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Pats defense shows up in Week 8 thriller, down Chargers 27-24

Adrian Philips post-interception. PIC: David Silverman

In last week’s recap, I had this to say...glad to say my predictions didn’t waver!

While the Chargers have improved, I still love the Pats' chances here, so let's see how Vegas sets these lines.

Well, to make a long story short, Vegas was disappointing. The Pats came in as around 4-point underdogs - on some books, it was closer to 5 - but in some ways, this felt like a matchup the Pats were destined to win. New England dropped 45 points in a shutout of the Chargers in their 2020 trip to SoFi Stadium, with the defense displaying one of its most complete performances of the last few seasons. Obviously, much has changed in LA since then; Justin Herbert is finally settling in, Austin Ekeler is becoming one of the best running backs in the NFL, and the receivers have been a-dime-a-dozen as targets for Herbert.

So, although this was more even than last time, the Pats showed their fight still exists - in a true #DoYourJob win, they roared back and snuck out with a 27-24 victory.

There is lots to digest with this one. Once again, the Patriots defense is trending in the right direction and are firing on all cylinders. While Mac Jones didn’t have a great day, he looks to be learning more about his game and how it will be successful on the big stage. The run game is cooking again, the offensive line finally showed up, and the secondary has made massive improvements. Woooooo!

Let’s break down the Good and the Not-So-Good of the Pats’ Week 8 win.

Adrian Phillips had a career day. I’ve been super-high on the former Pro Bowler and All-Pro selection for a while now, so I was happy to see him break out. Phillips had 6 great years with the Chargers, so I’m sure there was an element of revenge against his former team. He grabbed a huge pick-six late in the game to put the Pats up by for the first time in the game, and they never looked back on their lead. He picked off Herbert earlier in the game, which set up a 48-yard field goal for Nick Folk before the half ended. Adrian Phillips has a PFF coverage grade of 91.9, which is among the highest in the NFL at this point in the season; he conceded only 5 receiving yards on Sunday, a formidable force. He’s been a huge bright spot in a secondary that’s been otherwise quite gloomy, so I’m pumped to see Phillips succeeding and anchoring this Patriots secondary.

The offensive line finally looked good. I have been the most inconsistent supporter/denier of the Patriots offensive line over the years. I am the first to congratulate them when they do well, and the first to jump down their throats when they’re more sieves than linemen. This time around, they protected the pocket well, allowing only one sack. Shaq Mason really led the way, stuffing up the lanes and earning an 80+ PFF protection grade. Of the 9 pressures the Pats conceded, Ted Karras (normally a backup) let up 4. Hopefully he can either A) get it together, or B) return to the bench so Mike Onwenu and Justin Herron can return to their rightful positions and bolster the line a bit more as time goes on, but this was a step in the right direction considering Mac Jones will perform best when he has a sturdy pocket.

JUUUUUDON! Because of Matthew Judon’s long, baggy red sleeves, he’s been compared by our own Will Tondo to the Gym Class Hero who throws for 9 billion yards and scores 7 TD’s in recess football. I’m all for it.

Judon continues to be an excellent edge rusher, and responsible for a good deal of the defense’s success. The former Ravens standout contributed to 9 pressures and 1.5 sacks on the day, and had nearly a 90 PFF rating, which probably will go down as his highest rate all season. Judon’s win rate of nearly 25% led all pass rushers in the league this week. It’s no secret this defense rides or dies with Judon, so give me this all day.

Mac Jones could’ve been better. Mac typically strings together some solid stretches of completing passes, but Sunday, the Chargers defense was a handful. Jones only completed 18 of the 35 passes he threw, for 218 total yards and no touchdowns. We are now starting to see that Mac Jones has not been great inside enemy territory, as he forced the Pats to take 4 field goals. Keep your eyes on how Mac progresses in this area as time goes on.

What’s up with Dont’a Hightower? Sure, turning in 3 tackles isn’t necessarily a poor performance (it’s better than 0), but has anyone else noticed he’s been a tick behind lately? The veteran linebacker embarks on his 9th season with 3 Super Bowl rings and 2 nods to the Pro Bowl team; he’s played with everyone from Rob Ninkovich and Jerod Mayo, to Chris Long and Malcolm Butler, and now with another healthy mix of vets and rookies. But Hightower was putrid against the run, missing tackles and getting manhandled by blockers of all frames. Could he still be catching up after opting out of the 2020 season? Or is his 31-year-old body catching up to him? We’ll have to monitor Hightower as the season plays out, but I’m certainly a little concerned.

Up next: We’re on to Carolina. It’s a reunion with Steph Gilmore, who was traded for a pick a few weeks back. With Sam Darnold potentially out, former XFL standout PJ Walker might get the nod, which is a recipe for Adrian Phillips to reprise his performance in next Sunday’s matinee. I think the Patriots have better odds of beating the Panthers than they did the Jets, and that says a lot. Hammer the Pats.


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