Patriots don’t ‘suck’
Brady & Co., show they’re anything but over the hill
FOXBORO, Mass. — Too old, too slow, too used up? Those descriptions of the 2018 New England Patriots might yet prove true in these NFL playoffs.
Same with what Tom Brady himself said afterward of the mounting criticism he and his teammates had been hearing up until Sunday afternoon.
“Everyone thinks we suck, and can’t win any games,” the quarterback said bluntly.
But none of it — absolutely none of those criticisms — was in evidence on Sunday as the Patriots proved far too sharp, too powerful and too good for the Los Angeles Chargers in a 41-28 AFC divisional-playoff victory.
Make that way, way, too good. Three late-game, garbage-time 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 in Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3 in Atlanta.
This will be the Patriots’ eighth consecutive AFC championship game, and 13th in head coach Bill Belichick’s 19 seasons as Pats head coach. Thing is, he’s 8-0 in such games at home but 0-4 on the road.
Who’ll doubt now the Patriots are wholly capable of winning in K.C.?
Not after they destroyed a loaded Chargers team that came into Gillette Stadium red hot — winners of six of their past seven and 12 of 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 grizzled, aging Patriots players such as Brady, Julian Edelman, Julian White and a mostly starless defence.
Surprisingly, nowhere was such doom and gloom more pronounced than right here, in the Boston area. Sure, casual fans were confident; nothing could shake that. But 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.
One host of a Boston radio pregame show Sunday morning practically screamed his point home: That the only Patriots fans who could truly believe New England would win this game had to be basing it on nothing but historical momentum. Because, he said, the Chargers held the edge at every position group on both sides of the ball, except maybe placekicker. P’shaw, right.
New England dominated from the opening whistle. Actually, from the opening coin flip a couple of 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 afterward for every question about individual game 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 touchdowns by halftime, and finished with 129 yards.
White was so wobbly as the lightning counterpart to Michel’s thunder, thaat he caught 10 passes for 71 yards by halftime, and 15 for 97 by game’s end.
Tenth-year wide receiver Julian Edelman was so wobbly that he caught seven passes for 107 yards by halftime, nine for 151 by game’s end, and on his own practically made the pressbox announcer hoarse for all the NFL playoff milestones he kept achieving. He sure made Chargers defenders tired and frustrated, too. Then there was Brady. A morning NFL Network report claimed he actually 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 not wobbly against L.A., but rather magnificent, even by his own 18-year postseason standards.
In racking up career playoff victory No. 28, Brady completed 34 of 44 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 a Brady-led Patriots team, 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 throughout on trying to hit big plays. There just aren’t that many to be had in one game, especially against a Belichick defence.
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-yearold. Think that’ll quiet the critics? The Patriots don’t care.
“We are 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. We see it: ‘Our quarterback’s too old, we’re not good enough on defence, our skilled players aren’t good.’ We see it, but it doesn’t affect how we prepare.”
Added tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was mighty effective Sunday but as a runblocker, if not much as a pass-catcher: “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 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 Believing. That grater always blares out of the speakers at Gillette Stadium, as do so many over-played classic-rock anthems, one after another after another. To the point of embarrassing a class-rock station programmer.
One relic from REO Speedwagon that boomed just before kickoff hit closest to the point of the day: Roll With The Changes. And its catchy chorus lyrics, “Keep on rollin’.”
Indeed. For a livin’ fact these Patriots are rolling into Kansas City. And they do not suck.
We are going to be prepared and ready to go whether you pick us or don’t pick us.
Pats’ devin Mccourty
Patriots running back Sony Michel leaps over Jahleel Addae of the Chargers during yesterday’s emphatic New England blowout win at Gillette Stadium. Michel rushed for 129 yards and scored a touchdown for the Pats, who will be in their eighth consecutive AFC championship tilt.