BOSTON (CBS) — When the Chargers’ Melvin Gordon ripped off an 87-yard rushing touchdown, it looked like it would be another ugly afternoon for the Patriots defense as they adjusted to life without Dont’a Hightower. But at the end of the day, the results were positive for the beleaguered group.
After gaining 140 yards of offense on their first two possessions, the Chargers were held to just 209 total yards in the final three quarters as Philip Rivers posted a poor 76.0 passer rating and the Patriots rode their exceptional special teams to a 21-13 victory.
It wasn’t a perfect day for the defense, but certainly a lot better than expected after the loss of both Hightower (torn pectoral) and Malcom Brown (ankle) for the game and after the unit’s ugly first quarter. Taking turns filling Hightower’s myriad roles on the defense, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, and veteran David Harris all made notable plays to keep the Chargers in check.
Harris made one of the biggest defensive plays of the game in the third quarter when the Patriots were still up just 15-7, bowling over Gordon to get to Rivers along with Roberts and Lawrence Guy for the sack and a loss of 20 yards. The Chargers didn’t score again until midway through the fourth quarter.
Van Noy is now going to be the defense’s primary signal-caller, but the linebacker told reporters after the game that he’s up to the task.
“I’m comfortable in any role that they ask,” said Van Noy. “That’s kind of why I like it here and I think they like me, too. I’m ready to do whatever it takes to win.”
The defense still has some work to do in terms of preventing big plays and adjusting to a Hightower-less scheme, and they certainly got some help from the Chargers’ multiple mental mistakes. But ultimately, the team has to be happy about allowing just 13 points.
Entering Monday, they are now allowing the 15th-fewest points per game in the league with 22.4, and have allowed just 12.75 points per game over their last four games. Despite the relatively ugly win, there’s reason for the defense to feel confident entering the Patriots’ bye week at 6-2.