Patriots vs. Rams: Patriots see playoff hopes dwindle in lopsided loss

Newton didn’t finish the game, as Coach Bill Belichick sat down the former NFL MVP and went to young quarterback Jarrett Stidham in the fourth quarter with the game essentially decided. That prompted widespread speculation that the Patriots will turn to Stidham for the rest of the season and move on from Newton in the offseason, although Belichick was having none of it when asked during his postgame video news conference about his quarterback plans.

“Great question. … I really am glad you asked that,” Belichick said. “Cam’s our quarterback.”

Newton, for his part, said he’ll simply wait to hear what the decision is, if indeed there is a decision to be made.

“That’s not my call,” Newton said. “I’m just doing what I’m asked. I have to still go into each and every week with the mentality to keep getting better. And that’s what I plan on doing.”

The Patriots had their two-game winning streak snapped and their record dropped to 6-7. Any realistic chances of winning a 12th straight AFC East title evaporated long ago. Securing even a wild-card playoff spot is a long shot now. ESPN’s Football Power Index pegged the Patriots’ postseason chances at 6 percent after the loss.

“They played and coached better than we did,” Belichick said. “They deserved to win. We just have to all do a better job, starting with me. It just wasn’t our night tonight.”

The Patriots last were home for the playoffs in the 2008 season, when Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener and even an 11-5 record with Matt Cassel at quarterback was not enough to reach the postseason. The Patriots had their NFL-record streak of 17 straight seasons with 10 or more victories ended. They last failed to reach 10 wins in 2002, when they went 9-7.

The new era arrived when Brady went to owner Robert Kraft’s home in March to tell Kraft that he was leaving in free agency after two decades and six Super Bowl titles in a Patriots uniform. With Brady in Tampa, key Patriots players opted out of the season and Belichick had to deal with multiple coronavirus and injury issues. They haven’t been terrible; it’s just that mediocre feels terrible by their dynastic standards.

The Patriots regrouped with four wins in their previous five games and were coming off a 45-0 triumph Sunday over the Chargers in the same building. But the Rams have one of the NFL’s top defenses and the Patriots’ lack of a passing game in the Newton-led offense made them no match on this night for the team they’d defeated in Super Bowl LIII in February 2019.

Newton had been held below 100 passing yards in each of the Patriots’ previous two games. He had 119 passing yards Thursday night, completing just 9 of 16 attempts. He had an interception returned for a touchdown by Rams linebacker Kenny Young.

“We’ve just got to be better,” Newton said. “And it starts with me personally.”

Newton had been listed as questionable on the injury report because of an abdominal injury. Asked what effect that injury had on his performance, he said: “None.”

It was only the sixth time in Belichick’s 21 seasons as their coach that the Patriots were held to three or fewer points in a game. Newton was stopped on a fourth-and-goal carry from the L.A. 2-yard line in the first half. Nothing changed when Stidham entered the game. He completed four of five passes on his initial drive but threw incomplete on fourth down from the L.A. 16-yard line. Stidham ended up completing five of seven passes for 27 yards.

The Patriots spent the week in the Los Angeles area and practiced at UCLA. They return home with Belichick facing some interesting decisions. Does he give Stidham, a fourth-round draft choice in 2019, a look at quarterback at some point during what remains of a now-basically-lost season?

“I don’t think there’s any question it’s time to sit Cam down and bring in Stidham, give him a chance,” Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw said on Fox’s postgame show.

Asked why he plans to stick with Newton, Belichick said: “He’s our quarterback. We just answered that one…. We didn’t do anything well enough to win tonight. So we’ve all got to do a better job.”

Asked about Stidham’s progress, Belichick said: “Jarrett has worked hard. He’s tried to take advantage of his opportunities. That’s not really the point.”

The Patriots signed Newton to a modest one-year contract in July after he was released in March by the Carolina Panthers. The Patriots and Newton will have to decide whether there will be a second season for Newton in New England.

“This offense, they have to head in a new direction after this season,” Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin said on the NFL Network’s postgame show.

The Rams improved to 9-4 and moved into sole possession of first place in the NFC West, a half-game ahead of the Seattle Seahawks. They controlled the game by rushing for 186 yards, 171 of them by rookie tailback Cam Akers. That was the most by a rookie leaguewide this season and the most ever by a rookie against the Patriots.

