FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – OK, let’s promise each other that we’ll never question Bill Belichick and Tom Brady ever again as long as their union lasts. Deal?
The New England Patriots kicked off their postseason play with an absolute thrashing of the Los Angeles Chargers. Sunday’s 41-28 victory, which only seemed close after a last-minute touchdown to Antonio Gates, earned New England its eighth consecutive AFC Championship Game appearance, extending the franchise’s own record.
Brady lit up the Chargers defense for 343 yards while Sony Michel rushed for a game-high 129 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries, and Julian Edelman led all receivers with 151 yards on nine catches.
Here are three things we learned in this game:
1. Business as usual
Cracks? What cracks in that Patriots foundation? Belichick and his charges may not have dominated in the month of December as is customary. But they certainly kicked off the postseason in superb fashion. The extra week of rest and preparation did the Patriots wonders. They had their way with the Chargers, making the visitors look like a squad unworthy of a postseason invitation. Run? Sure, why not? Pass? Easy. New England put together a first half (347 yards, 24 first downs, 35 points) that would satisfy other teams for an entire game. Brady did not display any of the accuracy issues that we saw late in the season. His play-makers were effective. His defense (aside for one miscommunication that led to the Chargers’ first touchdown on a deep strike to Keenan Allen) was on point.
2. Rivers’ woes continue
Philip Rivers is a fantastic quarterback. But perhaps his biggest issue is that he was born in the same generation as Brady, against whom he fell to 0-8. Sunday’s game wasn’t even a shootout against Brady, though, and few of the Chargers-Patriots matchups since Rivers entered the league in 2004 have been close. Additionally, Mother Nature also has Rivers’ number. He is now 1-5 in his career (including the playoffs) when playing in temperatures of 32 degrees or lower.
But Rivers also has his coaches and himself to blame for this defeat. The Chargers didn’t appear to make any significant adjustments on defense as the team fell in a huge hole. Meanwhile, Rivers was pressing, and that limited his effectiveness. Yes, there were plenty of times when he was under pressure and had no time to wait for plays to develop. But there also were instances in which he rushed or forced throws rather than exhibiting a little patience.
3. Home, sweet home — now what?
Sunday’s victory improved the Patriots’ record to 9-0 when playing at Gillette Stadium this season. It was nice while it lasted. Now New England must go on the road and take on the high-flying Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs went 7-1 at home this regular season. The Patriots, meanwhile, were 3-5 away on the road. And as this year’s playoffs have shown, translating the previous week’s performance to the next round can be difficult. The Colts, Cowboys and Chargers all put on strong showings in the wild-card round, but looked like very different squads in the divisional round. This Patriots-Chiefs matchup should provide for some compelling football, however. In their first meeting of the season, the hosting Patriots edged Kansas City 43-40.
Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.
Source: “Los Angeles” – Google News