FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It has long been a staple of Bill Belichick’s offenses in New England.

For all the angst caused by Troy Brown and Wes Welker in the slot, Randy Moss down the sideline or Rob Gronkowski down the seam, few elements of New England’s offense have been as consistently maddening to opposing defensive coordinators as the pass-catchers out of the backfield.

Checkdowns to J.R. Redmond won a Super Bowl and swing passes to Kevin Faulk kept every drive alive for about six seasons. Shane Vereen and James White have delivered double-digit receptions in two other Super Bowl wins.

But in Sunday’s grind-it-out, a win-is-a-win 21-13 victory over the Chargers, New England’s backs did something they’ve never done before under Belichick: two backs tallied more than 50 receiving yards.

James White and Rex Burkhead were New England’s two leading receivers. Facing a defense propelled by one of the league’s best pass rushes and defined by a zone scheme that helps prevent the big play, the Pats knew entering the game that their backs would be a big part of the game plan.

“We knew we’d get a lot of targets,” said White, who’s third on the team in targets halfway through this season. “They play a lot of zone coverage, and their linebackers and everybody drop deep. We knew if the ball was checked down to us to get as many yards as possible.”

“We knew there would be opportunities for the running backs in the passing game the way they play their zone,” said Dion Lewis, who contributed a pair of catches for 10 yards to go along with 44 yards on the ground. “Guys definitely made a lot of plays given that opportunity.”

Los Angeles’ defense excels at getting after the quarterback and limiting the big play. The duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram entered Sunday with 16 sacks – second-most for any pair of teammates in the game. The Chargers had allowed just two plays all season of more than 50 yards.

And so the Patriots worked methodically down the field, matriculating as it were between the 20s through swing passes and checkdowns to their backs.

New England had five drives of 10 plays or more; the Pats had 11 in their first seven games combined.

“They don’t give up big plays. It’s not going to be one big play,” White said. “Just get the ball out quick and put us in space. We always want to have good open-field runners. We have a lot of those guys who can do it. Get the ball out quick, make people miss and get as many yards as possible.”

White ended the day with five catches for 85 yards and Burkhead six for 68. It was the second-most receiving yards by a backfield duo in an NFL game this season, and the first time a team got 50 or more receiving yards from two different backs in the same game since the Raiders did it in Week 11 last year.

“Everyone was involved,” Burkhead said. “Being involved in the pass game opened up some other things in our offense.”

That ability to create in open space saved Tom Brady and the Pats routinely on third down on Sunday.

Three of New England’s seven third-down conversions through the air came on passes to the backs – and two of them weren’t short conversions. A swing to White on 3rd-and-13 went for 27 on the Patriots’ only touchdown drive of the day, and later another pass to White gained 11 on 3rd-and-10.

On third downs in the game, Brady was 5 for 5 when targeting backs for 67 yards.

“He does such a great job,” Brady said of White in particular on third downs. “He’s so dependable and consistent. He’s just a great player.”

“(White) has a unique skill,” Gronkowski said. “Ever since he’s been here, I’ve always said I wanted his quickness. The way he can move side to side is unreal. It’s not surprising at all to see how he gets open on linebackers on third down. Just dump it to him and he makes guys miss.

“It’s a big part of our game.”

That ability to convert on third downs not only kept New England’s drives alive but limited Los Angeles’ touches. The Chargers ran just 52 plays Sunday – 30 fewer than the Patriots and the third-fewest New England has allowed an opponent this decade.

“We had a lot of production out of our running backs,” Belichick said. “They all had a role.”