LOS ANGELES (AP) — Cam Newton can empathize with what Justin Herbert is going through in his rookie season with the Los Angeles Chargers.
The New England signal-caller set several rookie milestones when he was the top overall pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2011. While it led to Newton being the Offensive Rookie of the Year, it didn't translate into immediate success for the Panthers, who were 3-8 through their first 11 games. That is the same mark the Chargers have going into Sunday's game against the Patriots at SoFi Stadium.
“I just remember as a young player I really didn’t know the nuances of how to win," said Newton, who threw for a rookie-record 4,051 yards.
"I knew I was talented, but there’s still certain things that go into playing hand-to-hand football. Offense playing alongside with the defense, defense playing alongside with the special teams and vice versa. This game transitions so much from the collegiate level to the professional level and it’s all in a manner of plays. In college you get so many times to win or to lose so to speak. But in the NFL it kind of comes down to three to five plays that you know, that you can point back to and say this is when the game was won.”
Herbert experienced plenty of losing during his first season at Oregon, which he has said has helped him in trying to get through the valleys of this year.
“I’ve been through it before, and I’ve kind of seen it. And, you know, going forward is never easy. It’s never fun for anyone, but you have to stick through and you have to stay with your guys and take control of that locker room and steer into the right direction,” he said.
Herbert is averaging 301.5 yards per game, which is third in the NFL and joined Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes last week as the only players to reach 3,000 yards in their first 10 starts. Herbert has tied Andrew Luck's rookie mark with six 300-yard games and needs five touchdowns to pass Baker Mayfield's first-year mark of 27 with Cleveland in 2018.
Herbert has struggled with AFC East teams, but is facing a New England defense that is allowing 7.6 yards per pass attempt, which is second most in the league.
“He really has no weaknesses. He's young and has a long way to go, but you can see the talent and improvement," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
Newton's 1,984 passing yards are 23rd in the league, but he has five games with 10 more rushing attempts as well as three multi-TD rushing games.
“He’s a weapon with his legs and his arm. So whatever it takes to move the ball down the field, they are one of the top teams in the league in the least amount of three-and-outs. So they figured out how to move the ball, stay on the field and eat up that clock,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said.
STILL IN IT
Though they aren’t quite back to .500, the Patriots (5-6) kept their playoff hopes alive thanks to their last-second win over the Cardinals last week.
New England has qualified for the postseason in each of the past 11 seasons and only failed to make it to the playoffs only three times since Belichick’s first season in 2000.
Recent history says the Patriots still have at least a chance of extending their current streak. In 14 of the past 16 seasons, at least one team with a losing record through 11 games has qualified for the playoffs.
The Patriots will play consecutive games at SoFi Stadium when they take on the Rams on Dec. 10.
Los Angeles' offense got a boost last week with the return of running back Austin Ekeler, who was leading the AFC in scrimmage yards before he suffered a hamstring injury in early October that kept him sidelined for six games.
Ekeler had 129 scrimmage yards in last Sunday's loss against Buffalo. The Chargers though have had an inconsistent running game the past three weeks and have been held under 100 yards.
GROUNDING IT OUT
New England has the league's fifth-ranked rushing attack, averaging 149.6 yards per game. Damien Harris has emerged as the lead back, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. James White scored his first two rushing touchdowns of the season last week and Sony Michel has returned from a knee injury.
‘ONE-MAN WRECKING CREW’
When asked this week about the challenge presented by the Chargers defense, Joey Bosa was at the top of Belichick’s list.
New England has only faced the Chargers star defensive end twice since he entered the league in 2016. But what Belichick saw in those games and on film since then has been more than enough for him to dub the 25-year-old “a one-man wrecking crew.”
The Patriots have done a decent job protecting Newton this season, only allowing him to be sacked 18 times. But Bosa’s been one of the most disruptive defenders in the league. He’s tied for ninth in the NFL with 7½ sacks and is tied for third with 15 tackles for a loss.
Belichick will coach in his 455th NFL game on Sunday, passing Tom Landry for the third-most games coached in league history. Don Shula leads the way with 526 followed by George Halas' 506.
Belichick is 39 victories away from tying Shula's all-time mark of 347 wins. Halas is in second with 324. This is the first time Belichick has coached a game in Los Angeles since 1993, when Cleveland took on the Los Angeles Raiders.
AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower in Boston contributed.
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