Eighth straight trip

Michel scores three touch­downs, Pa­tri­ots roll past Charg­ers 41-28

The Western Star - - SPORTS - BY KYLE HIGHTOWER

Sony Michel ran for 129 yards and had three touch­downs and the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots beat the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers 41-28 in the di­vi­sional play­offs on Sun­day to earn their eighth straight trip to the AFC cham­pi­onship game.

New Eng­land (12-5) will play at Kansas City in next week’s AFC ti­tle game. The Pa­tri­ots beat the Chiefs 43-40 in Foxbor­ough in Week 6.

It is the 13th con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game ap­pear­ance by the Pa­tri­ots dur­ing the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era. The Charg­ers (13-5) haven’t reached the AFC ti­tle game since the 2007 sea­son.

Quar­ter­back Philip Rivers fin­ished 25 of 51 for 331 yards, three touch­downs and an in­ter­cep­tion. He is 0-5 in games played in Foxbor­ough, in­clud­ing 0-3 in the post­sea­son.

Brady fin­ished 34 of 44 for 343 yards and a touch­down. He im­proves to 8-0 as a starter against Rivers, who drops to 1-8 against New Eng­land all-time.

James White tied Dar­ren Spro­les’ NFL post-sea­son record with 15 catches, to­talling 97 yards.

New Eng­land scored on its first four pos­ses­sions of the game to build a 35-7 half­time lead.

Ju­lian Edel­man had nine catches for 151 yards.

The Charg­ers added three touch­downs in the sec­ond half, but it was much too late.

Los An­ge­les lost for just the sec­ond time on the road (8-2) and first time out­side Los An­ge­les this sea­son. In its past four trips to the play­offs, Los An­ge­les has lost in the di­vi­sional round.

Rivers seemed poised to keep Los An­ge­les in the game, con­nect­ing with Keenan Allen for a 43-yard score on Los An­ge­les’ first of­fen­sive pos­ses­sion. It was the long­est touch­down of Allen’s ca­reer, in­clud­ing the post-sea­son.

It turned out to be just a blip. The Charg­ers punted the four other times they had the ball in the first half.

The Pa­tri­ots were ef­fi­cient through­out the open­ing 30 min­utes, go­ing 5 for 5 in the red zone, 5 of 6 on third down and com­mit­ting only one penalty.

New Eng­land didn’t go three­and-out for the first time un­til its fifth of­fen­sive touch of the day when it punted with 3:32 left in the sec­ond quar­ter.

But Ryan Allen’s 48-yard punt was fum­bled by Des­mond King, send­ing the ball rolling to­ward the side­line. The ref­er­ees ruled the ball went out of bounds be­fore New Eng­land’s Al­bert McClellan ap­peared to re­cover it. But the play was re­versed after a chal­lenge by Bill Belichick.

The turnover proved costly, with the Pa­tri­ots scor­ing just four plays later when Michel crossed the goal line from five yards for his third touch­down of the half.

New Eng­land es­tab­lished the run early, cre­at­ing big holes in a Charg­ers de­fence that ended the reg­u­lar sea­son ranked ninth in the NFL, al­low­ing just 106 rush­ing yards per game.

Michel car­ried 16 times for 105 yards in the first half.

He set the tone early, scor­ing from 1 yard on the open­ing pos­ses­sion of the game. It capped a 14-play, 83-yard drive in which he rushed five times for 15 yards and had a nine-yard re­cep­tion.

The Pa­tri­ots added scor­ing drives of 67, 58, 87 and 35 yards.

Mile­stones

Michel be­came just the sec­ond Pa­tri­ots rookie in fran­chise his­tory to have a rush­ing touch­down in the post-sea­son. He joined fel­low Ge­or­gia alum Robert Ed­wards, who ran for a touch­down as a rookie in New Eng­land’s 1998 wild-card loss to Jack­sonville.

Michel also be­came the first New Eng­land player with two rush­ing TDs in the first quar­ter of a play­off game since LeGar­rette Blount did it in the 2013 di­vi­sional-round win against In­di­anapo­lis.

Brady ex­tended his post-sea­son record with his 15th ca­reer 300-yard pass­ing game. Next is Pey­ton Man­ning with nine.

Streak­ing

Brady has a touch­down pass in 13 straight post-sea­son games, tied for the third-long­est streak since 1950. Only Brett Favre (20) and Brady him­self (18 from 2001-11) have longer streaks.

In­juries

Charg­ers: Safety Adrian Phillips was helped off the field early in the first quar­ter with an arm in­jury, but re­turned. Re­ceiver Mike Wil­liams jogged off the field after a col­li­sion in the first quar­ter.

Pa­tri­ots: Guard Shaq Ma­son left the game in the fourth quar­ter.

AP PHOTO

New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots run­ning back Sony Michel (26) tum­bles into the end zone for his third touch­down against the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers dur­ing the first half of an NFL di­vi­sional play­off game Sun­day in Foxbor­ough, Mass.

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