First he was booming. Then he was beaming.
That was the glorious Sunday of Chargers punter JK Scott.
Eight punts — one with surgical precision — and zero return yards by the New England Patriots.
“That was fun,” said the 6-foot-5 Scott, standing in the middle of a raucous locker room with an irrepressible smile. “The last two years especially, my one goal with playing football was just to have fun.”
In the lowest-scoring NFL game of the season, the Chargers held on for a 6-0 victory on a soaked-to-the-skin afternoon when highlights were as sparse as the Gillette Stadium stands.
The once-mighty Patriots have lost five games in a row, the last three despite limiting opponents to 10 points or fewer — a first for a team in the Super Bowl era.
Two 38-yard field goals by Cameron Dicker proved sufficient for the Chargers, who halted their three-game losing slide and headed home without surrendering a turnover or sack.
“There weren’t going to be any style points today,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “I wasn’t expecting it to be a high-scoring affair. So I think what our guys did is they really locked in and focused on what the game was going to be, and they took that mindset all the way until the last play.”
Staley was referring to a 23-yard completion from Justin Herbert to Alex Erickson, just promoted from the practice squad. That converted a third down and allowed the visitors to run out the clock with two kneel-downs.
Six points is a tenuous lead in the NFL, and at any moment the Patriots could have claimed the lead with a big play. Then again, it’s the Patriots, who have taken a colossal tumble since the heady days of Tom Brady and annual Super Bowl appearances.
Now, the most intriguing story line surrounding New England is how long Bill Belichick will last and how contentious his droning postgame news conferences can get.
Asked to explain what’s continuously gone wrong for the offense, the legendary coach sarcastically grumbled: “Sorry, if that wasn’t good enough.”
A reporter asked him if he wanted to stay and keep coaching the Patriots.
“I’m looking forward to this week and getting ready for the Steelers,” he said, his tone comically miserable.
This was no offensive masterpiece for the Chargers, either. They were denied a first down until the final minute of the opening quarter, averaged 1.2 yards per carry, and watched pass after pass squirt through their hands.
Herbert’s passer rating of 75.5 was barely better than that of New England’s Bailey Zappe, who got the start over the benched Mac Jones.
Herbert, who completed 22 of 37 passes for 212 yards, grew up in Oregon and therefore is accustomed to playing in wet games, although the rainfall Sunday was particularly unyielding.
“It’s always tough when you’re playing in rain like that,” he said. “As consistent as it was throughout the game, that’s the tough part. Growing up in the Northwest it’s two quarters, three quarters. It’s come and go. But this was a steady downpour, so we did our best out there.”
Zappe was sacked five times, including twice by Khalil Mack who pushed his season total to a career-best 15.
It marked the first time the Patriots have been shut out at home twice in a season. Meanwhile, the performance was a much-needed boost for a Chargers defense prone to letdowns.
“Today we were connected on all three phases, from the D-line, the linebackers and the secondary,” Chargers safety Derwin James said. “That’s the type of performance we know we can do if we stay connected for a whole game, and not just two or three quarters.”
As for Scott, his was a dazzling performance of punting. Four times he pinned the Patriots inside their 10-yard line, and one was a pristine coffin-corner punt that had New England starting on its two.
“All week, Josh Harris was telling us, `We’ve got to get wet-ball work,’” said Scott, referring to the veteran long snapper. “So he was on us every day about drenching the balls in water, snapping and catching and making our hands soaking wet. It just paid off because we were ready to go.”
Back in better times, the Patriots constructed Putnam Parkway, a private-access road that allows convenient ingress and egress from Gillette for team buses, VIPs, season-ticket holders and the like. The stadium was rocking for every home game back then, so that road was a godsend.
Sunday, traffic wasn’t a problem. But the Chargers were in no hurry to leave. Drenched from the game, they lingered to soak in the feeling of the moment.