FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Winning in front of thousands of friendly fans is routine for the New England Patriots — even when they’re playing 3,000 miles from home.
The support of the crowd behind the New England sideline and the team’s stingy defense helped the Patriots remain in command of the AFC with a win in San Diego.
“There was a sea of Patriots fans behind our bench. I don’t think I’ve ever quite seen that before,” coach Bill Belichick said Monday. “We had all those fans right behind us. They were loud and vocal.”
They cheered as New England beat the Chargers on Sunday night, 23-14, one week after a 26-21 loss in Green Bay.
Belichick gave his players the day off Monday to go with their usual day off on Tuesday because of “what we’ve been through from a schedule standpoint,” he said, “where the team is physically, what we have coming up, the nature of the preparations for the next opponent.”
Two of their remaining three games are at home, where they’re 6-0 this season and 44-3 in their last 47 regular-season games.
The Patriots (10-3) had gotten used to their West Coast surroundings after flying straight to San Diego after the loss to the Packers that snapped a seven-game winning streak.
“This whole week, guys were hanging out with each other, and that’s what you need, team unity,” cornerback Darrelle Revis said, “especially coming off that loss to Green Bay.”
The victory maintained the Patriots’ chances of gaining home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
They’re tied with Denver for the best record in the conference but hold the tiebreaker with their 43-21 win over the Broncos in Foxborough.
Denver has road games at San Diego and Cincinnati then finishes at home against Oakland.
New England’s remaining games are against AFC East opponents, at home against Miami, at the New York Jets and back home against Buffalo.
Since 2010, the Patriots have lost consecutive games just twice.
“After a loss, nobody likes that feeling,” said Brandon Bolden, who set up a touchdown Sunday by blocking a punt. “We especially don’t like that feeling, so everybody just takes it on their shoulders and says, ‘we have to go out there and do better.'”
The Patriots have improved greatly since their 33-20 loss at Miami in the opener in which the defense allowed three touchdowns. In the last four games — against playoff contenders Indianapolis, Detroit, Green Bay and San Diego — the defense has allowed a total of five touchdowns.
With second-year linebacker Jamie Collins taking over signal-calling duties from injured Dont’a Hightower, the Patriots allowed just 216 yards and held the Chargers to four conversions on 13 third-down plays. Against Green Bay, the defense was much worse. The Packers gained 478 yards and were 10-for-17 on third downs.
Three in-season pickups, linebackers Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas and defensive tackle Alan Branch, played well.
“All three of those players have definitely helped us, both with their playing time, their performance and I’d say the rapid pace at which they’ve picked things up,” Belichick said.
Defensive tackle Sealver Siliga, playing his first game after being activated from the injured reserve list with a designation to return, also contributed.
“Those four guys, collectively, getting them all on the field (Sunday) night was a big boost for us,” Belichick said. “Those guys have really come in and done not only what we needed them to do, but probably more.”
Top pass rusher Chandler Jones has missed the past six games with a hip injury and linebacker Jerod Mayo went on injured reserve after the sixth game.
Jones and Hightower were on the sideline cheering on their teammates.
In the stands behind them, fans in Patriots jerseys joined in the support.
“The Patriots travel well,” New England cornerback Brandon Browner said. “That was awesome.”