Viewpoint Brady, Patriots silence any doubters
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, 41-14, 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.”