Pats won’t go away

An­other Su­per trip in sight

Boston Herald - - NFL PLAYOFFS - BY KEVIN DUFFY Twit­ter: @Kev­inRDuffy

FOXBORO — The Pa­tri­ots’ dynasty was sup­posed to be over the last time they vis­ited Ar­row­head Sta­dium.

“41-14,” safety Duron Har­mon said at the men­tion of the game. “That’s prob­a­bly the worst beat­ing I’ve ever taken.”

The of­fense was dys­func­tional. The de­fense was ar­guably worse. At the time, there was a grow­ing be­lief across the coun­try that Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Pa­tri­ots were fi­nally on the back­side of an in­cred­i­ble run.

Four and a half years later, here come the Pats yet again.

The Pa­tri­ots an­ni­hi­lated the Charg­ers in the di­vi­sional round, storm­ing out to a 35-7 lead by half­time and coast­ing to a 41-28 vic­tory that se­cured an out­ra­geous eighth con­sec­u­tive AFC Cham­pi­onship Game ap­pear­ance. They head to Kansas City hunt­ing a fourth Su­per Bowl trip since 2014, the year we were all cer­tain they were slid­ing back to medi­ocrity. They’re 70-18 since that Mon­day night melt­down at Ar­row­head. They just won’t fade.

“I know ev­ery­one thinks we suck and can’t win any games,” Brady said on the CBS broad­cast. “We’ll see. It’ll be fun.”

Di­vi­sional round op­po­nents of­ten stand lit­tle chance at Gil­lette Sta­dium. The Brock Osweil­ers and Mar­cus Mar­i­o­tas of the world usu­ally know what’s about to hap­pen. The Charg­ers were go­ing to be a dif­fer­ent story, though. They en­tered with a 13-4 record, one game bet­ter than the Pa­tri­ots, and a re­sume full of qual­ity road wins. They were un­fazed.

And then the open­ing kick­off hap­pened.

The Pa­tri­ots won the toss and un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally took the ball, con­fi­dent they could jump ahead early and force the Charg­ers to play on their terms. By Brady’s third pos­ses­sion, the Charg­ers must have felt their sea­son — their best shot at a Su­per Bowl since the LaDainian Tom­lin­son days — rapidly un­rav­el­ing.

They help­lessly sat in soft zone cov­er­age, with­out an an­swer for James White (15 re­cep­tions for 97 yards) or Ju­lian Edel­man (nine catches for 151 yards). Uti­liz­ing six de­fen­sive backs in their base de­fense, the Charg­ers were blown off the ball. Sony Michel ran wild for 129 yards and three touch­downs in his play­off de­but. On the other side, Los An­ge­les’ run­ning game was nonex­is­tent, and Philip Rivers was ter­ror­ized by a New Eng­land front that was con­stantly play­ing from a fa­vor­able down and dis­tance.

Given the op­po­nent, this was as close to a per­fect game as the Pa­tri­ots have played in years.

This sets the stage for a fas­ci­nat­ing AFC ti­tle game, not only be­cause of its lo­ca­tion — where the Pa­tri­ots dynasty was once pro­nounced dead — but be­cause of the re­cent his­tory be­tween the two teams. Asked for his rec­ol­lec­tion of the Week 6 Sun­day night game, cor­ner­back Stephon Gil­more sim­ply said, “Points.”

The Pats and Chiefs com­bined for 83 of them ear­lier this sea­son. The Kansas City run de­fense, sec­ond-worst in the league on a per-carry ba­sis, was over­whelmed by the Pa­tri­ots of­fen­sive line. The Pats stood lit­tle chance against Tyreek Hill, who has erupted for 285 yards and four touch­downs in two ca­reer games at New Eng­land. Kansas City topped 40 points in both.

The New Eng­land and Kansas City de­fenses, shaky at var­i­ous points this sea­son, are un­ques­tion­ably peak­ing in Jan­uary. An­drew Luck and Philip Rivers turned in Osweiler-es­que per­for­mances this week­end.

The of­fenses are all right, too. The Chiefs cut Ka­reem Hunt and haven’t skipped a beat.

The Pats didn’t need Josh Gor­don to hang 35 on the Charg­ers by half­time.

“Ex­plo­sive on all lev­els,” Har­mon said. “De­fense is play­ing re­ally well. (Patrick) Ma­homes is prob­a­bly the MVP this year.”

The one re­main­ing ques­tion for the Pa­tri­ots: Can they win on the road?

They’re 9-0 at Gil­lette and 3-5 else­where. Three of those losses were 10-point clunkers at the Li­ons, Ti­tans, and Steel­ers. The road strug­gles were un­usual for a Belichick team.

“No­body cares what hap­pens in the reg­u­lar sea­son,” said Pa­tri­ots cor­ner­back Ja­son McCourty.

“It’s one game,” Har­mon said. “Doesn’t mat­ter.”

The league changes dra­mat­i­cally each year. New chal­lengers pop up and even­tu­ally are forced to re­build. Dur­ing the Pats’ streak of eight con­sec­u­tive AFC Cham­pi­onship games, the only other teams to make mul­ti­ple trips to the NFL’s Fi­nal Four are the 49ers, Sea­hawks, Pack­ers, Fal­cons, Ravens, and Bron­cos. No­body has done it more than three times.

“It’s crazy,” said of­fen­sive line­man Trent Brown.

“It’s amaz­ing and it’s his­tory,” Har­mon said.

It keeps rolling next week­end at Ar­row­head Sta­dium, with yet an­other Su­per Bowl berth on the line.

NANCY LANE / BOS­TON HER­ALD

TWO GOOD: Trey Flow­ers and Dont’a Hightower are all smiles after their big win yes­ter­day.

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