Chargers return to action against the New England Patriots

After taking a week off for their bye week and using it to rest and recover from injuries, the Los Angeles Chargers will return to action this Sunday, October 31st, when they take on the New England Patriots at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. The Halloween day game is scheduled to start at 1:05 pm and will be televised on CBS.

The Chargers will be taking on a team that has not treated them well in recent encounters. Last season, the Patriots came into SoFi Stadium and crushed the Chargers, 45-0. The loss was the worst in Chargers football history and probably was the final nail in the coffin of head coach Anthony Lynn's tenure, who was fired at the end of the regular season.

The Patriots have beaten the Chargers six consecutive times. The last time the Chargers beat the Patriots was on October 12th of 2008. Since 1973, the Patriots are 19-3 against the Chargers, with several lopsided losses suffered by the Chargers in that 48-year time period.

The current group of Patriots are 3-4 for the season but have a one-point loss to the Miami Dolphins, a two-point loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and a six-point overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys. They have been very competitive this season. The Chargers history against the Patriots should indicate that this will not be an easy matchup.

In the Chargers blowout loss last season to the Patriots, the Patriots special teams had a field day. Gunner Olszewski returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown in the game and he also had a return of 61 yards that setup a field goal. Devin McCourty had a 44-yard return of a blocked field goal attempt for a touchdown. Gunner Olszewski made the 2020 All-Pro team as a punt returner, thanks to the Chargers.

Punter Jake Bailey was All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl team in 2020. Former UCLA star Matthew Slater was 2nd team All-Pro in 2020 and made the Pro Bowl for the ninth time in his NFL career. The Patriots put an emphasis on the details on special teams. The Chargers have not in the past but may finally be getting it right under new head coach Brandon Staley.

This week, the Chargers signed wide receiver Andre Roberts, who was recently released by the Houston Texans. A Pro Bowl selection in each of the past three seasons as a kick returner, Roberts is a significant upgrade for the Chargers as a punt and kickoff returner. The Chargers waived wide receiver K.J. Hill to make room for Roberts but added him to the practice squad the next day.

The Chargers also signed veteran kicker Dustin Hopkins, who was recently released by the Washington Football Team for a younger kicker. In a corresponding move, the Chargers waived their kicker, Tristan Vizcaino, who has missed five extra points in six games, as well as a key field goal miss in the three-point loss to the Cowboys. Vizcaino has a strong leg, but it was not always apparent during games.

In his Monday press conference, Staley spoke about the addition of Roberts to the roster. "We need someone with experience that has had a high level of production at the position. As recently as last year, really, the last three years he has been extremely productive. I know that our coaching staff has a lot of respect for his game. I've been places that have faced him, being on the other side of it. I think that he is going to be a real asset, moving forward, for us."

Roberts should help with field position and Hopkins has been a consistent kicker for Washington the past eight years, which should help in close games. Hopkins is that franchise's all-time leader in field goal percentage (84.0) and made field goals of 50-plus yards (13). The moves are a good sign that the Chargers are going to keep the focus on improving special teams.

As for the Patriots this week, their head coach, Bill Belichick, is considered one of the all-time greats in NFL history of the game and they have a rookie quarterback that is completing 70.4% of his passes and is on a pace to throw for over 4,000 yards. As Staley said of Belichick, "He knows how to organize a team that's competitive in all three phases of the game, not just one. You never see their team out of balance. They've been a team that can compete in all three phases and play championship-level football."

But this game is about the players, and it will be interesting to see if the Chargers are looking for revenge after their historic loss to the Patriots last season. Staley would not answer that question, stating that, "I won't address it because I wasn't here for that. I think if our players draw on that internal motivation, guys that were at the game, then that's their thing. For me, I'm just treating this week like it has a life of its own. This is the 2021 Chargers-Patriots game, and I feel like that's our approach this week."


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