Death, taxes, and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. That’s how the saying goes, right? If not, it needs to be rewritten. In a season where the Patriots had been called a number of superlatives closely related to death and demise, they proved themselves to be the same old machine on Sunday afternoon, eliminating the Los Angeles Chargers from playoff contention. Tom Brady looked like his vintage self, and rookie Sony Michel scored three touchdowns in his playoff debut.
Sony Michel, New England Patriots Rout Los Angeles Chargers, Advance to AFC Championship Game
Max Kellerman had said that Tom Brady was the worst quarterback left in the AFC playoff picture, and maybe Brady heard the noise as he delivered a terrific performance going 34-44 for 343 yards and a touchdown. Julian Edelman, another victim of the media’s reports of decline, put together the best day of his season with nine catches for 151 yards. Even Rob Gronkowski contributed in the passing game, which has been rare this season, with a bumbling 25-yard catch on his lone target.
This was Gronk’s 69th career playoff catch. Classic.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 13, 2019
Vintage Patriots Blast Chargers to Advance to Eighth Consecutive AFC Title Game
There’s no other way to describe the Patriots performance than vintage. Despite an interesting start where the Patriots won the coin toss and uncharacteristically elected to receive the opening kick, it was business, as usual, the rest of the afternoon. The Pats opened the game with a surgical 14 play drive that ate the first seven minutes of the first quarter and was capped by a one-yard run into the end zone by Sony Michel (much more on him later.)
The immediate takeaway was how impressive the offensive line had been. Brady wasn’t pressured on a single play in the opening drive against the vaunted Chargers pass rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. In fact, Brady was never sacked in his 44 drop backs and faced almost zero pressures the entire afternoon.
The Chargers answered quickly, however, as Philip Rivers connected with Keenan Allen on a 43-yard touchdown that included a rare blown coverage for All-Pro corner Stephon Gilmore. It was all Patriots from there, as they immediately answered with a seven-play drive that Michel also capped off with a 14-yard touchdown run.
One of the most surprising elements of the contest was how effective the Patriots pass rush was in pressuring Rivers. Trey Flowers had the Chargers quarterback seeing ghosts all day and played a big part in Rivers completing just seven of his 16 first-half pass attempts.
A Blowout By Halftime
The Patriots first half dominance continued as they scored on each of their first four possessions before finally needing to punt following a three and out. The Chargers found themselves entirely unable to capitalize on their defensive stand, as Desmond King muffed the punt and New England recovered at the Charger 35 yard-line. Four plays later, it was Sony Michel (you guessed it) punching in his third touchdown of the half, taking the Pats into the locker room up 35-7.
Sony Michel put together the best game of his rookie season on Sunday, and what a time to do it. Against the much-discussed Charger dime package that stuffed the Baltimore Ravens rush attack in the Wild Card round a week ago, the former Georgia Bulldog was able to gain 129 yards on the back of 24 carries on top of the three scores. He wasn’t the only New England running back to see a ton of activity, either, as James White caught a postseason record-tying 15 passes for 97 yards. White was the hero of Super Bowl LI, where he caught 14 passes, and now owns a tie for the most single-game receptions, as well as the second most in the playoffs.
New England’s offensive line deserves songs of praise for their performance today, as well. David Andrews opened up all kinds of holes while the Patriot guards and Gronkowski contributed with pristine run blocking. Check out one Michel run in particular. David Andrews snaps the ball and immediately moves into the second level of the defense to take on a safety, while the rest of the line dominated the Charger defensive front. By the time Michel reaches the line of scrimmage, the lane is already open. Andrews’ downfield block becomes even more important, as it creates a screen that stops the other safety from having a clear route to Michel.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 13, 2019
The Patriots would add just two field goals in the second half, committing more heavily to the ground attack thanks to the massive lead. While Rivers final line looks shiny with three touchdowns and 330 yards, he completed only 49 percent of his passes and did not play anywhere near as well as the stats indicate. Likewise, the final score (41-28) is not a worthy indicator of how close the game was, as the Patriots turned in one of the most complete and dominant games any team has displayed this season.
New England heads to Arrowhead next weekend to take on the Kansas City Chiefs for a trip to Super Bowl LIII. The Patriots won the regular season matchup in a primetime barn burner in Foxboro by a score of 43-40 on the back of a Stephen Gostkowski field goal on the final play. The Chiefs opened as a three-point home favorite, with kickoff slated for 6:40PM on CBS.
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