New England Patriots: Season at a crossroads as team heads to LA

New England Patriots tight end Hunter Henry (85) Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots tight end Hunter Henry (85) Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports /

The New England Patriots’ 2021 season is at a crossroads as the team heads to LA after a great win against the New York Jets has kept them in playoff contention.

The 54-13 drubbing of the unliked rival Jets was just what the doctor ordered for a Patriots team on the cusp of self-elimination from any playoff hopes.

So what is the prognosis as the team heads out west to California to face the 4-2 Los Angeles Chargers, who are just one game ahead of the Patriots in the Wild Card race currently.

New England Patriots must beat LA to keep heading upward in the Wild Card race

After an inauspicious first seven games, the red, white, blue, and silver Patriots team sits precariously with a 3-4 record, good for ninth in the playoff standings.

It’s a team that has been plagued by missed opportunities as it very well could have been sitting at 5-2 or maybe even 6-1 if they had played just a tad bit better.

A few poor plays and some awful coaching decisions have cost the team big-time as they squandered huge opportunities to surge to the top of the AFC East.

Unfortunately, they failed to capitalize. Totally blown games as against the Miami Dolphins and the Dallas Cowboys could have had them sitting atop the AFC East Division.

Instead, they now have a very arduous task ahead of them to even make the playoffs. Now, the under-500 team has two road games immediately looming.

First, they play the LA Chargers and then the Carolina Panthers away the next two Sundays before returning home to the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium to face the Cleveland Browns. They have lost four out of five home games at Gillette Stadium this season, and that’s going to have to change if they want any shot of reaching the postseason.

Both Los Angeles and Cleveland sit at 4-3 through seven games. Both teams are one game ahead of the Patriots in the AFC wild-card standings. Carolina, in the NFC, has a 3-4 record equal to the Patriots.

It’s either win or go home for the New England Patriots these next few weeks and the rest of the season for that matter. Any losing “streak” whatsoever will likely doom any playoff hopes.

What could have been isn’t, and now every game is of paramount importance if they are to remain in the playoff hunt.

New England Patriots at the Chargers

The LA Chargers are led by Justin Herbert, a former No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. Herbert comes as advertised.

The 6’6″ tall quarterback is completing 65.4 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and only four interceptions in 2021. He’s emerging as a surefire star.

Fortunately, however, the Patriots can one-up Los Angeles with their own young sensation. That would be their first round draft pick in 2021, Mac Jones.

Jones is destroying NFL rookie pass completion records in his first season. He is completing 70.1 percent of his passes with nine touchdown passes and six interceptions so far on the season.

The key aspect of that is Jones has done it with a sub-standard offensive line much of the time. Give him a top offensive line and he will work wonders.

Poor personnel decision-making earlier this season cost the team dearly in the first seven weeks.

Failure to immediately place Michael Onwenu into the starting right tackle position after Trent Brown was injured and insert Ted Karras into a guard spot arguably cost them several games.

Now they seem to “get it”. Looks like they have finally snapped out of their fog and both look to be fixtures on the front five for New England, making Jones’ job a whole lot more doable.

Jones also lacks a true No. 1 wide receiver, however, and the team desperately needs that guy to lead their receiving corps. A trade is in order now to go and get one, if possible.

Jones can, however, boast of two solid tight ends in Jonnu Smith, who may be out injured Sunday though, and a former Charger, Hunter Henry.

Next. Christian Barmore is living up to expectations. dark

Henry is no stranger to the Chargers, as he spent his first five seasons with the team. As a Patriot, he has equaled his touchdown total from last season (four) in just seven games.

Hopefully, we’ll see Jones and company best Herbert and the Chargers in a battle of great young quarterbacks on Sunday.

The Patriots have to win and win some more to stay in the playoff hunt. They have little margin for error. Hopefully, they will keep the ball rolling Sunday and beat the Chargers.