By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- The Patriots needed a win on Sunday. They got a win, and an absolutely dominating one at that.
The Patriots had it going in all three phases of the game in their 45-0 beatdown of the Chargers in L.A., improving to 6-6 on the season. Cam Newton and the offense moved the ball with relative ease. The defense made life miserable for Justin Herbert and pitched a shutout. And New England's special teams had a big day with a pair of touchdowns and several big boots by Jake Bailey.
Add it all up and we have the most convincing win of the season for the Patriots.
"It's great when all units are able to contribute and we can play complementary football. That's always our goal and how we try to prepare each week," Bill Belichick said after the game. "It's always nice when that happens and I'm real proud how our guys worked and how those little things become big plays."
Granted, it came against a terrible team in the Chargers. But L.A. has shown glimpses of being a somewhat decent team at times throughout the season. There were no glimpses of mediocrity, let alone decency, from them on Sunday.
The Patriots had to win to keep their slim playoff chances alive, and they did just that. Now they have a short turnaround to try to beat another L.A. team -- this time the Rams -- on Thursday night.
But before we focus on Thursday, we're going to look back at the Ups and Downs from Sunday's win. Given the lopsided score, we're going to go a little heavy on the Ups, something we haven't had a chance to do that too often this season.
Bully Ball On Offense
The Patriots pushed around the Chargers on offense, rushing for 165 yards. They picked up 127 of those yards on 27 carries in the first half, finding the end zone twice on the ground before halftime.
Damien Harris had 80 yards on just 16 carries (good for a five-yard-per-carry average) while Newton scampered for 48 yards on his 14 carries, scoring twice. Even Sony Michel got some run, rushing for 35 yards on 10 carries while adding a 23-yard reception.
The Patriots set the tone early, and never let up.
Gunner's Return/New England's Blocking
Special teams touchdowns have a special place in everyone's heart, as does Gunner. Finally, they are both mashed into one glorious play.
After the Patriots forced a punt on L.A.'s second possession, Gunner took said punt 70 yard to the house for the first touchdown of his career. He had one called back due to an illegal blindside block last weekend, but there was no flags on the field this time. Just some glorious blocking by the New England special teams unit.
Captain Matthew Slater delivered one of the blocks, while Donte Moncrief and Rashod Berry also kept would-be tacklers away from Olszewski. Gunner wasn't touched for the first 40 yards of the return, and even when he was on the final 30 yards, it was only a desperation swat by the chargers.
The score put New England up 14-0 in the second quarter. Gunner had another great return, taking one back 61 yards down to the L.A. 17-yard line, and made a special teams tackle. He also caught a touchdown late in the game -- his first offensive touchdown ever.
Big day all around for the former Division II defensive back.
ANOTHER SPECIAL TEAMS SCORE
Oh man, Belichick is going to love watching this game over and over again. One special teams score wasn't enough, so the Patriots put up another just before halftime.
Cody Davis blocked Michael Badgley's last-second field goal attempt, and Devin McCourty scooped it up and returned it 44 yards for the score to put New England ahead 28-0 at halftime.
It was New England's first blocked field goal returned for a touchdown since the 2014 season, when Kyle Arrington did it against Miami. It was also McCourty's second touchdown of the year, after his pick-six against the Seahawks back in Week 2.
We should mention another great special teams play by Justin Bethel in the third quarter. With the Patriots up 35-0, he sped downfield to keep Jake Bailey's 39-yard punt from going into the end zone, allowing Davis to down it at the L.A. 5-yard line. EVERYTHING was cooking on special teams for New England. They looked downright elite on Sunday.
The kid can boot, but we already knew that. Still, it's nice to watch the man kick the cowhide off the football. He pinned the Chargers inside their own 20 on three occasions on Sunday, giving L.A. very little chance to get anything going on offense.
Opening Drive Score
The game started off wonderfully, as the Patriots scored a touchdown on their opening drive. A touchdown. On their opening drive!
It was all about the run, as it has been with New England this season. The Pats averaged 5.7 yards per carry on the opening drive, with 57 yards on 10 attempts.
Damien Harris ran six times for 36 yards, including a 7-yard pickup on a wildcat snap. He also took a short toss from Newton and turned it into a 15-yard pickup.
Newton picked up 21 yards on four carries, including a conversion on a 4th-and-2 at the L.A. 10-yard line and his 10th rushing score of the season. Cam was also 2-for-3 on the drive for 18 yards, and his only incompletion was dropped by Jakobi Meyers.
For a team that hasn't done much of anything on their opening possession all season, this was a fantastic start for Newton and company. They also scored on their first possession of the second half. Hopefully they can keep that going come Thursday night.
Defense Allows Nothing
The Patriots were in Justin Herbert's face all day, and didn't let the rookie get comfortable. He had been pretty good when facing a lot of pressure so far in his career, but that dried up on Sunday.
The Patriots sacked Herbert three times, with Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler each getting to the quarterback. Overall, the Patriots put on 11 QB hits on Herbert.
Josh Uche didn't record a sack, but he blew up a few plays in the backfield. The rookie made a great move to swim his way around the left tackle and get to Herbert on a 3rd-and-10 at the L.A. 19-yard line, forcing the QB to throw an incompletion. Uche didn't get a sack on the play, but the play had no shot of doing anything once he got his way into the backfield.
Butler also batted a ball down at the line of scrimmage, and Chase Winovich picked off an errant throw across the field by Herbert. The rookie QB had just 209 passing yards on Sunday, his second-lowest total of his young career.
Dante's Jet Sweep
A gutsy play call by McDaniels just before halftime paid off for New England. He dialed up a jet sweep with Donte Moncrief on 3rd-and-4, and the receiver picked up five yards to give Newton and company a fresh set of downs at the two-minute warning deep in L.A. territory. Newton scored a few plays later to put New England up 21-0.
Moncrief was signed to the practice squad a month ago, but has competed hard in practice and earned a spot on the active roster. He made some important plays in Sunday's victory both on offense and on special teams.
Second Possession Dud
After marching down the field for an opening-drive score, the Patriots went three-and-out and lost a yard on their second possession. They lost five yards on a short pass to James White on first down, Newton scrambled for four yards on second down, and Newton's short pass to White went off his fingertips on third down.
Not exactly the way to follow up an opening-drive score, or take advantage of a missed field goal by Los Angeles.
A couple of Patriots rookies thought they were still playing some college ball early in the game. Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr. made a reception as he went to the ground, and despite standing around him, Kyle Dugger and Anfernee Jennings let him get up without touching him. That allowed Parham to get up and boulder his way for an extra five yards. Instead of setting up a second down, the 12-yard gain took L.A. to the 50-yard line.
Rookies... The Chargers didn't get anything out of it though, as Badgley missed a 43-yard field goal attempt to end their first possession.
On New England's third possession, Newton botched a second-down snap by David Andrews. He took his eyes off the ball and though he was able to pounce on the loose ball, it lost seven yards and set up a 3rd-and-17. Instead of being in L.A. territory, the Patriots were back on their side of the field as a result of the play.
It was all on Newton, and the QB knew it, as it looked like he apologized to Andrews after the play. The Pats weren't able to make it all up on third down (Newton hit Harry for 10 yards) and had to punt away.
It's those little mental mistakes that have been Newton's -- and the New England offense's -- undoing this season.
The Patriots did their part to stay in the playoff hunt, but they didn't get any help across the league. Bummer.
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