Patriots 41, Chargers 28: New England dominates Los Angeles to advance to 8th straight AFC title game

Ryan Hannable
January 13, 2019 - 4:36 pm

FOXBORO — Talk about a statement.

The Patriots no doubt played their best game of the season as they crushed the Chargers, 41-28, Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium to advance to their eighth straight AFC championship game.

It was over at halftime as the Patriots led 35-7 by way of four rushing touchdowns — three by Sony Michel and the other by Rex Burkhead. The 35 points in the first half tied a Patriots playoff franchise record.

After allowing a touchdown on the opening drive, the Patriots defense quickly got it together and frustrated Philip Rivers all game long. Rivers did most of his damage during garbage time in the fourth quarter. He is now 0-8 all-time against Tom Brady.

Here are 10 quick observations from the win.

1. The Patriots needed to run the ball against the Chargers defense, and that is what they did. As a team they finished with 156 yards, while rookie Sony Michel led the way with 129 yards. It was a very impressive performance and a great deal of credit needs to go to the offensive line, which was outstanding. Michel also made a number of great cuts, his best showing of the season.

2. It wasn’t just the running game, as Brady was very good as well. The 41-year-old went 34-for-44 passing with 343 yards and a touchdown. While he's certainly had better postseason performances, this was the best he's looked in a long time. He also set a NFL record for most straight passes without an interception in the playoffs.

3. Overall, the running backs were the story of the game for the offense — just like they were the last time the two teams met at Gillette Stadium last season. James White was the star, as he finished with 15 catches on 17 targets for 97 yards. The catches were a career-high, passing the 14 he had in Super Bowl LI. It also tied a NFL postseason record.

4. For the Chargers, it was surprising to see them not adjust to anything. The Patriots scored touchdowns on their first three drives, but yet the Chargers did not change anything up, still allowing the Patriots just to dump it off to their backs. They also left Julian Edelman wide open a number of times. This was strange to see for what was thought to be a well coached team.

5. Brady continued to rely heavily on Edelman in the postseason. For the ninth straight playoff game, he finished with double-digit targets. Edelman finished with nine catches on 13 targets for 151 yards. He also moved into second place all-time in playoff receptions passing Reggie Wayne. The 32-year-old also displayed tremendous toughness, which is nothing new.

6. The defense came to play too and one of the bright spots was Dont’a Hightower. Although he didn’t show up much in the stat sheet, he was all over the field and looked like his old self. He led the unit in pressuring Rivers and making it tough for him all game long. The defense hit him a bunch, which had him complaining to the officials all game long. Chargers running back Melvin Gordon finished with nine carries for 15 yards.

7. The Chargers scored on their opening drive — a 43-yard touchdown to Keenan Allen, but after that the Patriots, and specifically Stephon Gilmore, shut the Chargers receivers down for the remainder of the game. Gilmore didn't allow a catch after that play. Unlike the Chargers, the Patriots defense did a great job adjusting.

8. New England’s offensive line deserves a great deal of credit for keeping Brady clean. All the talk going into the game was how good Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa are off the edge, but Marcus Cannon and Trent Brown did a tremendous job. Shaq Mason was banged up in the second half, but returned to the game.

9. Rob Gronkowski was pretty much a non-factor, finishing with just one reception. It did go for 25 yards and he carried a defender a few extra yards, but for the most part he was used mostly as a decoy and a blocker. Nothing would indicate anything different in terms of him potentially playing next season, so this very well could have been his last game at Gillette Stadium.

10. The Patriots will now play the Chiefs next Sunday in the AFC championship. It will be Kansas City’s first time hosting the game and will be a rematch of a 43-40 classic at Gillette Stadium earlier in the year, won by the Patriots. Both teams will enter the game with tons of confidence following their performances this past week.

The Patriots scored four rushing touchdowns in the first half, which is the first time that’s ever happened in NFL playoff history.

Related: Ian Rapoport explains why Rob Gronkowski might retire following season