Dis­man­tling of Chargers sends Brady & Co. to eighth straight AFC cham­pi­onship game

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS - JOHN KRYK Foxboro, Mass. [email protected]­ Twit­ter: @JohnKryk

Too old. Too slow. Too used up? Those de­scrip­tions of the 2018 New Eng­land Patriots might yet prove true in these NFL play­offs.

But it surely wasn’t the case here in their AFC divisional matchup against the Los An­ge­les Chargers Sun­day.

Quar­ter­back Tom Brady ac­knowl­edged the mount­ing crit­i­cism he and his team­mates had been hear­ing.

“Every­one thinks we suck, and can’t win any games,” the quar­ter­back said bluntly.

The Pats put that to rest for the time be­ing as they proved far too sharp, far too pow­er­ful and far too good for the Chargers in a 41-28 rout.

It wasn’t even that close. Three late-game touch­downs by the Chargers rounded the crisp edges off a first-rate 21st-cen­tury New Eng­land play­off blowout.

New Eng­land (12-5) ad­vances to the AFC Cham­pi­onship Game next Sun­day against the Chiefs in Kansas City (6:40 p.m. EST).

The win­ner of that game plays the NFC cham­pion (New Or­leans or the L.A. Rams) in Su­per Bowl LIII on Feb. 3 in At­lanta.

The Chiefs punched their ticket with a 31-13 de­mo­li­tion of the In­di­anapo­lis Colts Satur­day.

This will mark the Patriots’ eighth straight AFC cham­pi­onship game, and 13th in Bill Belichick’s 19 sea­sons as the head coach. Some­thing to con­sider. He’s 8-0 in such games at home but 0-4 on the road.

But who’ll doubt the Patriots are wholly ca­pa­ble of win­ning in K.C.?

Not af­ter they ab­so­lutely de­stroyed a loaded Chargers team that came into Gil­lette Sta­dium red hot — win­ners of six of their last seven, 12 of their last 14, with a league-high seven Pro Bowl se­lec­tions, and with quar­ter­back Philip Rivers at the zenith of ar­guably his best sea­son of 15 in the NFL.

None of it mat­tered any more than the pre­ma­ture con­clu­sions about the sup­posed play­off wob­bli­ness of the griz­zled, ag­ing Patriots.

Sur­pris­ingly, nowhere was such doom and gloom more pro­nounced than in New Eng­land. Those who fol­low the sport closely could not bring them­selves to be­lieve this Patriots team had much left in the tank to scrounge a sin­gle play­off vic­tory this month, es­pe­cially against these Chargers. They were proven wrong. New Eng­land dom­i­nated from the open­ing whis­tle — ac­tu­ally, from the open­ing coin flip a cou­ple min­utes be­fore, which the Pats won when the Chargers picked tails and it came up heads.

It would be hard to pick an of­fen­sive hero for New Eng­land. Or de­fen­sive hero. Too many to choose from. For once, Belichick was right when he hauled out that trusty bro­mide for ev­ery ques­tion about in­di­vid­ual stars.

Still, how about that New Eng­land play­off new­bie, rookie run­ning back Sony Michel? He was so wob­bly and un­ready for the play­offs he rushed for 105 yards and three scores by half­time, and fin­ished with 129 yards.

James White was so wob­bly as the light­ning coun­ter­part to Michel’s thun­der he caught 10 passes for 71 yards by half­time, and 15 for 97 by game’s end. Tenth-year re­ceiver Julian Edel­man was so wob­bly he caught seven passes for 107 yards by half­time, nine for 151 by game’s end.

Then there was Brady. A morn­ing NFL Net­work re­port claimed Brady had been wob­bled late in the sea­son by a sprained knee lig­a­ment (MCL); the bye week al­lowed it to fi­nally heal.

What­ever the case, Brady was mag­nif­i­cent against the Chargers, even by his own 18-year post-sea­son stan­dards.

In rack­ing up ca­reer play­off vic­tory No. 28, Brady com­pleted 34 of 44 pass­ing at­tempts for 343 yards, one touch­down and no in­ter­cep­tions.

He also set a new NFL ca­reer play­off record by ex­tend­ing his streak of in­ter­cep­tion-less passes to 227 by game’s end.

He has rarely looked bet­ter through­out a play­off win, and you know that’s say­ing some­thing.

Con­versely, Rivers can only wish he had such play­off pass­ing acu­men. In fall­ing to 0-8 in his ca­reer against Brady, Rivers ex­hib­ited lit­tle pa­tience to dink-and-dunk his way down the field, some­thing Brady has spe­cial­ized in for nearly two decades. In­stead, Rivers in­sisted on try­ing to hit big plays. There just aren’t that many to be had in one game, es­pe­cially against a Belichick de­fence.

It didn’t work on his first throw of the game, which fell in­com­plete. But it worked on his fourth throw of the game, when he con­nected with star re­ceiver Keenan Allen for a 43-yard TD strike that tied it 7-7.

There­after, un­til garbage time in the fourth quar­ter, Rivers threw mostly reck­less in­com­ple­tions and near-in­ter­cep­tions on such hope-wrapped heaves.

On the day, Rivers com­pleted fewer than half his throws — 25 of 51 for 331 yards, but only 121 by half­time — against a Patriots de­fence that was more than ready for his chance-tak­ing.

In short, the 37-year-old got schooled by the 41-year-old.

Think that’ll quiet the crit­ics? The Patriots don’t care.

“We’re go­ing to be pre­pared and ready to go whether you pick us or don’t pick us,” ninth-year Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “But we see it. ‘Our quar­ter­back’s too old, we’re not good enough on de­fence, our skilled play­ers aren’t good.’ We’ll see it, but it doesn’t af­fect how we pre­pare.”

Added tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was mighty ef­fec­tive Sun­day more as a run­blocker than a re­ceiver, “We’ve been hear­ing things like that for­ever now. We just laugh at it. What­ever they say, and we just keep mov­ing for­ward.”

Said re­ceiver Phillip Dorsett, who caught Brady’s first touch­down throw: “Ev­ery­body does think we suck. Ev­ery­body thinks we don’t have enough. But the only thing that mat­ters is what we think in this room, and we be­lieve.”

Shades of Jour­ney’s Don’t Stop Believin’.

That grater al­ways blares out of the speak­ers at Gil­lette Sta­dium, as do so many over­played clas­sic rock an­thems. One relic from REO Speed­wagon that boomed just be­fore kick­off hit clos­est to the point of the day: Roll With The Changes.

These Patriots are rolling into Kansas City.

And they do not suck.


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