Pa­tri­ots don’t ‘suck’

Brady & Co., show they’re any­thing but over the hill

Edmonton Sun - - SPORTS - John KRYK

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

MAD­DIE MEYER/GETTY IM­AGES

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.

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