The team that seems to have inspired the Los Angeles Chargers' franchise awakening returns to Southern California on Sunday fewer than 11 months after a fateful afternoon.
In the midst of a hard-luck 2020 season, when the Chargers failed to hold late leads and absorbed multiple heartbreaking defeats, they were dealt a blow of an entirely different nature when they were crushed at home 45-0 by the Patriots on Dec. 6.
The Chargers were assured of a losing record with the defeat, yet instead of folding and accepting their fate, the team regrouped. Los Angeles won each of its last four games, including a season-ending victory at Kansas City.
The late-season rally was not enough to save the job of head coach Anthony Lynn, with new head coach Brandon Staley able to keep the momentum rolling with a 4-2 start to the 2021 season.
But another reckoning could be upon the Chargers after they were thumped 34-6 by the Baltimore Ravens on the road two weeks ago. The disappointing showing followed an impressive 47-42 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Coming off a perfectly placed bye week, the Chargers hope to get on track again behind quarterback Justin Herbert, who is sixth in the NFL with 295.2 passing yards per game. Herbert is also ninth with 14 touchdown passes.
"The bye week always comes at a good time in the NFL, no matter what week you're in," Chargers running back Austin Ekeler said. "That's just the nature of the NFL. You go through a few games; your body is not feeling 100 percent as you would like it because that's the violence of the game."
That recovery opportunity showed as everybody participated in practice for the Chargers on Wednesday, with only linebacker Drue Tranquill (chest) a limited participant.
The Patriots also had everybody take the field for practice Wednesday but 15 players were limited, including tight end Jonnu Smith, who left last week's game against the New York Jets with a shoulder injury.
Guard Shaq Mason (abdomen) and defensive tackle Carl Davis (hand) also left the Jets game but were at least limited participants as preparations for the Chargers began.
The Patriots (3-4) crushed the Jets 54-13, giving them two victories in three games as they overcame a 35-29 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6.
Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones continues to show growth with a season-best 307 yards passing against the Jets and two TDs. He did not throw an interception for the first time in five games, further distancing himself from a three-interception game Sept. 26 against the New Orleans Saints.
The Patriots were also 8-for-8 in the red zone the past two games, another sign that Jones is starting to feel comfortable with New England's complex offense.
"I think the offensive identity has been established throughout the past 20 years here," Jones said in a nod to former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. "We're trying to get there and trying to establish playing to the standard that we have. This year it's our team and we're kind of figuring out our pieces and putting them together."
The Patriots enter Sunday's game with the 14th best passing offense at 259.6 yards per game and the 16th best overall offense at 355.0 yards. On defense, the Patriots are 12th, giving up 350.6 yards per game, while the Chargers are 19th (364.3 yards).
--Field Level Media