AFC Playoff Review: Divisional Weekend

Rumors of the Patriots demise may have been exaggerated…

New England Patriots- 41

Los Angeles Chargers- 28

Betting against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, at home, in the playoffs, after a bye-week is just plain folly.  Philip Rivers has never, I repeat never, beaten Tom Brady head to head.

None of that stopped the national media from declaring the Patriots dynasty a thing of the past.  Los Angeles would roll into Foxboro and roll over the Patriots.  The Chargers had too many weapons on offense.  They could generate too much pressure on defense.  The Patriots secondary would yield big plays.  Brady would crack.

Nope.

I predicted that New England would win this game.  What I didn’t see coming was the outright domination up front on both sides of the ball. Or the ease with which Josh McDaniels would orchestrate a blowout before the first quarter had ended. The offensive scheme was simply perfect.  When the Chargers were ready for a Brady pass, Sony Michel took it up the middle.  When they were expecting a run left, the play went right.  When the Patriots needed six yards for a first down, Brady casually lofted the ball where only Philip Dorsett could catch it.  In the back of the end zone.  New England utilized jumbo packages to just push the Chargers defense out of the way at will.   After New England found the end zone on five of their first six possessions and took a 35-7 lead into halftime, the game was over.  Heck, the Patriots even recovered the ball after their only punt of the first half when Desmond King muffed it towards the sideline.  Initially the referee ruled that Albert McClellan didn’t recover the ball before it rolled out of bounds, but the Chargers would have no such luck, and the Patriots put the ball in the end zone only four plays later.

Brady ended the day with a completion percentage just over seventy-seven percent for 343 yards and the touchdown pass to Dorsett.  It was a surgical dissection of everything the Chargers wanted to do on defense. Brady stayed in a clean pocket all night, as the vaunted pass rush of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram was completely stifled by a cohesive and unyielding offensive line that executed to perfection on almost every play.  Sony Michel carried the ball twenty-four times for 129 yards and three touchdowns. Julian Edelman and James White combined for twenty-four catches and 248 yards.  Fun fact: only one receiver has more postseason receptions than Julian Edelman.  His name is Jerry Rice.  What about Gronk?  Gronk caught one pass for twenty-five yards, blocked poor defenders into oblivion and continued to serve as the greatest decoy in the history of the NFL.

Defensively, the Patriots put Philip Rivers under pressure from the start and never let up.  Per NFL NextGen Stats, Rivers was pressured on over seventy percent of his first half dropbacks.  That’s a huge number, especially for a team without a superstar edge rusher.  Adrian Clayborn and Trey Flowers both recorded sacks, and Stephon Gilmore showed why he deserved that big-ticket contract with multiple pass deflections and an interception that closed the book on the Chargers for good in the fourth quarter.

The Patriots under Bill Belichick have been to an absurd fifteen divisional round playoff games.  Their record in those games?  Thirteen and two.  Brady, Belichick and company are on to Kansas City, where they’ll play in their record eighth-consecutive AFC Championship game.

If these Patriots are done, and their dynasty is over, they’re taking a hell of a victory lap…

To check out other NFL Playoff reviews, look here.

Image courtesy of SB Nation.

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