Sunday, January 13, 2019 was predicted to be the end of the New England Patriots dynasty.
On a bitter cold afternoon in January, Tom Brady was to get manhandled by a younger and stronger defense. Rob Gronkowski was to limp off of the Gillette Stadium turf, never to return. The Patriots, as a whole, were to be completely overwhelmed by a hungrier team in the Los Angeles Chargers. Sure, few on the National Sports media stage believed the Pats would fall without a fight. However, ‘fall,’ they most certainly would.
It appears that someone forgot to tell that to the Patriots.
Rookie running back Sony Michel ran for 129 yards and had three touchdowns as the Patriots soundly defeated the Chargers 41-28. With the win, the Patriots have earned their eighth straight trip to the AFC championship game.
The Patriots were near-perfect throughout the opening 30 minutes. They went 5 for 5 in the red zone, 5 of 6 on third down and committed only one penalty. They didn’t go three-and-out for the first time until their fifth offensive drive of the day.
They scored on their first four possessions of the game to build a 35-7 halftime lead. The rout was on, and they never looked back.
For an offense that so many were willing to dismiss as ‘washed up,’ the Pats looked every bit the part of a formidable force in these 2019 playoffs. Tom Brady finished 34 of 44 for 343 yards and a touchdown. Julian Edelman added nine catches for 151 yards.
New England established the run early, creating big holes in a Chargers defense that ended the regular season ranked ninth in the NFL. The Bolts had allowed just 106 rushing yards per game.
However, they proved to have little-to-no answer for Michel, who carried 16 times for 105 yards in the first half. He set the tone early, scoring from the 1 yard-line on the opening possession of the game. It capped a 14-play, 83-yard drive in which he rushed five times for 15 yards and had a 9-yard reception. The Pats rookie demonstrated both the ability and the poise to be a reliable weapon in these playoffs.
Answering with a score of their own, Rivers connected with Keenan Allen for a 43-yard score on Los Angeles’ first possession. It was the longest touchdown of Allen’s career, including the postseason. However, the Patriots defense provided tight coverage and placed smothering pressure on Rivers. As a result, the Chargers punted the four remaining times they had the ball in the first half.
The Patriots continued the onslaught by adding scoring drives of 67, 58, 87 and 35 yards. They would finish with a total of 41 points.
The Chargers added three touchdowns in the second half to make the final score somewhat respectable. However, it was not indicative of the manner in which the Patriots dominated the contest in all three phases.
Thwarting the Bolts’ best attempt at gaining momentum, Ryan Allen’s 48-yard punt was fumbled by Desmond King. While the loose ball was originally ruled out of bounds, Pats special teamer Albert McClellan had actually recovered it. The play was correctly reversed after a challenge by Patriots coach Bill 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.
The Chargers lost for just the second time on the road, and for first time outside Los Angeles this season. In its past four trips to the playoffs, Quarterback Philip Rivers finished 25 of 51 for 331 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He is 0-5 in games played in Foxboro, including 0-3 in the postseason.
New England will now travel to Kansas City, with a trip to Super Bowl LIII on the line. The Patriots beat the Chiefs 43-40 at Gillette Stadium in Week Six. However, Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium will prove to be a much more hostile environment for the Pats. It will be the 13th conference championship game appearance by New England during the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.
Following the game, Brady expressed some excitement, along with a desire to silence the team’s numerous doubters. “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 Patriots and Chiefs will face off on Sunday, January 20, 2019 at 6:40pm ET.
Patriots guard Shaq Mason left the game in the fourth quarter.
Patriots defensive end Deatrich Wise, Jr was sidelined for Sunday’s game with an ankle injury.
Michel became just the second Patriots rookie in franchise history to have a rushing touchdown in the postseason. He joined fellow Georgia alum, Robert Edwards, who ran for a touchdown as a rookie in New England’s 1998 wild-card loss to Jacksonville.
Michel also became the first New England player with two rushing TDs in the first quarter of a playoff game since LeGarrette Blount did it in the 2013 divisional-round win against Indianapolis.
Brady extended his postseason record with his 15th career 300-yard passing game. Next is Peyton Manning with nine.
Brady has a touchdown pass in 13 straight postseason games, tied for the third-longest streak since 1950. Only Brett Favre (20) and Brady himself (18 from 2001-11) have longer streaks.
Brady also threw his 227th consecutive postseason pass without an interception, which set an NFL record.
With his 94th postseason reception, Julian Edelman moves past Reggie Wayne for second place on the all-time list, trailing only Jerry Rice who has 151.
James White tied Darren Sproles’ NFL postseason record with 15 catches, totaling 97 yards.
The Patriots finished the season a perfect 9-0 at home, including the playoffs.
(Stat Cred: Associated Press)
-Mike D’Abate is the Managing Editor of Full Press Patriots and is a National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the NFL. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC