By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots played a tight football game on Sunday. One team made back-breaking mistakes in the final quarter. The other team executed and won the game.

For the first time all year against real NFL competition, the Patriots came out on the better end of that bargain.

It wasn’t perfect by any stretch. The Patriots burned through all three second-half timeouts in a six-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, when the game still hung in the balance. They were ineffective in the red zone. Their offense sputtered and seemed to lack a clear plan. The defense had a bust or two along the way.

But when push came to shove, the Patriots were the better team in the final quarter of the game. And after not being entirely sure what to make of the 54-13 thrashing of the Jets a week ago, there is no doubting that the region can gain confidence from this one.

There were many moments where this one was won. Let’s hit them in the leftover thoughts from the Patriots’ 27-24 victory over the Chargers.

–Not to be overlooked is the possession following Adrian Phillips’ pick-six.

It started in somewhat embarrassing fashion, as the Patriots had to burn their second timeout of the half following the kickoff because they had 12 men on the field. That’s happened far too often this year. It’s utterly insane.

Nevertheless.

On first down, with Josh Uche throwing the right tackle into Justin Herbert’s general vicinity, the quarterback threw a pass toward Austin Ekeler … somewhat. It was a pass that had no chance of being completed.

Justin Herbert incomplete to Austin Ekeler (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

On second down, Dont’a Hightower drew a holding penalty on tight end Donald Parham. The Patriots did give up a 14-yard reception on the ensuing second-and-20, and they should have given up a chain-moving reception on the third down that followed. But Herbert badly misfired, missing a wide-open Keenan Allen.

Justin Herbert misses Keenan Allen (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

The Chargers punted, and they wouldn’t touch the ball again until they trailed by two scores with 2:19 left in the game.

The Patriots don’t deserve credit for making that third-down misfire happen, of course. But when games are determined by late execution, it’s a case of the Chargers being worse than their visitors.

–On the flip side, what happened on the Patriots’ drive that followed was excellent — arguably their best drive of the year. Needing to kill clock and stretch the lead, the Patriots did both.

Mac Jones converted a third-and-1 with a QB sneak, then later converted another third-and-1 with a 2-yard pass to Jakobi Meyers. That pass was great, too. Jones rolled to his right and hit Meyers just past the line to gain, and Meyers was wise enough to drop his body down without going out of bounds, forcing L.A. to use its first timeout.

Mac Jones to Jakobi Meyers on third down (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

(Dropping down in bounds was a theme of the drive, as the Patriots managed to value clock-killing just as much as yard-gaining in what was a brilliant drive all around.)

That wasn’t Jones’ best pass of the drive. Perhaps it’s a matter of personal preference, but I liked when he stood in against pressure before casually flipping an easy one to Meyers (who likewise went down in bounds on this play, too).

Mac Jones to Jakobi Meyers (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

Technically, the Patriots didn’t have to stay in bounds prior to the clock reaching the five-minute mark, but they made it a point of emphasis from the start of the drive, and rode it all the way to the 2:23 mark of the final quarter. They did exactly what they wanted, and Nick Folk’s field goal was precisely what they needed to secure the win.

–I want to talk about two professional plays in the secondary: One from a guy who’s played in a billion NFL  games, and one from someone who’s worked his way onto the active roster from the practice squad.

First one: Second quarter, 2:32 remaining, Chargers leading 14-10, facing a third-and-6 at their own 29. Herbert hits Mike Williams over the middle. He’s open. It’s completed. The Chargers are on their way to adding to their lead before halftime. Except Devin McCourty did this:

Devin McCourty breaks up a pass. (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

Just a professional PBU by the veteran.

The other one came from Myles Bryant late in the third quarter. Bryant was playing in his 13th career game. Keenan Allen was playing in his 107th game. The advantage went to Bryant.

Myles Bryant breaks up a pass. (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

Big play there, turning a potential touchdown drive into a field goal drive for L.A.

–We all go gaga for the quarterback, obviously. But if you want to talk about a top draft pick from 2021 in this game, you ought to spend some time talking about Christian Barmore.

