American Football

Special teams miscues help tip scales in Patriots’ loss to Chargers


Miami Dolphins (24) Vs. New England Patriots (17) At Gillette Stadium, 2023-24 Week 2
Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

New England’s kicking game operation saw multiple breakdowns across the board.

The New England Patriots’ margin of error is virtually non-existent now, and Sunday’s 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers was clear proof of that. With the team’s offense remaining stuck in the mud even after a quarterback change, the team needs its other two units to play on a consistently high level in order to compete for a win.

The defense did its job yet again versus the Chargers, surrendering only two field goals all day. New England’s special teams operation, on the other hand, was unable to do its part.

“We moved the ball, but we’re on a long field. Just really didn’t do a good job of field position,” head coach Bill Belichick lamented after the game. “Couldn’t play the complementary game that we needed to play. Chargers did a couple times, got their six points, and obviously that was enough.”

The Patriots not meeting expectations in the kicking game is nothing new this season. The last two games alone, they missed short field goals that might have helped make a difference in close losses to the Indianapolis Colts and New York Giants.

Against the Chargers, rookie kicker Chad Ryland did not take the field outside of one kickoff; the Patriots attempted no field goals and scored no touchdowns to bring out the extra point team. But while he had a rather quiet day outside of his lone snap to open the second half, his teammates took it upon themselves to mess things up.

New England’s third special teams snap of the day was already a sign of things to come in that regard: Myles Bryant, who under normal circumstances would be third on the depth chart behind a healthy Marcus Jones and Demario Douglas, fielded punt at the Patriots’ 18-yard line and moved backwards before being tackled for a loss of five yards.

The hits, from that point on, just kept coming. Whether it was Jalen Reagor — himself replacing usual returner Ty Montgomery for undisclosed reasons — muffing (and recovering) his lone kickoff runback, punter Bryce Baringer having an up-and-down day that included a punt for 70 yards and another for 26, or the coverage team giving up a 34-yard punt return to set up three of Los Angeles’ six points, the Patriots had a hard time on special teams.

Some of those negative plays might have been the result of the weather, with Belichick himself acknowledging that “kicking conditions weren’t great out there today.” However, the accumulation of them in the grander context of the 2023 Patriots season is a notable issue.

For a team with almost no wiggle room, it has proven to be a fatal one.

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