Tomase: Patriots remind NFL they're still a force to be feared by overwhelming Chargers

John Tomase
January 13, 2019 - 4:36 pm

The Patriots have never been more vulnerable, we were told before kickoff on Sunday.

Three hours later, they had never been more dominant.

That sound you hear is the rest of the NFL scrambling to make sense of what happened in Foxboro during a divisional round playoff game that was supposed to represent a death knell, but instead just reinjected an unlikely favorite into the Super Bowl mix.

To say the Patriots overwhelmed the Chargers doesn't even begin to describe the beating the allegedly dying dynasty unleashed on the quote-unquote Best Team in the AFC.

The Chargers arrived with a pedigree -- 13 wins and no losses outside San Diego all season -- and left with tire tracks filigreed across their facemasks.

The Patriots won 41-28, but make no mistake, this was a five-touchdown game. This was a vintage Patriots performance from a team most of us believed could only be this good again in reruns. Every aging star turned back the clock. Tight end Rob Gronkowski helped open gaping holes in the running game and made his lone catch a stroll down memory lane by rampaging through the Chargers secondary.

Wide receiver Julian Edelman caught nine passes for 151 yards, breaking tackles, beating coverage at the line, and running free like he had never missed a season with a torn ACL or been suspended for PEDs.

And then of course there's quarterback Tom Brady, who has faced questions over everything from his left MCL to his negative air-yards-to-the-sticks in the last week. All he did is what he's always done. He zipped passes to seven different receivers, led the Patriots to touchdowns on their first four possessions, and guided an offense that gained nearly 500 yards while doubling up L.A.'s time of possession.

About all that kept it from being a historically great performance was the quality of the competition. Had the Chargers posed even meager resistance, Brady might've thrown for 500 yards. Instead he was basically only needed for a half, with rookie Sony Michel running for more than 125 yards and three touchdowns.

The Chargers never had a chance because while the Patriots were imposing their will on the game, the visitors were imploding. The Chargers extended two drives with penalties, allowed a touchdown with only 10 men on the field, and committed a pair of delay-of-game penalties in the first quarter alone. Quarterback Philip Rivers spent most of the first half alternately running for his life and whining at the officials. His team wasn't ready to play, despite being everyone's upset pick of the weekend.

And so now we turn our attention to what should be one hell of an AFC title game, pitting the next in a long line of challengers -- the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs -- vs. the proud dynasty that refuses to yield.

The Patriots beat the Chiefs 43-40 earlier this season, but that was in Foxboro. The Chiefs earned the right to host next week's game as the AFC's No. 1 seed, and whereas a couple of weeks ago we might've questioned the Patriots' ability to survive a shootout, after Sunday's performance, anything feels possible.

That's what happens when you dismantle the team widely considered the most complete in the AFC, reminding the rest of the league that no one wins a Super Bowl without going through the Patriots.