Skip to main content

Chargers Official Site | Los Angeles Chargers -

5 Final Thoughts: Chargers Aim to Get Back on Track vs. Patriots


The Chargers and Patriots meet up in an AFC matchup in Week 13.

Here are five final thoughts ahead of Week 13:

1. A must-win?

The Chargers have six regular-season games remaining.

They currently sit at 4-7, in last place in the AFC West and are trying to snap a three-game skid.

Frankly, it's not what anyone had in mind three months ago when the 2023 season was about to kick off.

"Obviously, we didn't want to see ourselves in this position," Khalil Mack said. "But we can't hang our head right now. We're in the thick of it and have to get ready for New England."

Derwin James, Jr. added: "It's definitely been tough. Not the way anyone would have predicted — even myself — coming into this season. I'm in the moment, man. I'm not flinching. I'm going to keep going hard, keep going strong every day and do everything I can to help the team win."

That mantra continues Sunday in New England against a Patriots team that sits at 2-9 and also in last place of their respective division.

As Week 13 approaches, the Bolts know that nothing is a given in the NFL.

"In the NFL, every week you have to have your full attention on your opponent because anything can happen," said Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley. "They have a lot of good players on their football team and they're extremely well-coached.

"We just have to have a really good week of practice and be prepared for a tough game," Staley added. "They've been in a lot of tough games and they have good players."

And they know that if they want any chance of being in the mix for a playoff spot in six weeks, a win Sunday afternoon on the East Coast is almost a given.

"You don't get too many opportunities in this league," Mack said. "We're running out of them.

"We have to make the most of them starting on Sunday," Mack added.

Kickoff between the Chargers and Patriots is at 10 a.m. (PT) from Gillette Stadium.

2. Prepping for multiple QBs

Wait, how many quarterbacks have the Chargers prepared for this week?

"All three," Staley said.

Has Staley ever done that before?

"Not that I can think of," Staley said.

That would be the Patriots trio of Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe and Malik Cunningham, as each player has drawn the Bolts attention in practices and meetings this week.

Jones has started all 11 of New England's game this season but has thrown 12 interceptions to 10 touchdowns. Zappe has played in four games, completing 19 of 39 passes for 158 yards. Cunningham appeared in one game but didn't throw a pass.

Staley this week talked about what each player brings to the field.

"Malik, his skillset is different. He's an outstanding athlete. He was a super productive player in college," Staley said. "That's where things change, when he is in the game, because of what he can do athletically.

"Things are more similar when Mac and Bailey are the quarterback. We've played against Mac. Mac has a lot of experience. Bailey has played in a lot of games, too," Staley added. "There's a body of work to go on. [Patriots Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach] Bill O'Brien is a really good offensive coach."

The Patriots passing attack has struggled no matter who has been under center, as New England's combined passer rating of 73.0 ranks 30th in the league.

With that in mind, the Bolts will be focused on playing sound ball no matter who is slinging it on the other side.

"I think first it's to focus on our job, focusing on what our job is every play," cornerback Deane Leonard said. "It's understanding where they want to get the ball, where they want to hit us. I think that's how we're going to go about it."

James added: "We'll be ready for whichever guy steps out there."

Check out the best photos from Khalil Mack's 6 sack, 23 tackle (19 solo), five tackle for loss, five quarterback hit effort that earned him AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors.

3. Win the turnover battle

The Chargers offense opened Wednesday's practice with an emphasis on ball security.

Running backs, tight ends and wide receivers all took turns catching and running with the ball as coaches tried to knock the ball loose by swatting at them with large foam pads.

Yes, there is an extra focus on the turnover battle this week.

"The No. 1 thing in your program is the ball. These last three games, we've been on the downside of the takeaway margin," Staley said. "Up until a couple of weeks ago, we were number one in the NFL in the fewest amount of giveaways. It's always on our mind.

"Starting at all of our meetings — whether it's a big team meeting, position meetings, unit meetings — there's nothing more important than that," Staley added. "You have to keep the main thing, the main thing in the NFL. We have to continue to do a good job with that."

Staley isn't wrong. Entering Week 10, the Bolts led the league with a plus-9 turnover margin.

Since then, the Chargers have lost the takeaway battle 6-0 in three games, all of which have been losses.

The most glaring differential was Sunday night against Baltimore when the Bolts turned the ball over four times.

