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Dec 6, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) and quarterback Jarrett Stidham (4) celebrate after a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

If you’ve ever seen The Golden Child, you’ll understand the reference. Remember: stay … on … the path.

But your faith will be tested on Thursday.

If you’re feeling good about the Patriots after Sunday’s undressing of Anthony Lynn, Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers, you should. The Patriots completely obliterated the Chargers in humiliating fashion, especially on defense and special teams en route to a 45-0 victory. The win left the Pats at 6-6 through 12 games, just one game behind Tom Brady and the Tampa Buccaneers.

Of course, the record of Brady and the Bucs doesn’t matter in any competition or debate except for the ones taking place on virtual barstools throughout the New England. (That said, this hardly means those discussions are insignificant.) The real question is whether the Patriots can mount a real, legitimate push for the playoffs, especially with a passing game that has reached levels of historic ineptitude.

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(As a point of note, purely because it’s worth repeating: Cam Newton has become the first quarterback in 42 years to win consecutive starts while throwing for fewer than 85 yards in each game.)

All of this brings us to Thursday’s game with the Los Angeles Rams.

This is the one you must have, Patriots fans. The Rams lead the NFC West and have allowed the fifth-fewest points in football. Sean McVay’s team doesn’t have nearly the explosive offense that he did two years ago – when the Pats shut down the Rams in the Super Bowl – which means the game should be competitive. But the Rams defense is good, especially against the run, which means the Patriots will presumably have to throw the ball to win this game.

Will they? Can they?

Their playoff chances may depend on it.

Patriots quarterback Cam Newton throws a pass over the Los Angeles Chargers defensive line during the third quarter at SoFi Stadium. (Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)

Patriots quarterback Cam Newton throws a pass over the Los Angeles Chargers defensive line during the third quarter at SoFi Stadium. (Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)

Here’s the problem: the Rams aren’t easy to throw on, either. Currently Los Angeles ranks second in the NFL in defensive passer rating and has allowed the fewest passing yards in football. They have also allowed the fewest touchdown passes and the fifth-lowest completion percentage. And before you suggest that the Patriots can score all of their points on special teams, let’s acknowledge that banking on touchdown returns of any kind is fool’s gold.

Can it happen? Sure.

But it’s not likely.

Yet, if the Patriots can find a way to win on Thursday and sweep Los Angeles during their weeklong trip to La-La, the picture at least gets a little rosier.

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Again, with this Patriots team this year, nothing should be taken for granted. But if the Pats can beat the Rams, they’ll have 10 days to prepare for a trip to Miami and a rookie quarterback, the latter of which Bill Belichick typically eats in one bite. Then they come home against a Buffalo Bills team that they could have (and should have?) beaten earlier this season. Then they get … the Jets. (Snicker, snicker.)

Does any of that mean a trip to the playoffs – or even a division championship – is likely? No. In all walks of life and sports, the good performers are defined by consistency – and the 2020 Patriots have been anything but. Yet, the fact remains that the Pats are now 6-6 after a dreadful 2-5 start with their next test likely to be their hardest in the final four weeks.

And if they win on Thursday, well, that path will suddenly look a whole lot wider.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.