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

Montreal Gazette - - 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 ag­ing Pa­tri­ots. 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. 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 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. 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, “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.” And they do not suck.

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