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‘Unacceptable’ special teams play dooms Chargers in historic loss

New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty scoops up a blocked field-goal attempt as the Chargers' Ty Long gives chase.
New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty (32) scoops up a blocked field-goal attempt as the Chargers’ Ty Long gives chase during the first half of the Chargers’ 45-0 loss Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Typically, when an NFL team loses 45-0, a lot of things have to go wrong in a lot of areas to achieve such a lopsided score.

But in the embarrassing collapse against the New England Patriots, the Chargers can point to one culprit — special teams.

The unit has struggled all season. Things escalated so much that two weeks ago coach Anthony Lynn reassigned 61-year-old special teams coordinator George Stewart, who also served as Lynn’s mentor, and assigned
Keith Burns and Chris Caminiti to oversee the units.

That didn’t help Sunday.

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“It’s unacceptable, special teams was,” Lynn said, “the whole operation.”

In a season full of disappointment, the Chargers hit a new low point in a blowout loss to the New England Patriots at SoFi Field.

First, kicker Michael Badgley missed a 46-yard field goal at the end of the first quarter, setting the tone for the rest of the game. After the Chargers’ next offensive possession stalled, the punting unit allowed Gunner Olszewski to streak down the sideline 70 yards for a touchdown.

The Chargers’ offense had only touched the ball once, and already faced a two-score deficit at the start of the second quarter.

With three seconds left before halftime, the Patriots blocked a Badgley 58-yard field-goal attempt, and defensive back Devin McCourty returned the loose ball 44 yards for a touchdown.

“That’s a tough situation,” quarterback Justin Herbert said. “It’s just one of those tough outcomes where they got us and we didn’t go out there and execute. We need to be better. I know I’ve said that a lot, but we need to go out there and learn from it. That’s what it has to be like.”

The bleeding continued.

In the fourth quarter, Olszewski returned a punt 61 yards, setting up New England for a field goal.

Chargers punter Ty Long fails to tackle New England's Gunner Olszewski.
Chargers punter Ty Long fails to tackle New England’s Gunner Olszewski, who goes on to score a touchdown during the Chargers’ 45-0 loss Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Even when the Chargers contained the Patriots, they still messed up.

The Patriots lined up to punt five times. The Chargers had the wrong number of players on three of those plays — twice they were one short, and once had one too many. That five-yard penalty gifted the Patriots a first down.

Officials also flagged the Chargers for holding on the second-half kickoff, and a false start on a punt in the second quarter.

As for the Burns-Caminiti debut, Lynn obviously was not pleased.

“It was unacceptable, OK,” Lynn said. “Coaches are responsible for that. This week it was just not good enough. I can’t say that enough.”

Sad sack

Rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray wasn’t happy after the game, so he didn’t want to talk about it, but the first-round draft pick from Oklahoma secured his first sack Sunday.

“It doesn’t matter,” Murray said. “We lost.”

Murray collided with Patriots quarterback Cam Newton at the end of the second quarter. The linebacker finished with two tackles for a loss, a quarterback hit and 14 combined tackles, a career high. CBS cameras frequently showed Murray clapping and trying to energize his teammates.

The novel coronavirus has turned the NFL and college football seasons into oddities of historic proportions. Epidemiologists aren’t surprised.

Against the Las Vegas Raiders last month, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley removed Murray from the game briefly because the linebacker struggled to communicate play calls. He played in only 52% of the snaps. But Bradley said he has responded well in practice, and Murray has not played fewer than 77% of the snaps in the last three games.

He is hopeful he and his teammates still can bring intensity the rest of the season, even though postseason thoughts are gone.

“It’s a team deal,” Murray said. “Everyone is in this together. It’s on all of us, and each and every individual in that locker room has to look in the mirror and ask, ‘What can we do more to not be in this situation?’ There’s four games left, and we have to do what we can to play to that elite standard.”

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 45-0 loss to the New England Patriots at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.


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