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Patriots Week 8 Notebook: Adrian Phillips’ Revenge, Special Team Boosts, And a Dominant 4th Quarter

New England Patriots

This week’s essentials list harped on running the football well while making Justin Herbert turn it over, and the Patriots did just that leading to the team’s Week 8 victory which marks the start of a playoff push in a tightened AFC race. A win over the Chargers puts New England within one game of a playoff spot and one game behind the Buffalo Bills in the division. Keep in mind, the Patriots are either tied or within a game between the Browns, Bills, and Colts. Those are three teams that could be battling New England for a trip to the postseason.

It’s the first time this season where the Patriots have won back-to-back games. New England remains undefeated on the road and are now averaging 36.6 points per game over the past three weeks. Here’s what has created the recent success:

What Went Right?

Adrian Phillips

Phillips was a core special teamer during his tenure with the Chargers. He only had two seasons playing more than 60% of defensive snaps. Now, Bill Belichick has found a way to maximize Phillips’ talent. Adrian Phillips has sneaky become one of Belichick’s best defensive signings in recent memory.

Phillips started every game last season, leading the Patriots in tackles in 2020 (109). He now has three interceptions on the year, snagging two against his former team. Numbers have shown that when Justin Herbert throws a pick, the Chargers chance of winning goes significantly down — Phillips won this matchup.

Gunner Olszewski

Gunner continues to pick up speed in the return game, returning to his all-pro form. This week, Olszewski averaged 26 yards on kickoff returns with 20 yards per punt return. Here were the Patriots starting field position after a Gunner return:

  • NE 29, 32, 29, 22 and LAC 36

Not one return inside the 20. Gunner is now 2nd in the NFL in yards per punt return (min. 6 returns). He is 2nd in the league in 20-yard punt returns (4). Olszewski is heating up as he continues to give the offense an important boost.

The Ground Game

Damien Harris needed to continue his hot streak for the Patriots to have success. That he did with 80 yards and a touchdown. New England accounted for 141 yards rushing, setting up the offense for short downs.

The 4th Quarter

The Patriots have found themselves in this position often: one-possession game in the fourth quarter. Three crucial Patriot losses have come down to a lack of execution in this clutch. New England finally stepped up on both sides of the ball, scoring 11 fourth quarter points.

The Patriots trailed 16-17 entering the game’s final 15 minutes. From that point on, Adrian Phillips gets his pick-six, the Chargers punt immediately after, and Mac Jones constructs a 14-play, 7-minute drive, icing the game. Although Jones had a rough day, he put the game away with that series.

What Went Wrong?

Mac Jones’ Efficiency

Jones has been one of the most efficient passers in the NFL. This week’s essential’s list emphasized the need for Jones to stick to high percentage throws. Unfortunately, the rookie did the opposite, going 18-35. Jones started the game hot with some big time throws to Nelson Agholor and Hunter Henry, but then finished the first half going 2/13 in his last 15 attempts.

LA was speeding Jones up, constantly getting to him. Normally, Jones has proven to succeed in this situation, but here’s why he may have struggled today. The majority of Jones’ misses came on shotgun, spread formation. New England took a break from running the ball and this disrupted not only the offense’s rhythm but Jones as well. Mac is a rhythmic passer, the Patriots are a rhythmic offense. If the team loses that beat, it will lead to miscues.

Big Plays

The Patriots defense stepped up when they needed to, but they still gave up a lot of big plays. The defense gave up a 41-yard pass to Keenan Allen, leading to the Chargers opening score. The run defense then gave up a 75 yard run, leading to LA’s 2nd score of the game. There was also a 3rd and 18 in the fourth quarter where the defense not get off the field. Thankfully, these big plays didn’t cost New England in the end, but they will have to tighten it up.

Red-Zone

The Offense left a lot of points on the field. Credit to Nick Folk’s perfect day to keep New England alive. The Patriots went 1-4 in the Red-Zone with some questionable execution. Mac Jones missed Kendrick Bourne on an easy score and the Patriots threw two straight incompletions on the goal-line. The aggressiveness has been needed, but the team had 3rd and goal on the goal-line, four-down territory, Damien Harris is rolling and he doesn’t touch the ball once.

PFF Grades

New England will travel to play the Carolina Panthers next Sunday at 1:00pm.

(Photo of Adrian Phillips by John McCoy)

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