Jahalni Tavai could only shake his head up at the podium.
For the third straight game, New England’s defense did its job on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
And for the third straight game, it wasn’t good enough for a win.
Two field goals were all that the Los Angeles Chargers could muster at Gillette Stadium against a defensive unit trudging ahead without key cogs like Matt Judon and Christian Gonzalez.
Over this three-game stretch, New England has only relinquished 26 total points against the Colts, Giants, and Chargers. As noted by Alex Barth of 98.5 The Sports Hub, that’s the lowest point total surrendered by one team over three games this season.
New England has an 0-3 record to show for it, with a broken offense giving an already stingy defense virtually no room for error.
“Like I said, I’m proud of the guys on defense,” Tavai said after New England’s 6-0 loss to the Chargers. “Is it good enough? I believe so. But it’s not our standard.”
Whatever standard that New England’s defense needs to adhere to isn’t just unrealistic. It’s downright unfathomable in today’s NFL.
According to NFL senior researcher Tony Holzman-Escareno, the 2023 Patriots are the first team to lose three consecutive games despite 10 or fewer points in each contest since the Chicago Cardinals — who dropped four straight games in such a fashion … back in 1938.
So far this season, the Patriots are just 1-3 when allowing 10 points or fewer — their lone victory being a 15-10 road win over the Jets in Week 3.
As for the rest of the NFL? Teams are 52-0 when holding opponents to 10 points or fewer.
“If we’re looking for perfection, we don’t want to see a score on the board,” Tavai noted. “I know we held their offense to no touchdowns, but we don’t even want them to score field goals. That’s the mentality we have as a defense; we take it personally when they get past our 50. Those are the type of guys that I love playing with. I’m proud of each and every guy that got to run out on the field and do their job.”
Even with Bill Belichick and his staff opting to swap in Bailey Zappe for Mac Jones under center in search of a spark, New England’s offense continued to sputter against a Chargers defense giving up a league-worst 282 passing yards per contest entering Sunday afternoon.
The loss of Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle) and Demario Douglas (concussion protocol) did sap New England of some of its most productive playmakers on Sunday.
Still, Zappe (13 of 25, 141 passing yards, zero touchdowns) and the Patriots did not advance into the red zone at any point during their 11 total drives on Sunday.
“Super frustrating, not being able to go out there – defense holds them to six points and for us not to be able to go out there and put us anything on the board is tough,” Ezekiel Elliott said. “I feel bad for those guys on the defensive ball they’ve been playing. Good defense week after week. We’ve got to figure out how to make more plays on offense and give them some help.”
Of course, some of New England’s impressive defensive stats over these last three games can perhaps be negated by the level of competition that they’ve gone against.
In Frankfurt, Germany, New England contained Indy’s backup QB in Gardner Minshew. Coming out of the bye week, the Patriots didn’t exactly have to go up against a Murderers’ Row in Tommy DeVito and the tanking Giants.
But despite their sub-.500 record, Justin Herbert and the Chargers have the personnel in place to make even stout defenses crumble in short order.
Los Angeles entered Sunday’s game ranked eighth overall in the NFL in points per game (24.5), but could only generate 241 total yards of offense and 13 total first downs against New England.
Herbert improved to 1-2 in his career against the Patriots, but has only thrown for two touchdowns and has been knocked for four picks over that stretch.
But even one of the more talented QBs in the NFL left mortal on Sunday, New England’s offense failed to reward the other side of the ball with some much-needed points on the board.
“Our defense is playing phenomenal,” Zappe said. “Like I’ve said multiple times, it starts with me as a quarterback on the offensive side. I’ve got to do better. I’ve got to get us down there. I’ve got to get us an opportunity to score points. Taking sacks and doing all those things isn’t doing a good job of doing that. I’ve got to throw it better. I’ve got to make smarter decisions. Once I start doing that, then we’ll start scoring points.”
At this stage of the 2023 season, most Patriots fans are fixated on the projected draft board, rather than the standings. For those in New England’s locker room, pride and silver linings stand as a few of the tangible goals still in front of them.
New England’s depleted defense deserves full marks for continuing to buy in amid a season where little has gone right.
But with no hope on the horizon for a resurgence on offense, it remains to be seen how much the Patriots’ defense can continue to harp on such unrealistic standards to try to give their teammates a fighting shot.
“The standard is high,” Jabrill Peppers said. “From a man, to a man, we know what we have got to do. Play for the man next to you, we don’t ask for much but your best. We have got to do more, we have to get some more takeaways, we have got to start scoring on defense. We are going to find ways to rectify the situation and make it right, but right now we are just not doing enough.”
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