Satisfied? Patriots emphatically answer the skeptics
Forty-one thoughts on the Patriots’ win over the Chargers . . .
1. It was everything and everybody, that’s what it was. Oh, the old familiar legends of January (and many Februarys) rose to rule the moment. But the Patriots’ ain’t-no-stopping-us clobbering of a very good Chargers team was as close to a 45-player effort as you will see. What was it? This is what it was: It was dominance by a team rather than a few individuals. And it was the kind of show that makes you believe, perhaps for the first time in a while during this successful but uncommonly dramatic season, that anything is possible in the next few weeks. To a man, the Patriots’ broke the Chargers faith and restored our own.
2. There was chatter this week that Chargers were the most complete team in the AFC this season, that they would be the one to end the Patriots’ string of seven straight trips to the AFC title game and perhaps even terminate the two-decade dynasty itself. Some of that was actually justified.
3. Instead, virtually from the first snap, it was the Patriots that delivered their most complete and impressive team effort this season. To a man, they played how a Patriots fan hoped they would play, and they played in a way to make even their most shameless detractors feel like fools. What a win, what a show.
4. Of course, the story begins with those old familiar legends. Tom Brady and Julian Edelman have played a combined 54 playoff games. They have seven Super Bowl rings between them, and the magic they’ve worked together in Super Bowl victories over the Falcons and Seahawks during Phase II of this dynasty are a permanent part of NFL lore. In tandem, both were in quintessential postseason form Sunday.
5. I’ll admit it, and honestly, I still believe it. Brady, at age 41, did show signs this season of slowing down. I’m not here to revisit those right now, though, because there’s no reason to do so. (Also, they’d look really, really dumb at the moment, considering that those signs have vanished lately). Brady, who has reportedly been dealing with an MCL injury over the last several weeks, offered some reassurance in the final regular-season game, playing as well against the Jets as he had in weeks. Sunday brought confirmation that the reassurance was justified.
6. Brady was extraordinary Sunday, even by his standards. His statistics were excellent (34 of 44, 343 yards, one touchdown), but they don’t tell the whole story. He was in complete command from the first snap, when he began orchestrating a 14-play, 83-yard drive that put the Patriots ahead on their first possession.
7. He completed passes to seven receivers, but also relied on the guys who have helped put rings on his finger, finding Edelman and James White a combined 24 times. He was patient, poised, unrelenting, and everything we’ve come to expect this time of year.
8. Edelman finished with nine catches for 151 yards, moving into second place on the all-time postseason receptions list behind Jerry Rice. He broke tackle after tackle, lunged for an extra yard when it seemed like there were no more yards to be taken, and looked as good as he has since . . . well, when? Probably the second half of the Super Bowl win over the Falcons.
9. Brady also had the benefit of a running game so effective that you wouldn’t have been surprised to learn in the postgame that Ernie Adams had finally completed his John Hannah cloning project.
10. I suspect the All-22 film aficionados are going to come away raving about David Andrews and Shaq Mason’s performances, and there was some satisfaction in watching Rob Gronkowski pave an occasional pathway.
11. The line does the dirty work, of course, and the running backs run to daylight and get the glory. It’s certainly deserved in Sony Michel’s case. The rookie running back ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns, the scores coming from 1, 5, and 14 yards.
12. I wrote in the preview for this thing that Michel needed to deliver a Laurence Maroney performance — a reference to Maroney’s 122-yard game against the Chargers in the 2007 AFC Championship game, not to his underwhelming career as a whole. Michel was better Sunday than Maroney ever was.
13. James White did his damage in the passing game, tying Darren Sproles’s postseason record with 15 catches (on 17 targets) for 97 yards. That’s more catches than he totaled over the last four weeks of the regular season (13). Are we ready to call him the best third-down back in Patriots’ history yet? I’ve been ready for a while, but Kevin Faulk has some serious loyalists.
14. Favorite moment of the game? Easy. Gronkowski’s catch three minutes into the third quarter. It was his only catch of the game, but a vintage Gronk special. He picked up 25 rumbling yards, breaking a couple of tackles and taking one Chargers defender for a ride before he finally went down.
15. There was talk before the game that this might be Gronk’s last game at Gillette Stadium. It still might be, of course. If it is, it’s satisfying to know that he had one classic Gronk play while also contributing in a significant way to the running game. I get the reality of the situation, but man, I just am not ready to see his Patriots career end yet.
16. Some of the Patriots’ individual statistics at halftime would have stood up as excellent numbers over a whole game. Brady was 23 of 29 for 233 yards, a touchdown, and a 111.6 rating. Michel had 105 yards and the three touchdowns on 16 carries. Edelman was 7 for 107, and it seemed like at least five of the catches came on third down. And White had 10 catches for 71 yards.
17. As if the score at halftime wasn’t confirmation enough of the Patriots’ ferocious determination in this game, how about Brady’s clear annoyance when the Patriots ran out of time trying to set up a Stephen Gostkowski field goal right before the break. Brady wore that same look that used to cross his face when Doug Gabriel ran the wrong route.
18. The Patriots continued going for the slaughter in the second half, never more obviously than when they went for it on fourth and 2 from the Chargers 16 with a 28-point lead early in the third quarter. Converted it, too, when Michel lined up behind James Develin and blasted through the line for a 7-yard gain.
19. It’s like the entire Chargers defense was made up of former Steelers safeties who talked smack about Brady. An 11-man unit of Anthony Smiths, if you will.
20. Belichick caught longtime Patriots observers by surprise by taking the ball after winning the coin toss. But there was little surprise in the execution of the ensuing and staggeringly impressive first possession, which made you say, ‘OK, so that’s why they took the ball.’ ”
21. That first series was as close to the ideal Patriots drive imaginable. The Patriots went 83 yards in 14 plays, chewing up 7 minutes and 11 seconds on the clock, while Rivers and his Los Angeles-based friends got to stand on the sideline and stare at their own breath in front of their faces.
22. White, the essential weapon whose usage had been limited in recent weeks, had five catches, including the first of the game for 8 yards. Brady completed 7 of 9 throws, the Patriots converted three third downs, and Michel, showing some short-yardage proficiency for once, punctuated the whole thing with a 1-yard TD run.
23. To their credit, the Chargers had an impressive, and stylistically different, counter, tying the game on Keenan Allen’s 43-yard touchdown catch. He beat Stephon Gilmore in a way I can’t recall seeing Gilmore get beaten, burning the All-Pro cornerback on a double move that left Gilmore making a wrong turn toward the middle of the field.
24. The defensive backfield is the strength of the Patriots defense, but the Chargers weren’t shy about taking their shots early. Mike Williams dropped a deep ball he should have had, then bounced back to convert a third-and-15 on a dart from Rivers. Rivers had much more velocity on his early throws than you’d expect from a slightly evolved Bernie Kosar.
25. Gilmore ended up having a sensational game, intercepting one pass late and also batting down a 2-point conversion attempt in the Chargers’ attempt to make it at least mildly interesting in the fourth quarter.
26. The All-Pro corner doesn’t carry himself with much swagger. If he did, he might get some recognition for basically having the same season Darrelle Revis did in 2014. Patriots fans ought to love this guy by now.
27. Before the Chargers scored their first touchdown, Jim Nantz said they were off to a “scratchy” start. I’ve never heard that term before. Is that a golf thing? Is he already in The Masters mode?
28. Rivers’s touchdown pass to Allen was the 12th of his postseason career, tying Dan Fouts for the most in Chargers history.
29. In case you wondering, and even if you weren’t, Brady’s 12th playoff touchdown pass came on an 11-yard pass to Troy Brown in a wild-card round victory over the Jaguars on Jan. 7, 2006.
30. The Chargers added kicker Nick Rose to the active roster this week to give them some extra thump on kickoffs. His second kick was caught by Cordarrelle Patterson at the 10-yard-line. Not exactly what they were looking for.
31. When Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley was the Jaguars head coach during the 2015 season, the NFL Network caught him being deferential to Belichick before a game: “Coach Belichick, I know we’ve never talked, but you’ve been really good for me,” Bradley said. “I’m kind of watching and stuff. Without you knowing, you’ve helped me. I know maybe a lot of people say it, but I mean it. It’s been good, so I appreciate that.”
32. Belichick was not really good for him Sunday.
33. Brady hasn’t thrown an incompletion while targeting Dorsett since Week 4 vs. Miami. The touchdown was the 18th straight catch of a pass aimed his way.
34. Unheralded Albert McClellan, whose deft recovery of Desmond King’s fumble set up the Patriots’ fifth touchdown, was a heck of an addition to this team. The Patriots signed the longtime Raven in early November to stabilize their special teams. He’s done that and more.
35. Rivers is a great quarterback and seems like a great guy, too. But there’s a lot of amusement in clobbering his team. Remember when Brady flipped out on Joey Galloway all those years ago? Rivers was like that about just about everything Sunday once the game got out of hand.
36. Rivers called out more teammates publically in the first half than Kyrie Irving has all season.
37. Joey Bosa disappeared in a J.J. Watt kind of way Sunday, registering just one assisted tackle.
38. Then again, you might flip the cruise-control switch after you’ve been running into Trent Brown over and over, down 20-something points.
39. Neither of the Chargers’ acclaimed Melvins did much of anything. Melvin Gordon scored the Chargers’ second touchdown late in the third quarter, but he finished with just 15 rushing yards and took a hit from Elandon Roberts that was so vicious Gordon got up thinking he was Chuck Muncie.
40. As for Melvin Ingram, the pass-rushing linebacker who had two sacks against the Ravens last week, finished with just two tackles. I’m not sure he even got within the same time zone as Brady.
41. Brady-Mahomes. Chiefs-Pats. Sign me up for a classic.