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