Pats won’t go away
Another Super trip in sight
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.
TWO GOOD: Trey Flowers and Dont’a Hightower are all smiles after their big win yesterday.