This was supposed to be the year the Patriots didn't land on Free Parking in the game of Monopoly that is the AFC Divisional Playoffs.
Phil Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers wanted absolutely no part of the sub-freezing temperatures at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots rolled the Chargers, 41-28, to advance to the AFC Championship Game for the eighth consecutive season. They’ll be facing the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium at 6:40 p.m. next Sunday.
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"Honestly, I don't really care about that right now," Bill Belichick said when asked about what it's taken to make it to eight straight final fours in the NFL. "I'm worried about this team and what this team has done. This team has worked hard all year to put itself in position to compete for the AFC Championship, obviously, against a great team in Kansas City. That's really what we're focused on. Whatever happened last year or some other year, whatever it is, it is. It's all in the books. This team has a lot in front of it and that's really what we're going to focus on is what this team can do."
What this team can do, apparently, is score. And score often.
New England came away with touchdowns on each of its first four possessions, giving Ryan Allen a well-deserved breather to begin the game. And even when the artists formerly known as the San Diego Chargers finally forced the Patriots to punt, Desmond King muffed the return. After initially being ruled out of bounds upon recovery, replay confirmed that Albert McClellan fell on the ball in bounds, giving New England the ball right back.
Four plays later, rookie Sony Michel completed his hat trick of first half rushing touchdowns to stretch the Patriot lead to 35-7 prior to the break, giving New England the most points it had scored in the first half all season long.
Michel broke open the scoring for the Patriots as well, capping off a 14-play, 83-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Looking back, it’s easy to forget that the Chargers responded with a touchdown of their own after Stephon Gilmore bit on a fake by Keenan Allen for a 43-yard score to help tie the game at 7-all.
That felt like so long ago, the Chargers might as well have still been playing at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. This was an evisceration, far and away the best New England has looked in basically every aspect of the game this season.
Michel scored again to give the Patriots the lead for good on a 14-yard run, followed by the first postseason touchdown of Phillip Dorsett’s career.
Dorsett became the 28th player to catch a touchdown pass from Brady, who threw for 343 yards on the game. Out of 38 career postseason games, the figure is the eighth-most of Brady's career.
"Everybody thinks we suck and can't win any games," Brady told CBS reporter Tracy Wolfson after the game on the telecast.
Rex Burkhead got in the act with a 6-yard touchdown run to increase New England’s lead to 28-7 prior to Michel’s final score, which came just after he surpassed 100 yards on the ground for the game.
Michel, in his postseason debut, racked up 129 yards on the ground.
That vaunted Chargers pass rush of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa? Zero sacks.
"Credit to the coaches and credit to us for attention to detail this week," left tackle Trent Brown said. "[We] played with technique for 60 minutes."
"Those two guys are great rushers, it was fun chasing them up and down the field the whole game," right tackle Marcus Cannon said. "Hats off to them, they brought it and it wasn't easy."
What was the biggest message from legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia during the week leading up to the game?
"You'll have to ask him," Cannon said.
James White established a new career high -- regular or postseason -- with 15 catches, one more than he hauled in vs. the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Julian Edelman also matched a career best with 151 yards receiving on nine catches -- again, between the regular or postseason.
Edelman climbed to seventh on the career postseason receiving yards list during the game (1,175) and is now second all-time in postseason receptions, with 98. Only Jerry Rice (151) remains ahead of him in that category.
"He's such a great player and just a great teammate, competitor and had a great game today," Brady said of Edelman. "He came up big. We needed it and we'll need it next week, too."
Since the start of the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI vs. the Atlanta Falcons -- at which point, the Patriots trailed 28-9 -- here are Brady's numbers in the postseason: 141 for 211 (66.8 completion percentage), 1,721 yards, 10 touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 107.5