DON’T COUNT PATS OUT YET

Brady’s bunch will play for AFC ti­tle in eighth straight year

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY KYLE HIGHTOWER

FOXBOR­OUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady rec­og­nizes that some be­lieve the Pa­tri­ots are near­ing the end of their run of un­prece­dented play­off suc­cess.

The Pa­tri­ots took their first step to­ward pos­si­bly si­lenc­ing those voices for a lit­tle longer.

Sony Michel ran for 129 yards and three touch­downs, and the Pa­tri­ots beat the Charg­ers 41-28 in the di­vi­sional play­offs Sun­day to earn their eighth con­sec­u­tive trip to the AFC Cham­pi­onship Game.

The Pa­tri­ots will play the Chiefs next Sun­day in Kansas City. The Pa­tri­ots beat the Chiefs 43-40 in Foxbor­ough in Week 6. They fin­ished 9-0 at home this sea­son.

It’s the 13th con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game ap­pear­ance by the Pa­tri­ots dur­ing the Tom BradyBill Belichick era.

“It’s go­ing to be a good game,” Brady said. “They’re a good team. We played them ear­lier this year. I know ev­ery­body thinks we suck and, you know, we can’t win any games, so we’ll see. It’ll be fun.”

The Charg­ers haven’t reached the AFC ti­tle game since the 2007 sea­son.

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

Brady fin­ished 34-for-44 for 343 yards with a touch­down. He im­proved to 8-0 as a starter against Rivers, who fell to 1-8 against the Pa­tri­ots all-time.

For Rivers, see­ing Brady pick apart the Charg­ers’ de­fense again was an­other re­minder that he was com­pet­ing against one of the best quar­ter­backs in NFL his­tory.

“He’s up there, if not the all­time great, then one of,” Rivers said. “That ar­gu­ment can go on for­ever. Was he rolling at the high­est level to­day? I think we can all agree on that.”

James White tied Dar­ren Spro­les’ NFL post­sea­son record with 15 catches, to­tal­ing 97 yards.

The Pa­tri­ots scored on their first four pos­ses­sions to build a 35-7 half­time lead.

Ju­lian Edel­man had nine catches for 151 yards. He said the run­ning game opened up the field for the rest of the of­fense.

“It was awe­some to get Sony out there truck­ing,” said Edel­man. “Rex [Burk­head] was out there, he scored. And ‘Sweet Feet’ [James White] be­ing ‘Sweet Feet’. Sony’s over there be­ing a lit­tle horse. It was awe­some.”

The Charg­ers added three touch­downs in the sec­ond half, but it was much too late. They lost for just the sec­ond time on the road (8-2) and first time out­side Los An­ge­les. In their last four trips to the play­offs, the Charg­ers have lost in the di­vi­sional round.

“We got our butts kicked,” Charg­ers coach An­thony Lynn said.

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

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-for-6 on third down and com­mit­ting one penalty.

The Pa­tri­ots didn’t go three­and-out for the first time un­til their 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 the Pa­tri­ots’ Al­bert McClellan ap­peared to re­cover it. But the play was re­versed after a chal­lenge by Belichick.

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

Asked if this vic­tory proved at least some of the Pa­tri­ots’ doubters wrong, Brady paused and smiled.

“I just like win­ning,” he said.

ELSA/GETTY IMAGES

The Pa­tri­ots got a huge boost from their run­ning game. Sony Michel (26) ran for 129 yards and three touch­downs.

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