EYES ON ANOTHER AFC TITLE
Michel, White pave way to 8th straight title game as Chiefs await
Tom Brady of the New England Patriots celebrates with David Andrews after a touchdown during the first quarter Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots beat the Chargers 41-28 Sunday to earn their eighth straight trip to the AFC championship game. New England will play at Kansas City next week.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady recognizes that there are some who believe the Patriots are nearing the end of their run of unprecedented playoff success.
New England took its first step toward possibly silencing those voices for a little longer.
Rookie Sony Michel ran for 129 yards and had three touchdowns as the Patriots beat the Los Angeles Chargers 41-28 in the divisional playoffs Sunday for their eighth straight trip to the AFC Championship Game.
New England (12-5) will play at Kansas City next Sunday for the conference title. The Patriots beat the Chiefs 43-40 in Foxborough in Week 6. The Patriots finished 9-0 at home this season but were just 3-5 on the road.
It is the 13th conference championship game appearance by the Patriots during the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.
“It’s going to be a good game,” Brady said of the rematch with the Chiefs. “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 (13-5) haven’t reached the AFC title game since the 2007 season.
Philip Rivers finished 25 of 51 for
331 yards and three touchdowns with one interception Sunday. 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 is 8-0 as a starter against Rivers, who drops to 1-8 against New England all time. For Rivers, seeing Brady again pick apart the Chargers defense was another reminder that he was competing against one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. “He’s up there if not the all-time 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.” The Patriots’ James White tied Darren Sproles’ NFL postseason record with 15 catches, totaling 97 yards. New England scored on its first four possessions to build a 35-7 halftime lead. Julian Edelman had nine catches for 151 yards. He said the run 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. AndSw` eet Feet’ [James White] being Sw` eet 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. Los Angeles lost for just the second time on the road (8-2) and first time outside Los Angeles this season. In their past four trips to the playoffs, the Chargers have lost in the divisional round. “We got our butts kicked,” Los Angeles coach Anthony Lynn said. Rivers seemed poised to keep Los Angeles in the game, connecting with Keenan Allen for a 43yard score on the Chargers’
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 of 6 on third down and committing only one penalty. New England didn’t go three-and-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 48yard 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 Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The turnover proved costly, with the Patriots scoring just four plays later when Michel crossed the goal line from 5 yards 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. “I just like winning.” The Patriots established the run early, creating big holes in a Chargers defense 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 scored 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 9-yard reception. The Patriots added scoring drives of 67, 58, 87 and 35 yards. Michel became just the second Patriots rookie in franchise history to have a rushing touchdown in the postseason. 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 accomplished it in the 2013 divisional-round win against Indianapolis. Brady extended his postseason record with his 15th career 300-yard passing game. Next is Peyton Manning with nine. Brady has a touchdown pass in 13 straight postseason games, tied for the third-longest streak since 1950. Only Brett Favre (20) and Brady himself (18 from 2001-11) have longer streaks.
Patriots rookie Sony Michel dives across the goal line in the second quarter for one of his three first-half TDs as the Patriots beat the Chargers to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
The Patriots’ James White tries to slip a tackle during Sunday’s divisional playoff game against the Chargers. White tied an NFL postseason record with 15 receptions.