PA­TRI­OTS (6-2)

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - LEADING OFF - Scott Pi­to­niak

DB Jonathan Jones’ last-sec­ond in­ter­cep­tion pre­served New Eng­land’s 21-13 vic­tory over the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers. It was the Pa­tri­ots’ fourth con­sec­u­tive vic­tory and en­abled them to reach the half­way mark with at least six wins for the fifth con­sec­u­tive sea­son and the 11th time un­der coach Bill Belichick.

Other than an 87-yard touch­down run by RB Melvin Gor­don, the Pa­tri­ots de­fense turned in its fourth con­sec­u­tive solid per­for­mance. This de­spite the ab­sence of LB

Dont’a Hightower, a de­fen­sive leader who is ex­pected to miss the rest of the sea­son fol­low­ing surgery on a torn pec­toral.

De­fense was the Pa­tri­ots’ Achilles’ heel early on. But co­or­di­na­tor Matt Pa­tri­cia’s per­son­nel changes and schematic ad­just­ments have fixed the prob­lem. The loss of Hightower could be mit­i­gated by the com­bined play of lineback­ers Kyle Van Noy, Elan­don Roberts, David Har­ris and Trevor Reilly.

Af­ter car­ry­ing the team in the early go­ing, the of­fense has strug­gled to score touch­downs in re­cent games. The Pa­tri­ots’ dif­fi­cul­ties in the red zone con­tin­ued in the Charg­ers game as they reached the end zone one time in four trips in­side the Los An­ge­les 20.

“We’re not scor­ing as many points as we are ca­pa­ble of scor­ing, I know that,” QB

Tom Brady said. “I wish there was a sim­ple an­swer for it. … We just haven’t done a great job fin­ish­ing off drives the last three or four weeks.”

TE Rob Gronkowski, who is on pace for his fourth 1,000-yard re­ceiv­ing sea­son, says the team’s red-zone woes are his fault. “We def­i­nitely have to clean it up, and it starts with my­self,” he said.

Belichick wants to use the bye to im- prove in two ar­eas. “We’re giv­ing up too many big plays on de­fense and can’t con­vert on third down in the red zone,” he said.

Player to watch: Brady. De­spite his of­fense’s re­cent prob­lems, Brady, 40, re­mains a dom­i­nant fig­ure at 40. He’s car­ried his team to another strong start, five times throw­ing for more than 300 yards and four times com­plet­ing more than 30 passes. He’s used his run­ning backs as re­ceivers more in re­cent games. The trade of Jimmy Garop­polo to San Fran­cisco at least tem­po­rar­ily gives the Pa­tri­ots no vi­able backup for him.

Num­ber crunch­ing: 242. Num­ber of reg­u­lar-sea­son games Belichick has won as an NFL head coach, just one be­hind Tom Landry for third-place all time in NFL his­tory. Up next: Nov. 12 at Den­ver. The Pa­tri­ots play four out of their next five on the road.

Pa­tri­ots’ Tom Brady BOB DECHIARA, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

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