You don’t beat the defending Super Bowl champions on the road by playing timid, conservative football.
The Chargers seemed to grasp that concept on their first possession Sunday, showing a burst of game-opening creativity with a play-action pass for 15 yards, a wildcat formation snap to Melvin Gordon for five yards and a Travis Benjamin jet sweep for seven yards..
On a third-and 17 from the Patriots’ 49-yard line, quarterback Philip Rivers found tight end Antonio Gates for 16 yards, leaving the Chargers with what seemed like a manageable fourth-and-one at the New England 33.
It was at this point that the Chargers clammed up. Instead of going for it with an offense that had a less-than-stout Patriots defense on its heels, they called on Nick Novak, who is accurate from short range but not much of a long-range threat, to kick a 51-yard field goal.
“I think it was a long fourth-and-one; it was more like a fourth-and-two almost,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “So yeah, I thought we should kick at that point. I felt comfortable with the kicking game.”
Novak’s kick was nicked by the finger of defender Cassius Marsh and fell short. The Patriots took over at the 41-yard line, the spot of the kick.
“As an offense, you always want to go for it; you have an opportunity to score, you want to score,” tight end Hunter Henry said. “But they believed in Novak, and I trust coach Lynn and his decisions.”
Left tackle Russell Okung said he will travel to Philadelphia on Monday to meet with NFL players to continue discussions about national anthem protests, racism and social injustice.
Commissioner Roger Goodell and former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the anthem protests last season, were invited. An NFL spokesman said Goodell won’t be able to attend. Okung wasn’t sure if Kaepernick will attend.
Okung, who has raised his right fist during the anthem before the past three games, traveled to New York on an off day two weeks ago to attend the NFL owners meetings, where Goodell, players association director DeMaurice Smith and a handful of players initiated a dialogue on the issues.
“I think the league has amazing political and economic power to be a leader in change; it’s gonna be up to them if they want to do that,” Okung said after Sunday’s game. “As players, we won’t stop. We’re gonna do our work regardless of whether the league wants to walk beside us.
“These issues aren’t going away. We can’t wait until next year. Right now is a pivotal time in history, and I hope everyone wants to be on the right side of that.”
Okung said he struggled with the comments of Houston owner Bob McNair, who, according to ESPN, said: “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.” McNair apologized for the comments, which many perceived as racially insensitive.
“I’m a guy from Houston who grew up watching the Texans, and it’s very demoralizing to hear statements like that,” he said. “But I’m supremely focused on our platform and what we can do with that.”
Travis Benjamin’s punt return for a safety in the second quarter wasn’t the Chargers’ only special-teams gaffe. Rookie Rayshawn Jenkins allowed himself to get pushed into the ball and Benjamin on a first-quarter punt and was lucky to fall on the ball, preventing a turnover.
Michael Davis and Austin Ekeler made ill-advised second-quarter decisions to return kickoffs out of the end zone, Davis reaching the 17-yard line and Ekeler the 12. The Chargers were flagged for off-sides on the second-half kickoff and had to kick again. Dion Lewis returned that kick 71 yards.
And an illegal-block-above-the-waist penalty on a Patriots fourth-quarter punt forced the Chargers to begin a drive at their nine-yard line instead of the 18.
“The punt return [for a safety] was huge, but the penalty at the end, when we blocked the guy in the back — not smart football,” Lynn said. “That rookie has made that mistake a couple of times, and now I have to look at if I’m going to play that rookie, if I’m going to allow him to hurt this team again in that way.”
Joey Bosa’s second-quarter sack of Tom Brady for a loss of nine yards was the 19th of his career, the most in NFL history for a player in the first 20 games of his career. Aldon Smith (18.5) held the previous mark. … Right tackle Joe Barksdale (turf toe) was inactive for the second straight game and was replaced by Michael Schofield. The line, which also included rookie left guard Dan Feeney and first-year starter Kenny Wiggins at right guard, allowed zero sacks and two quarterback hits.
Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna