This was finally the year we were counting the Patriots out. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Co. were too old and too beat up to carry the Patriots to an eighth-straight AFC Championship Game.
The public bought in, as 72 percent of the money wagered on the game was on the Chargers’ side, per the Action Network. Los Angeles hadn’t lost a game outside of L.A. all season, winning in five different time zones — including an early kickoff in Baltimore last weekend.
Then the Patriots came out and put together a vintage performance on the offensive side of the ball, reminding us why we never should doubt Bill Belichick’s team at this time of the year, especially in Foxborough.
The Pats came out and punched the Chargers in the mouth right off the bat, putting together a lengthy touchdown drive that resulted in the first of three Sony Michel touchdowns. The rookie was spectacular on the ground, rushing for 129 yards on 24 carries.
James White anchored New England’s backfield in the short passing game, hauling in 15-of-17 targets for 97 yards. Edelman was a beast down the field, consistently picking up hard-fought first downs on his way to 151 yards on nine receptions.
Brady orchestrated it all, completing 34-of-44 passes for 343 yards, hitting Phillip Dorsett for his lone touchdown pass of the game. The 41-year-old’s health and ability to still compete at an elite level had been questioned all season. That narrative may have been put to bed on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, thanks to another masterful postseason performance.
Despite allowing three touchdowns in the second half, the Patriots were rock solid defensively. Aside from tying the game at seven after Keenan Allen got into the end zone on a blown coverage by the Patriots, this one was never really a contest. However, a much tougher task awaits next Sunday — a Kansas City offense that led the NFL with 35.1 points per game.
The Patriots and Chiefs already saw each other this year back in Week 6. A wild shootout at Gillette Stadium that New England wound up winning 43-40.
Patrick Mahomes, who joined Brady and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to throw 50 or more touchdowns in a single season, shredded the Patriots’ secondary for 352 yards and four touchdowns in the matchup. But the first-year starter also made crucial mistakes, tossing a pair of interceptions.
But the bigger storyline in the AFC Championship game will be the Patriots’ ability to win outside of New England … or lack thereof. The dominant victory over Los Angeles moved the Pats to 9-0 at home, but the team was just 3-5 in road games, two of them coming over AFC East doormats in the Bills and the Jets.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs improved to 8-1 at rowdy Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday, the lone defeat coming at the hands of the Chargers in a 14-point fourth quarter comeback. Even after an extremely encouraging performance against the Chargers, the Patriots are going to have their hands full in Kansas City in the AFC Championship game. If Tom Brady’s going to make an unthinkable ninth Super Bowl appearance, he’s going to have to earn it.