Watch Barmore drive both the right tackle and the right guard back into Herbert’s space on the game-changing pick-six:

That is silly. (Daniel Ekuale, elevated from the practice squad, also dummied the center on that play, too.)

Barmore also drew the hold (that preceded Belichick’s unfortunate challenge) to negate a 14-yard completion and push the Chargers closer to their own goal line. Watch the left guard haul him down:

Christian Barmore draws a holding penalty. (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

On the Chargers’ final offensive drive, he drew another holding penalty … which was declined, because he got to the quarterback anyway:

Barmore was touted as the best defensive tackle available in the draft, a player with first-round talent who somehow ended up available in the second round. Belichick moved up to get him, and on Sunday, it was easy to see why.

–The very obvious late hit by Jerry Tillery on Mac Jones was a big deal during the game. But I think it really just showed the jarring difference between regular speed and slow motion.

In slow-motion, it looks like a felony:

Arrest that man!!

In real speed, though … it is what it is:

Jerry Tiller hit on Mac Jones (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

A little cheap, sure. I don’t fault the Patriots for getting upset about it. But really not a big deal.

Just something to think about when you watch some of those slow-mo replays. The plays aren’t always as vicious as they may seem. Everything’s a matter of perspective.

–This wasn’t the most important play of all time, but I was still impressed by Jonnu Smith’s ability to dodge the first guy, keep his balance, and turn this into an 11-yard gain:

Jonnu Smith (GIF from NFl.com/GamePass)

–OK, we’ve done all the positives. We have to hit the negatives. There were so many. Too many for what we’ve come to expect from a Bill Belichick-coached team.

To wit:

–The 75-yard run by Justin Jones, after seemingly every Patriot had the man surrounded.

–Throwing incompletions on third-and-goal and fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line against the NFL’s worst rushing defense and a defense that had yet to stop anyone in a goal-to-go situation all year long. Throwing passes on second and third down from the 6-yard line on the next possession against that same defense. (Coming out of a timeout with a fourth-down goal-line fade to Jakobi Meyers is unconscionable.)

–Austin Ekeler’s pile-moving touchdown.

–Kendrick Bourne fumbling at the Chargers’ 30-yard line.

–Jalen Mills giving up a touchdown to make things way too interesting at the end.

–Trying to hit the lottery a third time with a Brandon Bolden handoff on a third-and-1. (He had converted his first two chances, yes. But. Three third-down handoffs for Bolden is a lot.)

–Burning three timeouts with a mistaken challenge, having 12 men on defense, and letting a post-whistle scuffle delay the offense.

–Holding penalties (one on Isaiah Wynn, one on Justin Herron) negating a 23-yard Damien Harris run and a 28-yard Damien Harris touchdown run.

–(Running into the punter was technically bad, because it could have been roughing the kicker, and it could have led to the Chargers going for it on fourth-and-3. But it’s not technically on this list because Matt Judon had something like 600 QB pressures in this game, and because it ended up being negated by a just-as-unfortunate penalty on the Chargers on the very same play.)

Clearly, this was not a perfect game for New England. But unlike, say, the Dolphins game or the Bucs game, they still managed to snap out of it, overcome their errors, and win the game.

–The question, of course, becomes … what the heck does this mean?

In the short term, it means the Patriots are a viable NFL team. It means they can win on the road against a non-Jets/non-Texans team. It means they can beat a non-Jets/non-Texans team, period. (Shoutout to the Bengals for losing to the Jets, though.)

It means they’re 4-4, and if they can go 2-1 in their next three games (at Carolina, vs. Cleveland, at Atlanta), then they’ll be 6-5 in a crowded AFC, capable of determining the outcome of their season over the final six games of the year.

They’re not back to Super Bowl contention, no. But they weren’t supposed to be. For now, they’re in contention contention. Which is to say, it’s up to them if they want to contend for a playoff spot.

It may not be much in terms of the way things used to be, but it certainly beats the alternative of dropping to 3-5 and essentially being all the way out of the mix before the calendar flips to November.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.