Here's what we learned in the Chargers' 21-13 loss to the New England Patriots:
1. The Chargers aren't there yet.
Halfway through the football season, the Chargers have proven to everyone that they're better than their 0-4 start. And, halfway through the season, the Chargers have proven to those same folks that they're not good enough to go beat the Patriots on their home field in New England.
While the team did some good things against the Patriots, the defense still allowed a possible seven scoring drives. That six of those drives ended with a field-goal attempt is a victory in the same way that finding out your flu is actually just food poisoning.
The biggest question marks, though, remain on the offensive side of the ball, where the team continues to scuffle. Sunday, the offense did look like they were on the cusp of a big day, but little problems – a step out of bounds, a possible pick play, a couple of timely drops and a few passes an inch or two off – held them to just a pair of touchdowns, and against a sure playoff team, that's not enough.
2. The mistakes were just too big.
There were plenty of places to look for plays where the Chargers came up too short. Their tackling continued to be inconsistent and the Patriots' running backs took advantage when they caught the ball in space. The offensive issues previously mentioned were too costly, and the Chargers didn't take enough advantage of the Patriots' uneven defense. But the biggest mistake was Travis Benjamin's punt return misadventure that turned into a safety.
Benjamin, who got things started in the shutout win over Denver, misplayed the punt when it was in the air and then completely lost track of where he was on the field, turning back into the end zone on his way across the field. He was tackled for a safety, and on the following possession, the Patriots kicked a field goal for a five-point swing. Had the Chargers not allowed those five points the final play of the game wouldn't have been a forced pass into the end zone but a game-tying field-goal attempt.
3. The Chargers' pass rush isn't infallible.
Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa and Chris McCain give the Chargers an elite unit – a tremendous advantage whenever they step onto the football field. The pass-rushing trio can cause total chaos and force quarterbacks into bad decisions. Against Tom Brady and the Patriots, though, the pass rush wasn't enough.
The team didn't get into the backfield enough, sacking Brady three times without forcing a turnover. He was able to slip and slide around the pocket, eluding rushers. And if he couldn't find a place to stand, he simply either dumped the ball off to a running back or he threw it away. While it'll be difficult to repeat, it's a blueprint for opposing teams who help to neutralize the Chargers' defensive line.
4. Everyone could use a break.
The bye week is coming at the perfect time for the Chargers, who have played half their schedule. They've got physically beat-up players like starting tackle Joe Barksdale and running back Melvin Gordon, who definitely need the time to heal. They've got an important piece, starting linebacker Denzel Perryman, coming back off the injured reserve. But more importantly, the Chargers get a chance to reset mentally.