Quarterback Jared Goff threw an interception but had a first-half rushing touchdown on a quarterback sneak and threw a second-half touchdown pass to wide receiver Cooper Kupp.

The Los Angeles defense amassed six sacks. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald had 1.5 sacks to take over the NFL lead.

“We just have to be better collectively,” Newton said. “We didn’t play a good style or brand of football tonight and they did.”

The Patriots are left in the unfamiliar position of playing out the string in a season bereft of postseason possibilities. Belichick didn’t say the words, “On to Miami,” in reference to the Patriots’ next opponent. But he wasn’t that far away from that.

“Get ready for our next game,” Belichick said. “That’s what we do every week. So I don’t see any reason to do it any differently.”

Patriots got to Jarrett Stidham at QB, fail on fourth down

By Mark Maske

The Patriots went to Jarrett Stidham at quarterback, sitting down Cam Newton with the game basically decided. Stidham completed four of five passes on his first drive but threw an incompletion on fourth and four from the L.A. 16-yard line. (Rams 24, Patriots 3 with 7:15 left in the 4th quarter)

Rams convert twice on fourth down, get Goff-to-Kupp touchdown to increase lead

By Mark Maske

The Rams extended their lead on a two-yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff to wide receiver Cooper Kupp. Goff moved to his right and got the ball to Kupp, who made the grab and managed to get both his feet in bounds. The Rams held the ball for 16 plays, 12 of which were running plays, and moved 90 yards. Tailback Cam Akers had a 25-yard run and is up to 149 rushing yards on the night. The Rams converted twice on fourth and one, once on a quarterback sneak by Goff and again when the Patriots jumped offside. The Rams tried and failed to get the Patriots to jump offside, called a timeout, then came back on the field and did draw the penalty. (Rams 24, Patriots 3 with 1:33 left in the 3rd quarter)

Rams lead Patriots, 17-3, at halftime

By Mark Maske

The Patriots’ chances to make the AFC playoffs in Year 1 after quarterback Tom Brady’s departure could be all but extinguished Thursday night in Inglewood, Calif. It’s not looking particularly promising for the Patriots as they trail the Rams, 17-3, at SoFi Stadium.

The Patriots actually could be in far better shape. If they’d merely gotten field goals on their three trips inside the L.A. 20-yard line, they’d be facing only a 10-9 deficit. Instead, they got one field goal to go with a failed fourth down and a pick-six thrown by quarterback Cam Newton.

Rams linebacker Kenny Young had a 79-yard touchdown on his interception of a screen pass, aided by defensive tackle Aaron Donald slowing Patriots running back Damien Harris with a grab before Harris could get into position to make the catch.

The failed fourth down came when Newton was tackled for a two-yard loss when he kept the ball on an option play from the L.A. 2-yard line.

The Rams’ Jared Goff threw an interception but had a rushing touchdown on first-quarter quarterback sneak. The Rams had 99 first-half rushing yards, 89 of them by tailback Cam Akers. Kicker Matt Gay added a field goal. The Rams are seeking sole possession of first place in the NFC West with a victory. They have a record of 33-0 when leading at halftime during Sean McVay’s coaching tenure. (Rams 17, Patriots 3 at halftime)

Newton stopped on fourth and goal

By Mark Maske

The Patriots are doing nothing right, as they failed on a fourth-and-goal attempt from the L.A. 2-yard line. Cam Newton was tackled for a two-yard loss as he kept the ball on an option play. Newton also had been stopped for only a one-yard gain on a third-down quarterback keeper from the 3-yard line. The Patriots opted against a field goal that would have gotten them on the board and made it a two-score game. The Patriots thus got no points from a 12-play drive that included 11 running plays and took over eight minutes off the clock. (Rams 17, Patriots 0 with 6:48 left in the 2nd quarter)

Cam Newton throws pick-six to Rams’ Kenny Young on botched screen

By Mark Maske

The Patriots’ chance to get back into the game after an interception evaporated quickly, as quarterback Cam Newton threw a pick-six to linebacker Kenny Young. Young made a great break on the ball to intercept a screen pass intended for running back Damien Harris, who had been slowed by being grabbed by defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Young went 79 yards to the opposite end zone. (Rams 17, Patriots 0 with 14:46 left in the 2nd quarter)