"I think that it starts with the turnovers … the four turnovers," Justin Herbert said. "You can't expect to win football games like that."

The Bolts defense, meanwhile, has gone three games in a row without forcing a takeaway.

"You can have stretches like that. What we try to measure is our attempts," Staley said. "What do our shots on the ball look like? Khalil got a football out. When we're sacking the quarterback, are we after that football?

"We're always talking about what were your attempts like. That's because that's what we can control. Sometimes, the ball doesn't bounce your way," Staley continued. "But, I like the way that our mindset is. I like the way that our behavior is out there on the field. Now, we just have to put it out there on tape.

"Takeaway margin is a team stat. It's a team stat because it's about giveaways and takeaways. For us to go three-straight, though, that's a big emphasis for us," Staley added. "The more times that you get a chance to rush the passer and make it a passing game, that's when the takeaways happen, in the passing game, more often than not. That's what we're after."

The Bolts currently rank 11th in the league with a plus-3 turnover margin.

4. The GOAT coach

Herbert knows the tall task that awaits himself and the Bolts offense Sunday.

The Bolts quarterback has played 60 career NFL games, including two against the Patriots and a Bill Belichick-led defense.

And if we look at Herbert's passer rating in those Patriots games, they rank as the 57th and 60th marks of his career.

"They are really sound, fundamentally. They're really well-coached and they have some really talented guys on that side of the ball," Herbert said. "When you pair that together, you're going to get a really good defense. We have to do a good job of watching film and having a good protection plan, especially this week."

Herbert was asked how much Belichick himself plays a part in that.

"I'm sure that if I really looked into the fine details of that, I'm sure that there are," Herbert said. "We know special of a coach he is, and it shows with his defense.

"It's definitely something that you have to be aware of and keep watching film to do your best to pick up on things," Herbert added.

Even with the Patriots having a rough season overall, New England's defense ranks eighth in total yards allowed per game at 316.8.

Staley said Wednesday that he has no doubt that Belichick — a surefire future Hall of Famer — will have his defense ready to go.

"He has seen it all. He's definitely the standard in the coaching profession, certainly in the National Football League," Staley said. "He's somebody that I've studied a lot, learned a lot from. I've never worked with him, but he's just been one of those guys that has been the best in our profession for a long time

"You just respect the longevity and you respect the body of work," Staley added. 'Going through so many different eras of players and so many different styles of play of football, to be able to stand the test of time and to have his type of resume, it really does, it speaks for itself. Nothing but full respect for him."

Check out the best photos from the Chargers Thursday practice at Hoag Performance Center

5. New faces on defense

The Chargers didn't get a win Sunday night, but the defense took a step in the right direction after struggling most of the season.

That performance — limiting an explosive Ravens offense to just 20 points — came after three new defensive backs saw extensive playing time.

Leonard played all 71 snaps at outside cornerback while Essang Bassey played 40 snaps in the slot. Safety Jaylinn Hawkins played 17 snaps in three-safety packages with James and Alohi Gilman.

"It was all about the players, it wasn't really anything the coaches did. We ran the same plays we always run," said Chargers Defensive Coordinator Derrick Ansley. "Our players have really made their mind up how they want to go play and they showed how they can play when they're capable."

James added: "I feel like the guys that got the opportunity to play in the game, they capitalized on the opportunity. It started in practice. All week long, they prepared. We came out and executed the game plan. I feel like when you do that and when your number is called, and you go out and execute, that is what you can get."

Staley said this week that the trio of Leonard, Bassey and Hawkins will likely get more run in the secondary but added that it's always a heated competition in practice.

Leonard and Hawkins both said they spent this week focused on fixing their mistakes and getting ready for New England.

"I think there's a lot to clean up, a lot to look at," Leonard said. "You've got to look at your mistakes and just improve from them, that's the biggest part, that's what I look at.

"I think a big thing is getting experience is trusting yourself when you see things," Leonard added. "There's some things that I saw there that I didn't fully trust and I wish I could've capitalized on, but it's just having the mentality to keep on improving every week."

Hawkins added: "Just win the day. That's the main thing with the guys as a unit, we go out there in practice and try to win the day. We'll let the rest take care of itself but what matters is being present and winning the day."

Bolt Up!

Secure your Chargers Mini Plan today! Click here to learn more.

Related Content

From Our Partners