Saints end Ea­gles’ ti­tle reign

Thrash­ing of Charg­ers lands New Eng­land in 8th straight AFC fi­nal

The Dallas Morning News - - Sports Day - Kyle Hightower, The As­so­ci­ated Press

Marshon Lat­ti­more in­ter­cepted a Nick Foles pass with 1:52 re­main­ing as

KEITH KIRK­WOOD and the Saints fended off a late chal­lenge from Philadel­phia for a 20-14 vic­tory to ad­vance to the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game. 4C

■ Tom Brady again looked age­less (343 yards), and Sony Michel ran for three TDS in the Pa­tri­ots’ 41-28 trash­ing of the Charg­ers.

FOXBOR­OUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady rec­og­nizes that there are some who be­lieve the New Eng­land 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 4128 in the di­vi­sional play­offs Sun­day to earn their eighth straight trip to the AFC Cham­pi­onship Game.

New Eng­land (12-5) will play at Kansas City (13-4) next week. 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 for the Pa­tri­ots in 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. 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 im­proved to 8-0 as a starter against Rivers, who dropped 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.”

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.

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 (82) and first time out­side Los An­ge­les this sea­son. In their last 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 43-yard score on Los An­ge­les’ first of­fen­sive pos­ses­sion.

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 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.

New Eng­land 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.

Chris Graythen/getty Im­ages

Elsa/getty Im­ages

The Pa­tri­ots’ Sony Michel lands on his head in the end zone on a sec­ond-quar­ter carry for one of his three touch­downs. Michel rushed for 129 yards for New Eng­land, which built a 35-7 half­time lead and coasted to vic­tory.

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