Brady & Co. prove they’re far from done

AFC ti­tle game streak reaches 8 af­ter lat­est rout

San Antonio Express-News - - NFL - By Kyle Hightower

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.

Sony Michel ran for 129 yards and had three touch­downs, and the Patriots beat the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers 41-28 in the di­vi­sional play­offs on Sun­day to earn their eighth straight trip to the AFC cham­pi­onship game.

New Eng­land (12-5) will play at Kansas City in next week’s AFC ti­tle game. The Patriots beat the Chiefs 43-40 in Foxborough in Week 6. The Patriots fin­ished 9-0 at home this sea­son.

It is 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 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, three touch­downs and an in­ter­cep­tion. 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 im­proves to 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 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.

New Eng­land scored on its first four pos­ses­sions of the game 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. 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.

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 Los An­ge­les’ 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 three­and-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 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 New Eng­land’s Al­bert McClel­lan ap­peared to re­cover it. But the play was re­versed af­ter a chal­lenge by 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.”

Adam Glanz­man / Getty Im­ages

The Patriots’ Sony Michel, left, beats the Charg­ers’ Casey Hay­ward to the py­lon dur­ing the first quar­ter while scor­ing the sec­ond of his three touch­downs in Sun­day’s game.

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