Chargers Embarrassed in Blowout Loss to Patriots
Suffer Worst Franchise Loss Ever, 45-0
December 10, 2020
Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan played his high school baseball at Alvin high school in Alvin, Texas. He is the most famous athlete from Alvin high school, but he is no longer alone. On Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, Gunner Olszewski, a graduate of Alvin high school and a member of the New England Patriots, had a performance to remember.
Olszewski, in his second season with the Patriots, returned three punts for 145 yards, including a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown, and caught a 38-yard touchdown pass in leading the Patriots to a 45-0 shellacking of the Chargers. The loss was the worst in Charger franchise history. The previous worst loss occurred in 1973, when a rookie quarterback by the name of Dan Fouts took part in a similar blowout loss.
There was nothing good to report for the Chargers in this defeat. Or just take the words of Charger head coach Anthony Lynn who stated, "That was one of the worst football games I've ever been a part of in my 30 years in the National Football League as a player and a coach. It's not acceptable, and it's not indicative of the men in that locker room."
The Patriots took control of the game from the opening drive of the game, driving 75 yards in 13 plays, with the drive culminating in a one-yard touchdown run by Patriot quarterback Cam Newton. The drive took 7 minutes and 10 seconds, with most of it coming on the ground. Running back Damien Harris rushed for 36 yards on the drive and added a 15-yard reception on a screen pass. The New England led 7-0 and never looked back.
The Patriots set the tone on that first drive and established that they would be running right at the Chargers. It was basically a "here we come, stop us if you can" mentality. For the game, the Patriots rushed for 165 yards, with Harris accounting for almost half of that total with 80 yards rushing on 16 carries. The 6'5 250-pound Newton added 49 yards rushing and two rushing touchdowns.
The play that really got things rolling for the Patriots was the 70-yard punt return for a touchdown. Key blocks by Matthew Slater, Donte Moncrief and Adrian Phillips helped clear a path for the Olszewski, who is nicknamed "gun Show" by teammates. That gave the Patriots a 14-0 lead. A 14-yard punt return by Olszewski later in the quarter set-up the Patriots offense at their own 46, leading to another touchdown drive, giving the Pats a 21-0 lead.
The Chargers season-long special teams' meltdown was not over yet. With three seconds left in the half and the ball at the Patriots 40-yard line, Lynn decided to take a shot at a 58-yard field goal. Michael Badgley, the Chargers kicker, had missed a 46-yard attempt in the first quarter and has been struggling this season.
Badgley's career best was 59 yards in 2018 against the Cincinnati Bengals, so he can make it from that distance. But considering the special team issues that the Chargers have had this season, particularly with blocking, this seemed a bit of a risky choice. Badgley's attempt was blocked by Cody Davis, and Devin McCourty scooped up the ball and returned it for a touchdown, giving the Patriots a 28-0 lead at halftime.
Olszewski was not finished, as he returned another punt 61 yards to set up a field goal and then caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Olszewski, an undrafted free agent in 2019 from Division II Bemidji State University in Bemidji, Minnesota, had never scored a touchdown in the NFL and in this game, he scored twice.
Patriot head coach Bill Belichick has always put an emphasis on special teams, and it showed on Sunday. Among the players throwing bocks on Olszewski's punt return for a TD were former UCLA player Slater and former Charger Adrian Phillips. Slater is an eight-time AFC Pro Bowl selection on special teams. making it every season from 2011 through 2019, with the exception of the 2018 season.
In 2018, Phillips made the AFC Pro Bowl with the Chargers as a special teamer. Despite being listed as a wide receiver, Slater has only caught one pass over the course of his career with the Patriots. At UCLA, Slater was First-team All-Pac-10 as a kick returner. The Patriots drafted him in the 5th round of the 2008 NFL draft for the sole purpose of playing special teams. That has worked well for both.
Slater and his teammates have always believed that Olszewski could make an impact. "He's becoming a really dependable, very confident player. He's a difference-maker," Slater said. "We've felt that way all season. It was really exciting to see him go out and make plays today and really help this team in a fantastic effort today."
With the win, the Patriots improved to 6-6. The Chargers fell to 3-9, clinching a second consecutive losing season. The Chargers have victories over the Jets, Jaguars, and Bengals this season. Those three teams have a combined record of 3-32-1. The Chargers have not been able to beat a decent NFL team this season and while they have usually been competitive against every opponent, the season has been a disappointment.
Belichick and his coaching staff clearly outcoached Lynn and the Chargers coaching staff, with a roster that is not as talented as the Chargers. Belichick could be seen talking to Charger tight end Hunter Henry after the game. Henry will be a free agent at the end of the season and while Belichick cannot recruit Henry as a member of the Chargers, he can certainly let him know he admires his talent.
The Chargers have decisions to make about several players, and of course, the coaching staff. There is no defending the performance of the special teams, except to say that every special team's kick is an adventure with the Chargers. On Sunday, besides the touchdown and the return yardage, the Chargers lined up for punts with the wrong number of players on the field three times. They had 12 once, with the penalty allowing the Patriots to convert a fourth down, and 10 on the field twice.
If the Chargers decide to let Lynn go, they need to find a coach that can put together a staff rather quickly and evaluate the current talent on the roster to determine who fits in the system that a new head coach will want to run, both offensively and defensively. A player like Henry is making $10.6 million this season. Defensive end Melvin Ingram is making $14 million this season and like Henry, is a free agent at the end of the season.
The Chargers stay at home this week and will greet the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons are loaded with offensive talent, with All-Pro Julio Jones at wide receiver, an up-and-coming receiving star in Calvin Ridley, former Rams star Todd Gurley, the 2017 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, and quarterback Matt Ryan, the 2016 Offensive Player of the Year and 2016 NFL MVP.
The game is scheduled for Sunday, November 13th, starting at 1:25 PM local time. The game will be played at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood and will be televised locally on Fox. The Falcons are 4-8 on the season, but have played better lately, winning 4 of their last seven games, including a 43-6 trouncing of the Las Vegas Raiders. Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo, who had a disastrous rookie season with the Chargers before being cut in 2017, has kicked well this season, converting 32 of 33 field goal attempts, which leads the NFL.