If most of the Los Angeles Chargers are trying to put last year’s 45-0 loss to the New England Patriots behind them, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. has no intentions of letting that happen.
“I’m definitely reminding them. They kicked our (butt) last year. Remember that?” Harris Jr. said on Thursday. “They beat us really bad in all three phases. Everybody knows that and we’re aware of what happened last year. We have to try to stop them, because they are going to try to do the exact same thing.”
Last season’s decisive win by the Patriots was more significant than just the final score. The loss dropped the Chargers to 3-9 and eliminated any hope of Anthony Lynn returning as coach. Despite four straight wins to close the season, Lynn was fired and Brandon Staley was hired.
“Our team is so different than it was last year. That’s how the NFL is. Teams turn over, new guys come in, people get traded, people go all over the place — the draft, obviously,” running back Austin Ekeler said. “I feel like this is a new opportunity in this new season.”
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Staley’s aggressive nature on both sides of the ball has translated to a 4-2 start. Los Angeles has three wins over teams that made the playoffs last season, but comes into this game off a bye and its worst game of the season, a 34-6 defeat at Baltimore on Oct. 17 where the Chargers were outplayed in all three phases.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick is aware of the challenges Staley can present. Four days after routing the Chargers, the Patriots took a 24-3 loss to the Rams when Staley was the defensive coordinator. Belichick said the Rams were the best defense he saw last season.
“Coach Staley’s obviously come in there and done a great job with creating confidence and lot of, I would say, positive momentum for the team. They’re a very good team and have improved in a lot of areas,” Belichick said.
New England (3-4) has plenty of momentum after its 54-13 victory over the Jets last week when it generated 551 yards of offense, the seventh-highest total in franchise history. The Patriots look to go 10-2 since 2011 against teams coming off bye weeks.
Jones vs. Herbert
New England rookie Mac Jones is equaling some milestones Justin Herbert accomplished last season with the Chargers. Jones, who threw for 307 yards and two touchdowns last week, is the third rookie with at least 170 completions in his first seven starts, joining Herbert and Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow.
Jones also has five straight games with at least 225 passing yards and a TD, which was also accomplished by Herbert, Houston’s DeShaun Watson and Dallas’ Dak Prescott.
“They’re running a lot of premium-type offensive plays that you would think a more experienced quarterback would have. He has that kind of command over their system,” Staley said of Jones. “He has really good anticipation as a thrower. I think that’s a big asset of him just as a pure passer — he has great anticipation and his ball placement is outstanding.”
Herbert had his worst game this season against the Ravens with 195 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Belichick said one of his biggest concerns about the Chargers’ offense is that it leads the league with 59 fourth-quarter points.
“You might hold them down for a while, but they’ve been able to put up a lot of points at the end of the game, which is a good thing for them. Bad thing for everybody else,” he said.
On the ground
Damien Harris looks to become the first New England running back since Corey Dillon in 2004 to have three straight 100-yard rushing games. Harris has a great chance to do it Sunday: Los Angeles that is surrendering a league-worst 162.5 rushing yards per game.
The Chargers have also allowed 100-yard games to Dallas’ Tony Pollard and Cleveland’s Nick Chubb.
Injuries have forced several adjustments on the New England offensive line. Ten players have seen action up front through seven games. In the Week 6 loss to Dallas, center David Andrews was the group’s only Week 1 starter still in the lineup.
While last week’s win over the Jets saw the return of left tackle Isaiah Wynn and right guard Shaq Mason, there was still some position shuffling. Left guard Mike Onwenu shifted to right tackle and Ted Karras took his place. That group was solid. Jones was sacked only once and took just four hits.
Trent Brown, the season-opening right tackle, is eligible to come off injured reserve this week. If Brown doesn’t return, it could be the third time this season the Patriots start the same group of five in consecutive games.
Going for it
The Chargers have shown a willingness to go on fourth downs. In six games they’ve already rolled the dice 12 times, tied for the fifth-most attempts in the league. They’ve also had success, converting on eight (67%).
Los Angeles may try its luck again this week against a defense that ranks 14th on fourth down, allowing opponents to convert on 50% (6 of 12).
Linebacker Matt Judon said it’s something they’re prepared to handle.
“Shoot, if they want to go for it on fourth down — short fields for our offense. That’s kind of what you gotta think,” he said. “It don’t matter to us. You can play that game. You can (have) that one coach that goes for it every fourth down or kicks every onside kick. If they’re just playing the odds like that, that’s fine, but they actually gotta execute.”