Takeaways from Chargers’ loss: They did give Patriots good run – Los Angeles Times

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The Chargers lost their second consecutive game Sunday, falling to New England at SoFi Stadium 27-24.

Takeaways as they sit at 4-3 entering Week 9:

Chargers safety Derwin James (33) and corner Ryan Smith (23) celebrate after making a  stand against the Patriots.

Chargers safety Derwin James (33) and cornerback Ryan Smith (23) celebrate after making a defensive stand against the Patriots. The Chargers’ run defense showed improvement.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

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A step forward on the ground (Part 1)

The struggling run defense yielded 141 yards, yes, but the Patriots had to rush 39 times to reach that total, an average of 3.6 yards per carry.

“I felt like our run defense actually took an incredible step forward, a huge step forward,” coach Brandon Staley said. “I thought we tackled extremely well. I thought we were really physical.”

Interior defensive lineman Justin Jones returned after suffering a calf injury in the Chargers’ season opener, a development Staley said was significant.

The Chargers entered Sunday ranked last in the NFL, giving up an average of 162.5 yards on the ground. The longest run the Chargers surrendered Sunday was a 14-yarder by Brandon Bolden.

Patriots returner Gunner Olszewski is finally tackled by the Chargers.

Patriots returner Gunner Olszewski is finally tackled by the Chargers.

(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

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Under the Gunner — again

For the second season in a row, the Chargers found themselves repeatedly chasing after Gunner Olszewski, New England’s 6-foot, 190-pound return man out of Bemidji State.

Olszewski returned four punts for 80 yards, continually providing the Patriots with improved field position and lifted spirits.

Asked what he saw out of the punt coverage team, Staley said, “I saw them beat us decidedly in that phase.”

He explained that the Chargers “didn’t manage well enough” New England’s blocking scheme. Staley said the Chargers needed more support from the middle of their coverage team since the Patriots were clamping down on the outside.

Olszewski returned three punts for 145 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers last season at SoFi Stadium.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) scrambles in the pocket near the goal line against the Patriots.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) scrambles in the pocket near the goal line against the Patriots. The Chargers faced a long field all game long.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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Third and very long

The Chargers’ issues on third down continued as they finished four of 12 overall and, during one stretch, failed to convert six of seven.

Staley talked often over the last two weeks about the need for the Chargers to be more productive on first and second downs.

Against New England, they faced third and six or longer nine times and never had a situation shorter than third and four.

“What we’ve got to do is stay out of known pass,” Staley said, “do a better job of staying out of those designer looks where they’re setting their third-down defense up to engineer their stuff against your protection scheme.”

Later, he said: “Third down is a place you don’t want to be in the NFL. You don’t want to live like that.”

The Chargers'  Justin Jackson looks for running room against the Patriots.

The Chargers’ Justin Jackson, who broke free for a 75-yard run against the Patriots, looks for running room.

(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

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A step forward on the ground (Part 2)

After gaining only 26 yards on the ground against Baltimore in Week 6, the Chargers rebounded for 163 yards — their second-highest output in 2021 — in 20 attempts.

That performance was boosted mightily by a 75-yard run by Justin Jackson. Austin Ekeler carried a team-high 11 times for 64 yards.

“I thought that was a highlight today,” Staley said of the running game. “I was really pleased with our production.”

Chargers wide receiver Joshua Palmer makes a spectacular TD catch over Patriots Jalen Mills (2) and Adrian Phillips.

Chargers wide receiver Josh Palmer makes a spectacular TD catch over Patriots Jalen Mills (2) and Adrian Phillips.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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A glimpse of the future?

A late Chargers touchdown didn’t change the outcome, only the final score.

But it also highlighted the potential of rookie wide receiver Joshua Palmer, who came down with the ball over defenders Jalen Mills and Adrian Phillips with 40 seconds left.

Palmer went up with both Patriots and wrestled the ball away from Mills near the front corner of the end zone.

“That’s the type stuff we need,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said. “Josh came up and made a play.”

Palmer, a third-round pick out of Tennessee, entered the game with six receptions for 58 yards. The touchdown was his first in the NFL.

“A catch like that, that was a big-time momentum shift,” Allen said. “When he makes a catch like that, you automatically think we’re going to get the onside kick.”

Alas, the Chargers did not recover the ensuing kick, and New England ran out the clock.