Chargers win ugly behind special teams in 6-0 victory over Patriots

Years ago special teams were a problem for the Chargers. On Sunday, they were the solution.

The definition of “ugly win” was what the Los Angeles Chargers did in New England after winning 6-0. Yes, they scored two field goals, and that was enough.

Usually, when they come away with a victory, the first thought that jumps out is that quarterback Justin Herbert had a big game. He didn’t get sacked and took care of the football, but it wasn’t on his arm, but special teams.

Yes, the same special teams that were a mess from when the Chargers first got to Los Angeles in 2017 until 2021. 

Brandon Staley came in and wanted to improve the special teams unit. It took a positive step with Derius Swinton, but he was let go after one season.

The hire of Ryan Ficken, previously the Minnesota Vikings special teams coach, changed the trajectory of the special teams unit.

He has turned this unit around. The weather conditions made this an ugly game in which special teams would play a huge factor.

The Chargers brought in punter J.K. Scott, one of the most consistent and best punters in the NFL.

On Sunday, he punted the ball eight times for 367 yards and seven went inside the 20-yard line. SEVEN. It was a franchise record.

“There are some games where you don’t punt much and you don’t have a big role, but today there was just more punts so you are playing more of a role,” Scott said. “I was really happy with how I played. I was just having fun, not worrying about results or performance, but just going out there and having fun.”

They also signed kicker Cameron Dicker in 2022 after stints in Baltimore and Philadelphia; he came in and took the job. He hit two field goals on Sunday, which made all the difference in the game. Both of them, oddly enough, were from 38 yards.

Dicker in two seasons is 38/40, which is 95%.

The Chargers had used 12 kickers since moving to Los Angeles in 2017 before Dicker earned the job. They used five different kickers in 2017 alone.

Lastly, their explosive returner in Derius Davis, whom they drafted in the fourth round out of TCU. He has shown his explosiveness all season, including a touchdown against the Jets in week nine.

Davis returned a Baringer 57-yard punt using his speed and elusiveness to give the Chargers offense good field position. They went three-and-out, but Dicker put them ahead 6-0.

“We’ve invested a lot in specialists, in our core special teams guys,” Staley said. “I think you’ve seen our young guys that we drafted three years ago, they’re all a big part of our core teams and it was big for us today and we needed it, and Deruis [Davis] also gave us a huge lift in the return game, and he’s been doing a great job with ball security and flipping the field for us, too.”

All three players received game balls for their performance on Sunday.

The Chargers’ defense was also a significant component of the victory, especially with their five sacks in the second half.

Khalil Mack has been on a tear this season, and it continued Sunday as he had his fifth multi-sack game. He brought down Bailey Zappe twice.

One of the sacks came on the Patriots’ first drive in the second half as they drove to the Chargers 36-yard line. Zappe dropped back on third down, and Mack was there to bring him down.

The second sack came a minute before the end of the third quarter when Zappe dropped back and tried to escape from Mack but was ultimately brought down.

Those two sacks brought him to 15 on the year, which matches his career high and leaves him half a sack away from 100 on his career.

Safety Derwin James also had a big sack on Zappe on their second to final possession on fourth-and-five from the Chargers 30-yard line. James shot through and brought down Zappe, which caused a turnover on downs.

Mack also had a clutch pass rush on the final possession of Zappe when he faced fourth-and-eight, he rolled to his right when he saw tight end Hunter Henry open, but Mack got in his face and disrupted him to the point when he threw the football cornerback Essang Bassey and linebacker Eric Kendricks got there to knock it down.

“It was relentless and it was a relentless pursuit,” Mack said. “Understanding that they made some plays but ultimately defensively we were able to rally, which we have been working on, along with penalties and all those things, and in between.”

The offense had some positive moments, like not allowing a sack on Herbert, and they didn’t turn the ball over. There were some crucial drops like Quentin Johnston on third-and-12 ran across the field when Herbert hit him with a nice pass, but he ended up dropping it. Chargers had to punt.

They didn’t run the ball well at all. They ran the football 24 times for 29 yards.

To ice the game, Herbert hit receiver Alex Erickson for a 23-yard reception on third down.

“The defense held the rope once again and hats off to those guys,” receiver Keenan Allen said. “Obviously, the offense, we have to be better. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot – drops, offsides and stuff like that, we just have to be better.”

When Herbert kneeled the ball to run out the clock, it was the first time the Chargers beat the Patriots since 2008 and the first time they beat them in New England since 2005.

Bill Belichick was a problem the Chargers rarely could get over whether he had Tom Brady, Cam Newton, or even Mac Jones at quarterback. He is 8-4 against them and 3-0 in the playoffs.

This victory improves the team to 5-7, and are still alive in terms of playoffs but face the Denver Broncos next weekend. Ugly might not be enough to win next Sunday.

“This team balled and we are playing great team ball right now,” Mack said. “We just need to get ready for the next game, the Broncos.”