DON’T COUNT PATS OUT YET
Brady’s bunch will play for AFC title in eighth straight year
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.
The Patriots got a huge boost from their running game. Sony Michel (26) ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns.