Brady, New Eng­land em­phat­i­cally si­lence any and all doubters

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - SPORTS - JEFF JA­COBS

FOXBORO, Mass. — They won the toss and elected to blow out the Charg­ers.

A full, throaty chant of “Beat LA!” be­gan shortly be­fore the open­ing kick­off Sun­day at Gil­lette Sta­dium, and by half­time the Pa­tri­ots not only had beaten LA. They had ex­e­cuted a nearly per­fect beat­down.

Bill Belichick or­di­nar­ily elects to de­fer when he wins the coin toss, but on this cold Jan­uary af­ter­noon he wanted the ball. He wanted a lead. He wanted a chance to run the ball down the Charg­ers’ throat. He wanted a chance to es­tab­lish the kind of com­ple­men­tary at­tack that Tom Brady in­tro­duces into nearly ev­ery con­ver­sa­tion with the me­dia.

The re­sult was sur­gi­cal.

The re­sult was men­ac­ing.

The re­sult of this 41-28 di­vi­sional play­off vic­tory was an al­most un­fath­omable eighth

suc­ces­sive ap­pear­ance in the AFC Cham­pi­onship.

The Charg­ers have had suc­cess play­ing Cover 3 zone. They’ll use six and even seven de­fen­sive backs, some­thing that baf­fled the Ravens last week­end in the wild-card game. The Pa­tri­ots had their an­swer. They scored touch­downs on their first four of­fen­sive pos­ses­sions.

The first drive went an epic 14 plays, cov­er­ing 83 yards and 7:11. The first drive, capped by Sony Michel’s one-yard TD run, left the so­cial me­dia jock­eys mock­ing Brady for dink­ing and dunk­ing and throw­ing balls that trav­eled six yards. Yet by the time the Pa­tri­ots an­swered their one big de­fen­sive mis­take — Stephon Gil­more blew cov­er­age on Keenan Allen’s 43-yard touch­down catch — the mock­ing had stopped.

Mouths were left agape. A seven-play drive of 67 yards, an eight-play drive of 58 yards, a six-play drive of 87 yards. There was the 14-yard touch­down run by Michel. There was the 15-yard touch­down pass from Brady to Phillip Dorsett and the six-yard run touch­down run by Rex Burk­head. When the Charg­ers’ de­fense fi­nally did force a fourth down, Al­bert McClel­lan made a ter­rific play to re­cover a muffed fum­ble by punt re­turner Des­mond King. That ended up in the end zone, too, with Michel scor­ing his third touch­down.

The Pa­tri­ots had en­tered as a four-point fa­vorite at home, but every­thing pointed to a ter­rific game. The Charg­ers had a bet­ter sea­son record. They had won at Seat­tle, Den­ver, Seat­tle and at Kansas City. They went 7-1 on the road in the reg­u­lar sea­son, went to Bal­ti­more on wild-card week­end and won there, too. The Charg­ers had more play­ers se­lected to the Pro Bowl and most agreed had a bet­ter ros­ter on pa­per. This was not go­ing to be an­other year of the prover­bial dou­ble bye. This was not go­ing to be the Ti­tans or Tex­ans and an­other di­vi­sional play­off tomato can walkover.

A lot of folks thought the Pa­tri­ots would go down Sun­day. This would be the day that fi­nally marked the end of the great­est run in NFL his­tory, that showed Fa­ther Time had claimed Tom Brady, 41.

Half­time score: Pa­tri­ots 35, Charg­ers 7.

The Pa­tri­ots got yards ev­ery way. With the Charg­ers get­ting only 19 yards on the ground, they seemed to stop LA in ev­ery way, too. When it was over, Brady blinked into the tele­vi­sion cam­eras, con­sid­ered a ques­tion about next Sun­day’s AFC ti­tle game at KC and showed the na­tion the tini­est bit of “I told you so.”

“I know every­body thinks we suck and we can’t win any games, so we’ll see,” Brady said. “It’ll be fun.”

