…It was great to see New England choose to take the football after winning the opening coin toss. Establishing a rhythm on offense and getting a fast start (i.e., a lead on the scoreboard) is something I wish the Patriots would elect to do more often.
…Great day overall for WR Julian Edelman, although he did have a minor miscue on the opening drive when a Tom Brady pass went directly through his hands. Seems he has at least one of these every game. Luckily for him, this mistake wasn’t costly.
…RB Sony Michel had a tremendous day in his first playoff game as a pro. On the opening drive, though, he didn’t receive a ton of help from his o-line. They would improve as the game went on in that department, but the line did do a nice job of pass protecting for Brady so that he could hit his open receivers on that eventual scoring drive.
…FB James Develin delivered a crushing block for Michel on the first touchdown. It was such a hard hit on a Chargers defender that it even knocked teammate Rob Gronkowski to the turf. That made Michel’s job so much easier, as he only had to follow Develin over the goal line standing up.
…The Patriots’ secondary had some coverage issues on the opening Charger drive. WR Mike Williams nearly had a 45-yard gain on a jump-ball deep pass, but he couldn’t hold onto it. Williams had positioned himself in front of safety Devin McCourty and rookie CB J.C. Jackson for the underthrown pass and should have come down with the football.
Later in the drive, CB Jason McCourty was beaten by Williams on a 3rd-and-15 with a simple, deep in-route. Then, on Philip Rivers’ TD toss to Keenan Allen, CB Stephon Gilmore inexplicably appeared to give up his responsibility for Allen on the deep go-route, leaving no one to cover Allen for the easy score.
…On the way to his second TD, Michel did a nice job of evading a Chargers defender who’d beaten RT Marcus Cannon into the backfield. He then used his speed to outrun CB Casey Hayward to the pylon. Fantastic individual display by Michel.
… On the next series, a well-timed blitz by DE Adrian Clayborn forced Rivers to hurry a pass that landed incomplete. That set up a 3rd-and-long and New England’s four-man front pressured Rivers again into throwing the ball away.
…Nice afternoon for WR Phillip Dorsett, who has really taken advantage of his playing-time opportunities in recent weeks. In the second quarter, he caught four of the five balls that Brady threw to him. The first came on 2nd-and-10 in Charger territory. Dorsett picked up 11 by hopping out of the reach of one defender and darting forward in between two others to pick up the first down.
Dorsett then got behind the Chargers secondary for his touchdown catch because the two DBs covering him and Edelman miscommunicated and both players stayed with Edelman on the out-route while Dorsett ran a corner. He knew immediately and raised his arm to let Brady know he was wide open. The QB spotted him and floated an easy pass for the score.
…The Patriots D blitzed Rivers again on 3rd-and-10 from midfield and it caused Rivers to rush a throw downfield to TE Antonio Gates. The ball was underthrown slightly and Devin McCourty was able to jump in front of Gates to knock it down.
…Michel gained 40 yards on one second-quarter run – his longest of the season – thanks to tremendous blocks near the line of scrimmage by TE Rob GRonkowski, Develin, and RT Marcus Cannon. Downfield, center/co-captain David Andrews delivered another crucial block to help spring Michel. Textbook execution by the offense.
…More tremendous blocking occurred two plays later on RB Rex Burkhead’s touchdown run. Develin threw one in the backfield, the o-line created a wall on the left side, and Gronk finished it off with a nice block at the goal line. Burkhead never got touched.
…After Albert McClellan recovered a Charger muffed punt, the Patriots had the ball deep in L.A. territory. From 1st-and-goal at the 5, Gronk and Develin again teamed up to form a battering ram behind which Michel muscled his way over the goal line. Absolutely dominant blocking combination by those two throughout the first half.
…Stunts have allowed New England to get sacks and pressures on opposing QBs frequently this season. DE Trey Flowers used one to register a 10-yard sack of Rivers late in the first half.
…Gronk finally got involved in the passing game when he hauled in his one and only pass of the day early in the second half. He shook off two Charger defenders to pick up extra yardage before being brought down by a third. It was a play reminiscent of how he is used to treating defenses. It was also noteworthy because, if reports of his retirement after this season prove true, that was his final reception at Gillette Stadium.
…Meanwhile, Develin didn’t just throw blocks for Michel. He carried the ball twice, gaining first-down yardage both times. Develin picked up three yards on 3rd-and-1 and later gained two yards on 2nd-and-1.
…Even down 35-7 and knowing the Patriots were going to run the ball on 4th-and-2 deep in Charger territory, L.A. couldn’t stop New England. Michel gained seven yards to keep the drive going thanks to a domination by his o-line at the line of scrimmage.
…Flowers’ second sack of Rivers was called back because of a penalty. He got into the backfield by simply bull-rushing the lineman trying to guard him, but when he arrived at Rivers, Flowers hit him around the knees, which is a no-no in this league. The roughing-the-passer penalty he incurred was warranted the way the rule is currently written.
…Gilmore atoned for his earlier miscue on the first Charger TD when he read a deep throw by Rivers and made an excellent adjustment to pick off the pass. Once again, blitz pressure caused Rivers to hurry his throw, resulting in a less-than-perfect pass.
…Yes, the Chargers scored two TDs and succeeded on a 2-point conversion in the second half, but most of what took place in the third and fourth quarters couldn’t be given too much validity because the game at that point was out of reach for Los Angeles.