3 Takeaways from Patriots' Week 8 Win
For the first time during the 2021 season, the New England Patriots are on a winning streak. They appear to be trending in the right direction after a slow start to the year, and that was evident on Sunday.
The Pats went on the road and notched an impressive 27-24 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium. New England took a 10-point lead when Nick Folk booted a 30-yard field goal with two minutes, 19 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, and the score only made the game look closer because Los Angeles scored a touchdown in the final minute.
After losing three of their first four games, the Patriots have now won three of their past four. Their latest victory followed a dominant 54-13 home win over the New York Jets in Week 7.
Here are three takeaways from New England's Week 8 victory.
Phillips, Defense Step Up Late in a Big Way
The Chargers have plenty of offensive playmakers, and that was on display when two of their first three drives resulted in touchdowns. However, the Patriots' defense made adjustments from there, resulting in a much more impressive second-half showing for the unit.
Los Angeles' final nine possessions resulted in four punts, two interceptions, the end of the first half, a field goal and a touchdown (on its final drive when the game was essentially over). Both of those interceptions were courtesy of New England safety Adrian Phillips, and one was a game-changing play.
The 29-year-old picked off Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert for the second time with 10:11 to go in the fourth quarter, returning it for a 26-yard touchdown that gave the Patriots a 24-17 lead (after Mac Jones connected with Jakobi Meyers for a successful two-point conversion).
It was the first career multi-interception game for Phillips, who spent six seasons with the Chargers before joining the Pats prior to the 2020 campaign.
"Everybody always wants to kind of stick to to their former team, and this is a great organization that we played against today,” he told reporters. "Just to be able to go out there and play against them and end up having the game that I had, it was sweet. I loved it."
While Phillips made a pair of big plays, the rest of the New England defense helped to hold Herbert to 223 passing yards, as he completed only 18 of his 35 pass attempts.
It was an encouraging showing for the Patriots, who will look to play just as well against stronger quarterbacks down the line.
Folk Continues to Impress with His Consistency
It can be tough for NFL teams to win when they have an unreliable kicker. The Patriots don't have that problem, because Folk has been one of the most consistent performers in the league over the past two seasons.
After going 26-for-28 in 2020, the 36-year-old has been even more impressive this year. Through eight games, he's made 20 of his 21 field-goal attempts, with his lone miss coming in Week 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a 56-yard attempt in tough weather conditions.
On Sunday, Folk matched his season high with four field goals, including a pair of 48-yarders. He was also successful on his lone extra-point attempt to record a season-high-tying 13 points. He's also made 40 straight field-goal attempts of less than 50 yards, the longest active streak in the NFL.
Folk's single-season high for made field goals is 33, which he set in 2013 with the New York Jets. But if he continues at his current pace, he would break that mark this season. And it'll be nice for the Patriots to be able to keep counting on him to provide stability on special teams.
Patriots May Be a Playoff Contender After All
Early in the year, the Patriots didn't look like a playoff contender. They lost their opener to the Miami Dolphins, who have since lost seven consecutive games. New England then went on to start 2-4, and its 25-22 win over the Houston Texans in Week 5 wasn't quite a resounding victory, either.
But the Pats have played some close games against strong teams, and they've now notched two straight wins to get back to .500 at 4-4. They're feeling good, but they're also not overconfident.
"We have to be a consistent team," safety Devin McCourty said, per Matthew Fairburn of The Athletic. "We can’t have two big wins have us walking around like we're the kings of the AFC. We have four wins. That doesn't guarantee us anything. That doesn't put you anywhere."
But it does put the Patriots in a better position than they were at in mid-October. Especially considering they have an opportunity to keep the momentum going with winnable games each of the next three weeks against the Carolina Panthers (4-4), Cleveland Browns (4-4) and Atlanta Falcons (3-4).
There will be some tough matchups for New England late in the year, including two against the AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills. But if it can keep playing well now, it may pick up some big wins down the stretch and work its way back into the playoffs after missing out in 2020.