The best home team in football this season took care of business against the top road squad Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium as Tom Brady led the Patriots to a 41-28 victory over the overmatched Chargers to advance to the AFC title game for the record eighth straight postseason.
Thanks to the dominating win New England will head to Kansas City next Sunday evening to take on Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs in a rematch of a 43-40 Patriots shootout win earlier this season in Foxborough. A trip to Atlanta for Super Bowl XLIII will be on the line.
Bill Belichick's squad took care of business to open the postseason thanks to dominant passing game early on that included Brady utilizing Julian Edelman and his running backs on short throws, driving down the field for touchdowns on each of its first three drives to take a commanding 21-7 lead early in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, New England's defense shook off a tough first drive that ended in a 43-yard touchdown to Keenan Allen to pull together solid run defense and timely pass rush to frustrate Philip Rivers and Co. as the visitors fell behind 35-7 by halftime. New England had more first downs (24) and points in the first 30 minutes than the Chargers had plays (22).
Los Angeles came in touting its own road success with an ASAP – Any Squad, Any Place – mantra. But traveling back and forth across the country following last weekend's Wild Card win over the Ravens and facing 20-degree temperatures, the Chargers came up way short of moving on.
New England continued its home roll – improving to 9-0 at Gillette this season – with not only its most complete win of the season, but arguably the most complete postseason domination of a supposedly competitive foe of the Belichick/Brady era.
"A great job by our team today," Belichick said to open his postgame press conference. "I couldn't be prouder of the effort from the coaching staff, players. Had a really good week. Obviously, ready to go. Played a good game today against a good football team. The Chargers are really, as I said all week, very impressive in everything they do. I thought our team played well and made plays in every area and played with a lot of energy, a lot of effort. It's good to be playing this time of year, good to be able to move on. Give the players credit – they really competed well today and that's what you need this time of year."
Before moving on to a week of build up to next Sunday evening's AFC Championship Game, here are the personnel highs (no lows) from the impressive dismantling of the Chargers.
Tom Brady – Reports of Brady's demise were, as they say, greatly exaggerated. After closing out the regular season in impressive fashion against the Jets, TB12 was even better this time against a Chargers defense littered with supposed Pro Bowl talent. He ate up the L.A. zone, completing seven of eight short passes on the 83-yard drive to a touchdown. Brady completed 15 of 19 on the first three drives of the day to three touchdowns on the way to the blowout. The G.O.A.T., who reportedly is past an MCL injury that bothered him during the regular season, completed 34 of 44 passes overall for 343 yards with one touchdown for a 106.5 passer rating. Brady also extended a streak to 227 consecutive postseason passes without an interception, an NFL record.
James White/Sony Michel – New England's running backs were the key to the offense, both running the ball and in the short passing game. They combined for 69 total yards on the opening drive and never looked back. White ended up catching 15 passes for 97 yards, including a 17-yard shovel pass on the opening drive and a 25-yard screen play later. Michel topped 100 yards and had three rushing scores before halftime on the way to 24 carries for 129 yards (5.4 avg.) overall against the Chargers sub looks on defense. White and Michel combined for 235 yards of total offense as a key part to the winning attack that churned out 498 total yards.
Julian Edelman – While Brady and the backs did the bulk of the work early, Edelman certainly found his way into the production. His 6-yard catch converted the first third down of the day. He had a hard-fought 14-yard gain for a first down on second-and-13 on the Patriots second drive and then a 28-yard grab to set up the ensuing TD. Edelman finished the day showing plenty of guts and breaking plenty of tackles with nine catches for 151 yards (16.8 avg.).
Pass rush – While the coverage had its issues, New England's consistent pass rush made Rivers uncomfortable most of the afternoon. The official stats say the Patriots only finished with two sacks and 7 QB hits, but it certainly felt like more than that, especially for Rivers. Trey Flowers, Dont'a Hightower, Adam Butler and Adrian Clayborn were in the Chargers QB's face all afternoon forcing early and errant throws that killed the efficiency of the visitor's passing attack.
Offensive line – While Rivers was feeling the pressure – literally and figuratively, yelling at officials after seemingly every play – Brady and his backs were enjoying the labors of the Patriots impressive offensive line. Facing an impressive Chargers front led by Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa and Brandon Mebane, New England's Shaq Mason-led group won the line of scrimmage pretty much all afternoon long. Rushing 34 times for 155 yards while throwing the ball 44 times without a sack, the Patriots line was superb.
No one – This total beatdown of L.A. included contributions from just about every player and coach in all three phases. Now, it's on the road again to Kansas City.
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