Things were all good less than a week ago for the Patriots. Thursday night's 24-3 loss to the Rams was anything but.
New England entered Week 14 riding a wave of momentum created by its 45-0 shutout of the Chargers on Sunday. It took less than four minutes for L.A. to outdo its in-town rival with a game-opening touchdown.
From there, Cam Newton and the Pats found themselves playing catch-up. His benching with 10:12 remaining in regulation sums up the type of evening this ended up being.
"We knew exactly what they were going to do," Newton said afterward. "We just got to be better and it starts with me personally. Just have to make more plays, that's what it comes down to."
L.A.'s smothering defense set the tone early, with its pressure and coverage working in tandem to force back-to-back three-and-outs. That number would become somewhat of a theme for the rest of the contest.
While attempting to set up a screen for Damien Harris on the third play of the Pats' third drive, Newton hurried the throw as Leonard Floyd careened toward him on his right. The errant pass landed in the arms of Kenny Young, who took it 79 yards to the house for the longest pick-six of the 2020 season.
Facing a now 17-zip deficit, the Patriots put together their best series of the night, spanning 66 yards over 12 plays (11 runs). Situated at the L.A. 2 on fourth and goal, Newton appeared to have Harris open on an option pitch, but the QB1 opted to keep it and got tackled by linebacker Justin Hollins for a loss of two.
"It was just too outside of the pitch key and I didn't wanna, you know, kind of pitch the ball and lead to a potential turnover so I just took my chances in tryin' to take it up in there and see how much I could get. And I didn't want to create another bad play," Newton said of his vantage point on the play.
The turnover on downs proved to be the momentum-halting sequence it felt like in the moment. New England would notch a 29-yard Nick Folk field goal late in the second quarter, but the Rams' defense brought the pain to close the game. Four of N.E.'s last eight drives lasted three plays.
In three of the Pats' last four outings, passing for less than 120 yards still led to wins. Newton recorded 119 on TNF but the run game (29/107) failed to a produce a TD for the first time since Week 7.
As the driving force of one of the NFL's best rushing attacks, things will only get corrected through Newton, who added a three-yard scramble in the second half. He also went 1-of-4 for 30 yards and took four sacks before getting pulled.
Even after another underwhelming night, coach Bill Belichick is not ready to make a permanent change at QB, as evidenced by how quickly he shut down the first question of his press conference.
"Great question. I'm really glad you asked that. Cam's our quarterback," Belichick said.
Belichick's post-game message, according to Newton, also reflected how entrenched the coach is in the idea of smoothing out the flaws rather than making personnel changes.
"We just have to be better collectively and he was right," Newton shared, "I think we didn't play a good style or brand of football tonight and they did and they made more plays than us. So, it led to them winning."
Unless they want to further add to their largest loss total since 2002, the Patriots may want to consider making the game plan less one-dimensional after getting figured out and shut down in a game they needed to win.