The New England Patriots' quest to remain relevant in the AFC playoff picture hits the road for a three-game stint beginning Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Chargers.
The contest will be the first of two in Los Angeles for the Patriots (5-6), who will subsequently face the Rams on Thursday Night Football. The trip continues through Miami before New England wraps up its season with two games at home.
The Patriots enter Sunday having won three of four to get within a game of .500 after a 2-5 start. Coach Bill Belichick is looking to avoid his first losing season with the club since he took the job in 2000.
"Not where we need to be or want to be," said Belichick. "[A fast start] will be important this week. It's important every week."
The Chargers (3-8), meanwhile, have lost four of their last five as they limp to the finish of a rebuilding year.
"The playoff hunt is probably not going to happen at this point, as best we can do," coach Anthony Lynn said. "And I don't think that's going to be good enough. But we play for each other, and we play for the love of the game."
The matchup will be the first between the Patriots and Chargers not to feature either Tom Brady or Philip Rivers at quarterback since 1997. New England has won five straight in the series, including 41-28 in an AFC Divisional Playoff game following the 2018 season.
The Patriots enter off a 20-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals sealed by a Nick Folk 50-yard field goal as time expired. Cam Newton struggled throwing the ball in the win, connecting on 9 of 18 passes for a season-low 84 yards and two interceptions, but his coaches still have faith that the former MVP is the right person to lead the team.
"The best part about Cam Newton is the only statistic he cares about is the one in the win column," said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
Newton was limited in practice Wednesday with an abdomen injury. Cornerback J.C. Jackson (hip), whose six interceptions are second most in the league, was also limited, while linebacker Anfernee Jennings was absent due to illness.
While New England's offense has struggled through the air, Los Angeles' passing attack ranks second in the league behind only Kansas City. Rookie Justin Herbert has impressed in his debut season, throwing for 316 yards on a career-high 52 attempts in a 27-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills last week.
"It's always been about the team, and going forward we're trying to win each game as they come," Herbert said. "I'm just trying to be 1-0 each week."
Defensive end Joey Bosa had one of the best days of his career against the Bills with personal records of three sacks, five quarterback hits and six tackles for loss. Bosa, however, did not practice Wednesday with a shin injury and was joined by cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. (foot) and Casey Hayward Jr. (groin), linebacker Denzel Perryman (back) and wide receivers Joe Reed (ribs) and Mike Williams (not injury related) as absent.
-Field Level Media