: Until this game, those were the kinds of mistakes that were burying the Patriots. They were losing these games and leaving fans with more “what ifs” than they knew what to do with. This time, New England overcame its slim margin for error and picked up a good win against a good team — on the road, no less.

Now, at 4-4 and with matchups against the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills still in front of them, the Patriots are back in control of their own destiny. For the time being, the next game doesn’t need to be viewed as a save-the-season scenario.

(The Patriots now are just a half-game out of sixth place in the AFC.)

Perhaps most importantly, New England proved it’s a solid — if not better — team with enough talent to contend for a playoff spot. When you drop 54 points on a division rival and follow it up with a road victory over one of the more explosive offenses in the NFL, your expectations receive an adjustment.

To that end, the Patriots this season already had proven themselves capable of competing with some of the NFL’s better teams. On Sunday, they showed they actually can beat them, too.

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones
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