What it means: In a terrific environment for football, with Patriots fans coming out in full force in San Diego, the Patriots gutted this one out to improve to 10-3 and keep the top overall spot in the AFC. If they win their remaining three games -- home against Miami, on the road against the Jets, and home against the Bills -- they will be the AFC's No. 1 seed and have home-field advantage in the playoffs. This game had a playoff-type feel to it.
A night to highlight defense and special teams: When the offense sputtered twice in the red zone in the first half -- receiver Brandon LaFell lost a second-quarter fumble that was returned 53 yards for a touchdown, quarterback Tom Brady threw an uncharacteristic red zone interception right before halftime, and the offense opened the second half with four straight three-and-outs -- the defense and special teams had to hold the Chargers in check until some answers could be found. The Patriots' defense and special teams did their part and showed the team can win even when Brady and the offense are off their game. That was the story of this game for New England.
Blocked punt by Bolden a biggie: Running back Brandon Bolden, a valuable member of the team based on his contributions on all four core special-teams units, delivered one of the big plays in the game with a second-quarter blocked punt that was quickly turned into a touchdown. Some in New England had been calling for Bolden's roster spot at the time LeGarrette Blount was signed, but that overlooks his contributions on special teams.
Game ball: Jamie Collins. The linebacker took over leadership duties on defense with injured linebacker Dont'a Hightower (right shoulder) unable to play, and he had two sacks in the first half and was all over the field. The team's top draft pick from 2013 -- the 52nd overall selection -- delivered in a big moment.
Penalty in third quarter took away seven points: One play that is sure to be talked about is the Patriots' interception return for a touchdown that was nullified by a penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit by cornerback Brandon Browner. Replays showed there was no helmet-to-helmet contact -- just a crunching blow, as Browner led with his shoulder into the chest of tight end Ladarius Green. That was a tough break for the Patriots. Should the NFL make those calls subject to review?
Stat of note, Part I: Since 2003, the Patriots are 37-4 in games following a loss.
Stat of note, Part II: The Patriots clinch their 12th straight 10-win season. Only the 49ers, at 16 straight seasons with 10 or more wins, have a longer streak since the merger (1970).
Injuries to monitor: No players left the game with injury.
What's next: After traveling to Green Bay Nov. 29, playing a game there the next day, arriving in San Diego early on Dec. 1 and spending the week there, the Patriots return home. They host the Dolphins at 1 p.m. ET on Dec. 14. The Dolphins dropped to 7-6 with a home loss to the Ravens on Sunday.