Later, Brady was asked if he took any de­light in prov­ing peo­ple wrong. He an­swered, “I just like win­ning.”

He fol­lowed with his win­ning Brady smile.

“We see our quar­ter­back is too old,” Devin McCourty said. “We’re not good enough on de­fense. Our skill play­ers aren’t good enough. We see it, but it doesn’t af­fect how we pre­pare. We have a team of great char­ac­ter. We’ve been al­ready counted out mul­ti­ple times. That never af­fects us.”

“We’ve been hear­ing things like that for­ever,” said Rob Gronkowski, who con­ceiv­ably could be play­ing his last sea­son be­cause of mount­ing in­juries. “We just laugh at it and keep mov­ing for­ward.”

Belichick re­fused to sin­gle out great per­for­mances. He kept say­ing so many had played so well. Brady com­pleted 34 of 44 passes for 343 yards to re­turn to a record 13th con­fer­ence ti­tle game. Michel ran for 129 yards on 24 car­ries. Ju­lian Edel­man made nine catches for 151 yards, his 98 ca­reer post­sea­son catches now trail­ing only Jerry Rice. James White, who had made 14 catches in the leg­endary Su­per Bowl come­back against At­lanta, had 15 for 97 yards out of the back­field. That tied the NFL sin­gle-game post­sea­son record. Gronk had only one catch for 25 yards, but spent the day demon­strat­ing what a ter­rific tight-end blocker he is.

“You got to get yards the old-fash­ioned way,” Gronk said.

The Pa­tri­ots won an ear­lier matchup against the Chiefs, 43-40, in Oc­to­ber, but it was at home where the Pa­tri­ots did not lose this sea­son. McCourty said he didn’t know if the fans watched the Chiefs rout the Colts on Satur­day and re­al­ized this was the last game at Gil­lette this sea­son, “but they were rock­ing all game. As a de­fense we love it. Made it tough on Philip Rivers.”

More than once, they chanted, “Beat LA!” They were rock­ing to “Born To Run,” when the Pa­tri­ots game plan was to run. In the sec­ond half, with Jon Bon Jovi sit­ting next to owner Robert Kraft, they went nuts singing, “Livin’ On A Prayer.” If all this could be set to a score against the many dis­plays of dis­plea­sure and frus­tra­tion by Philip Rivers, who’s 0-8 against Brady’s Pa­tri­ots, it would be fairly hi­lar­i­ous.

In the midst of their suc­cess, the Charg­ers had de­vel­oped a mantra: ASAP. They should change that motto to­day to ASAPEG. Any Squad. Any Place. Ex­cept Gil­lette. The Pa­tri­ots are 23-4 in home play­off games. They’re 8-4 in AFC ti­tle games with Belichick and Brady. Yet if AFC Cham­pi­onship his­tory can be used as a guide, two heart-wrench­ing de­feats in Den­ver and one in In­di­anapo­lis demon­strate how dif­fi­cult it will be to win at KC. Es­pe­cially for a team that is 3-5 on the road this sea­son.

“They’re the No. 1 seed in the AFC,” Belichick said. “So they de­served it. They’re the best team. We’ll see how it goes.”

Of course, the Pa­tri­ots also lost to the Chiefs, 4114, at Ar­row­head Sta­dium on Mon­day Night Foot­ball in 2014. There was plenty of talk then Brady may be reach­ing the end. The Pa­tri­ots won the Su­per Bowl against Seat­tle. Brady wasn’t nearly fin­ished.

“That was a pretty crappy loss that night,” Brady said. “We’ve had some other ones. I think we showed a lot of perseverance, a lot of tough­ness. This team is show­ing it. We’ve had some tough losses this year, too, but you just keep fight­ing.”

Robert Gau­thier / TNS

Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back Tom Brady con­grat­u­lates run­ning back Rex Burk­head af­ter Burk­head scored a sec­ond-quar­ter touch­down against the Charg­ers on Sun­day.

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