Patriots run off the field by L.A. Rams as their playoff hopes fade


The New England Patriots didn’t deserve to win Thursday night against the Los Angeles Rams — they couldn’t score inside the red zone, provide resistance against the run or avoid costly penalties.

They looked nothing like the playoff team they hoped to be, and because of that, are on the brink of missing the postseason for the first time since 2008 after getting run off the field in a 24-3 loss at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.

The Patriots (6-7) now have a 6% chance of qualifying, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

Had they defeated the Rams (9-4), it would have been 28%.

That’s a big swing and with remaining games at the Miami Dolphins (8-4), and then at home against the Buffalo Bills (9-3) and New York Jets (0-12), the Patriots will have to win out … and possibly need help from others.

It was a significantly disappointing turn for a team that had entered with four wins in its previous five games, with players saying during the week that they had finally discovered their identity as a power-running team, with a defense that sets the tone through physicality and a dominating-at-times special-teams unit.

They didn’t play to that identity Thursday night. The Rams took it to them from the start, providing what is essentially a knockout punch to New England’s postseason hopes.

Describe the game in two words: Offensive offense. The Patriots’ limitations in the passing game showed up in a big way — a combination of quarterback Cam Newton‘s sporadic play, limited firepower around him and questionable playcalling in the red zone. The pass protection wasn’t great either, as the Patriots surrendered six sacks.

QB breakdown: Playing through an abdomen injury, Newton finished 9-for-16 for 119 yards with one costly interception, while adding 16 yards on seven carries. He was pulled with 10:12 remaining in the fourth quarter, replaced by Jarrett Stidham. That sparks a question as to whether coach Bill Belichick will stick with Newton next week in Miami or turn things over to Stidham. Newton has been held to one or fewer passing touchdowns in 15 straight starts; that’s the longest streak by a starting quarterback since Sam Bradford went 16 straight from 2010-12.

Pivotal play: Newton’s pick-six on the first play of the second quarter as the Patriots were at the Rams’ 19-yard line. He was looking for running back Damien Harris on a screen, but Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald made a heads-up play to hold up Harris at the line of scrimmage so he couldn’t release. Newton should have thrown the ball into the ground, but instead delivered a blind pass to where Harris would have been, which was returned 79 yards for a touchdown by Rams linebacker Kenny Young. That gave the Rams a 17-0 lead, and was the first pick-six in the NFL on a red zone screen pass since 2010 (Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Brett Keisel vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

Troubling trend: The Patriots have four red zone turnovers this season. That’s more than their previous three seasons combined in which they had three.

Silver lining: Undrafted free-agent cornerback Myles Bryant had the play of the night, a diving interception that initially was signaled a pick-six before replay ruled he was down by contact. It gave the Patriots brief hope and continued Bryant’s ascent to a more significant role. The University of Washington alum caught the eye of teammates and coaches in training camp and started the year on the practice squad before getting a quick promotion.

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