Pats get interception but no pick-six

By Mark Maske

The Patriots got a takeaway on an interception of a Jared Goff pass by Myles Bryant, an undrafted rookie cornerback. Bryant took the ball away from wide receiver Robert Woods, got up and raced to the end zone for a touchdown. He was ruled down by contact at the spot of the interception on an instant replay review. It actually was close to Woods being down by contact with a legal catch before the change of possession. But the ball was awarded to the Patriots at the L.A. 32-yard line. (Rams 10, Patriots 0 with 56 seconds left in the 1st quarter)

Rams piling up rushing yards, add to lead with field goal

By Mark Maske

The Rams are dominating so far, adding to their lead with a 35-yard field goal by kicker Matt Gay. They already have amassed 84 rushing yards, 83 of them by tailback Cam Akers. Jared Goff had a 14-yard completion to wide receiver Robert Woods on a third-and-12 play during the drive. Akers had an 11-yard run. An intentional grounding penalty called on Goff backed the Rams up. Akers got 16 yards on a third-and-18 catch and run, and Coach Sean McVay opted for the kick instead of a fourth-and-two try. The officials threw a flag on the successful field goal but then waved it off and called no penalty. (Rams 10, Patriots 10 with 5:16 left in the 1st quarter)

Better than the Super Bowl: Rams get early touchdown

By Mark Maske

It took the Rams exactly one drive to top their scoring output from Super Bowl LIII against the Patriots. Coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff were befuddled on that evening by the defensive scheming of Coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots as the Rams lost, 13-3. On this night, the Rams have had one possession and have a touchdown. Goff scored on a one-yard quarterback sneak on fourth and goal. McVay left his offense on the field after wide receiver Cooper Kupp was tackled just shy of the goal line on a third-down catch. Goff leaped over the pile and extended the ball across the goal line to cap a six-play, 75-yard drive. (Rams 7, Patriots 0 with 11:21 left in the 1st quarter)

What to watch for during Thursday night’s Patriots-Rams matchup

By Mark Maske

The Patriots try to climb above .500 and the Rams attempt to take sole possession of first place in the NFC West when the two teams meet in Inglewood, Calif., on “Thursday Night Football.”

The Patriots play their second straight game at SoFi Stadium after overwhelming the Los Angeles Chargers, 45-0, Sunday. They remained in the Los Angeles area between games and practiced this week at UCLA.

They have won two straight and four of five games to keep their season from unraveling in Year 1 following the departure of six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots minus Brady are now only one victory behind Brady minus the Patriots, with the Patriots at 6-6 and Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 7-5.

It remains a long shot that the Patriots can climb back into the AFC playoff race, with a jumble of contending teams ahead of them. But if Coach Bill Belichick can somehow craft a winning season after Brady’s exit, key player opt-outs and in-season coronavirus and injury issues, he will have done a superb job.

The Patriots’ last two wins have come with quarterback Cam Newton failing to reach 100 passing yards. He had 84 passing yards in a 20-17 triumph over the Arizona Cardinals and then 69 passing yards in the 45-point triumph over the Chargers. But he contributed two rushing touchdowns against the Chargers and has 11 rushing touchdowns on the season. The Patriots had two special-teams touchdowns Sunday, one on a punt return and one on a return of a blocked field goal.

Newton was listed as questionable on the Patriots’ injury report because of an abdominal injury but is expected to start. He was among a long list of Patriots players listed as questionable. The only Rams player listed as questionable was kicker Matt Gay.

The task for Newton and the New England offense is daunting. The Rams rank third in the NFL in rush defense, first in pass defense and second in total defense. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is second in the league with his 11 sacks, one behind Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt.

The Rams have won three of their last four games and, at 8-4, are tied with the Seattle Seahawks for first place. They hold the tiebreaker advantage after beating the Seahawks last month. Quarterback Jared Goff is coming off a solid outing in Sunday’s 38-28 triumph at Arizona in which he threw for 351 yards and a touchdown.

But Goff has had his ups and downs on the season, with 10 interceptions to go with his 17 touchdown passes. He’s only the 10th-rated passer in the NFC. Things have not gone all that smoothly for the top two selections in the 2016 NFL draft, with Goff having some issues and Carson Wentz losing the starting job for the Philadelphia Eagles this week.

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