Charg­ers’ motto doesn’t im­press Pa­tri­ots, who start rout early

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Jeff Miller

NEW ENG­LAND 41 CHARG­ERS 28

FOXBOR­OUGH, Mass. — “Any Squad, Any Place” fi­nally met this squad in this place.

And the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, as hard­ened as Bill Belichick’s scowl by years of play­off suc­cess, ended the Charg­ers’ sea­son — ap­pro­pri­ately and bit­terly enough — ASAP.

Sprint­ing out to a stun­ning four-touch­down half­time lead, the Pa­tri­ots turned the fi­nal two quar­ters into garbage time in a 41-28 di­vi­sional-round rout Sun­day at Gil­lette Sta­dium.

“I was in shock,” re­ceiver Keenan Allen said. “I didn’t know what was go­ing on. It just felt like, I don’t know, we couldn’t do any­thing right. Bad day.”

The Charg­ers ad­vanced to the step be­fore the AFC ti­tle game on

the strength of their road suc­cess, win­ning the nine times they played out­side of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

Along the way, they came back from dou­ble-digit deficits in Pitts­burgh and Kansas City, and won ev­ery­where from Seat­tle to Lon­don. They adopted “Any Squad, Any Place” as their motto of fear­less­ness.

But a sea­son that con­tin­u­ally of­fered glimpses of pos­si­bly be­ing some­thing spe­cial ul­ti­mately ended up in shreds thanks to the ruth­less pre­ci­sion of Tom Brady and the Pa­tri­ots.

“They jumped out on us,” run­ning back Melvin Gor­don said. “And they just kept at­tack­ing and kept at­tack­ing and kept at­tack­ing. It’s hard to win when they’re scor­ing 35 in the first half.”

Each of New Eng­land’s first four pos­ses­sions re­sulted in touch­downs against a de­fense that missed as­sign­ments and tack­les and could find noth­ing close to a so­lu­tion for Brady.

The Charg­ers’ “7-Eleven” scheme that worked so well in beat­ing Bal­ti­more a week ago in the wild-card round was a dis­as­ter against the Pa­tri­ots’ pound­ing run­ning game and sub­se­quent play­ac­tion pass­ing.

Even when they ap­peared to stop New Eng­land, the Charg­ers erred to hurt them­selves. A pass in­ter­fer­ence call on Casey Hay­ward and a hold­ing penalty on Des­mond King con­verted third downs and ex­tended two of those scor­ing drives.

When they fi­nally forced the Pa­tri­ots to punt, King muffed the kick and New Eng­land re­cov­ered to set up a fifth touch­down be­fore half­time.

“It was a shock, to­tally un­ex­pected,” de­fen­sive line­man Isaac Rochell said. “You’re never plan­ning, in any sit­u­a­tion, to go into half­time down 28.”

The Charg­ers trailed 35-7 when they re­treated to the vis­i­tors locker room, where coach An­thony Lynn told them to for­get the score­board and play for pride and one an­other.

This fran­chise hadn’t given up that many points in a first half in more than 30 years. The prospect of com­ing back in this set­ting against this op­po­nent seemed ab­surd, even to a group that had come back so of­ten.

“Once it got to 35-7, I was like, ‘We’re play­ing the Pa­tri­ots now,’ ” Allen said. “You gotta get real at some point. We’re play­ing the Pa­tri­ots. This ain’t no­body else.”

The deficit reached 38-7 mid­way through the third quar­ter be­fore the Charg­ers scored three touch­downs to at least make the score re­spectable. It was far too late to sal­vage any­thing else.

Brady had 343 yards pass­ing as New Eng­land had a 100-yard rusher (Sony Michel) and a 100-yard re­ceiver (Ju­lian Edel­man), and a run­ning back with 15 re­cep­tions (James White), which tied an NFL play­off record.

Be­hind so much so soon, the Charg­ers gave up try­ing to run and fin­ished with only 19 yards on the ground. The Pa­tri­ots had a time-of-pos­ses­sion ad­van­tage of nearly 17 min­utes.

“I felt like I was help­less,” said Gor­don, who car­ried nine times for 15 yards. “We can’t be down four scores and still try­ing to run. It don’t work like that. It sucks, man. It sucks be­ing taken out of the game like that. But what can you do?”

Rivers, who fell to 0-8 against Brady, was re­peat­edly pres­sured and hit, New Eng­land flus­ter­ing the vet­eran with steady pres­sure from the open­ing snap.

By the end, Rivers was limp­ing around and fum­ing at any­one close enough to hear him. He fin­ished 25 for 51 for 331 yards and three touch­downs, al­though his­tory won’t re­mem­ber this game for those num­bers.

In­stead, it will be the 35-7 deficit that turned a 60-minute game into one that was over after only 30, an AFC fi­nal-four matchup that couldn’t have been more em­phatic as a fi­nale.

“To not even have a fight­ing chance at the end, it sucks,” de­fen­sive end Joey Bosa said. “I’m sure it will linger into next year. We’ll still have a salty taste in our mouths. We’ll re­mem­ber los­ing and what it takes to truly win, be­cause this wasn’t it.”

The Charg­ers will re­mem­ber earn­ing a trip to New Eng­land to face a Pa­tri­ots team now head­ing to its eighth con­sec­u­tive con­fer­ence ti­tle game and try­ing to win its third Su­per Bowl in five years.

And they’ll re­mem­ber leav­ing Foxbor­ough feel­ing a lot like so many teams that came be­fore them.

“They had a great scheme, and they worked it to per­fec­tion,” Gor­don said. “They did what the Pa­tri­ots do.”

Robert Gauthier Los An­ge­les Times

TOM BRADY throws one of his 44 passes in New Eng­land’s rout of the Charg­ers. The 41-year-old quar­ter­back com­pleted 34 for 343 yards and one touch­down.

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