By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — In the moments following the Patriots’ 21-13 win over the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots lamented a lack of red-zone execution that led to the game being closer than it needed to be.
Yet while the Patriots’ inability to convert on red zone opportunities was clear on Sunday, the team’s ability to convert on a number of third downs throughout the game better than the Chargers was the primary reason why the overall frustration came in a victory instead of a loss.
For the game, the Patriots went 9-for-19 on third downs and 1-for-1 on fourth downs, while the Chargers went 3-for-10 on third down and 1-for-1 on fourth down.
It really was the difference in the game.
For the Patriots, the third-down conversions were dispersed among nine players. James White led the way, converting three third downs, including a third-and-11 and a third-and-10.
“[White] has a unique skill,” said tight end Rob Gronowski, who himself converted a third-and-4 in the fourth quarter. “Ever since he’s been here I’ve always said I wanted his quickness and I always dream when seeing him, the way he can move side to side is just unreal. It’s not surprising at all to see how he gets open on linebackers on third down. Just dump it to him and he makes guys miss.”
White certainly made safety Jahleel Addae miss in the open field, turning a simple dump-off in the flat into a 27-yard gain to kickstart the Patriots’ lone touchdown drive of the day.
“He does such a great job,” quarterback Tom Brady said of White. “I mean, he’s so dependable and consistent. He does a great job for us, and he does it in run game, pass game, blitz pick-up. I mean, he’s just a great player.”
The Patriots went 3-for-3 on third downs on that touchdown drive, and that’s without counting the heads-up play by Brady and the entire offense to catch Los Angeles with 12 men on the field on a third-and-4. The final conversion was a picture of perfection, with Chris Hogan running five yards on a stop route, turning around and making the catch at the Chargers’ 2-yard line.
Gronkowski scored on the next play.
White came up huge twice more in the third quarter, picking up 11 yards on a reception to the left side on a third-and-10 deep in new England territory and then holding on to a lob pass while getting drilled by Tre Boston for 12 yards on a third-and-2 to get the Patriots into field-goal range.
And on the Patriots’ final scoring drive, when a field goal would have put them up by eight points, it was Brady who got the job done — first by drawing Joey Bosa offside on a third-and-an-inch-more-than-5, then by sneaking up the gut for two yards on third-and-inches.
Hogan later ran a perfect deep out on a third-and-10 for a gain of 14, though that drive — the Patriots’ longest of the day which lasted nearly eight full minutes — would end with a missed field goal.
Compare that showing against the Chargers, who couldn’t convert a pair of third-and-2’s in the first half and who committed offensive pass interference to negate a touchdown on what would have been a huge play on a third-and-3. Instead, Philip Rivers threw incomplete on the ensuing third-and-13. Earlier in the game, Rivers completed a 16-yard pass to Antonio Gates on third-and-17, prompting an unsuccessful field goal attempt.
Ultimately, the Patriots felt regret for not scoring more points. Stephen Gostkowski was unhappy with his two missed kicks, and the Patriots overall felt like they shouldn’t have ever had to settle for six field goal attempts at all. If the Patriots are to live up to their own standard, they left themselves room for improvement offensively.
But if not for some of those timely third-down conversions, they wouldn’t have even had those field-goal opportunities. And they likely would have had themselves a loss.