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Pats' Past: The Patriots' first ever championship game appearance

In 1963, the Patriots reached the AFL title game – against the Chargers.

(c) talesfromtheamericanfootballleague.com

Despite finishing in last place in their inaugural season, the Boston Patriots were able to turn the corner quickly and become one of the American Football League's best teams over the seasons that followed. After going 5-9 in 1960, the Patriots were able to follow it up with two consecutive 9-4-1 seasons. Neither was enough to earn the franchise a trip to the championship game, however.

It all changed in 1963, when Boston had one of the league's best defenses to go along with a similarly productive offense – a team that featured a total of 11 AFL All Stars. While the Patriots failed to reach their win total of the past two seasons and finished 7-6-1, it was enough to tie the Buffalo Bills for the best record in the Eastern Division. Consequently, the two teams had to play the AFL's first ever playoff game.

The Patriots dominated the contest and their 26-8 victory earned them a berth in the AFL title game. Boston's opponent was the best team in the league and thus was allowed to play the game at home: The San Diego Chargers won the Western Division with an 11-3 record behind the number one scoring offense and the number one scoring defense. They were the league's best team at the time – and it showed in the championship game.

The contest, which was played on January 5, 1964, saw the favored home team take a quick lead. San Diego drove down the field in only four plays to go up 7-0 and already displayed how they would attack the Patriots' aggressive defense: By using motion and shifts to create mismatches in both the passing and running game. The plan worked perfectly in the first quarter and with their sixth play from scrimmage, the Chargers were already up 14-0.

At that point, Boston finally started to show some life. The team drove 67 yards in seven plays and saw a scoring run by Larry Garron cut the deficit to seven points. However, the Chargers would fight right back as it again took them only four plays to score and go up 21-7 – after giving up a 67-yard touchdown run on its second series, the Patriots defense gave up a 58-yarder on its third.

After Boston answered with another punt, the Chargers added another field goal to increase their lead to 17 points. The Patriots, who lost Garron to a concussion on the ensuing kickoff, were able to score a field goal of their own – but it was the team's final highlight of the game. San Diego scored yet another touchdown on its subsequent possession; a Patriots field goal attempt in the first half's final seconds was blocked.

The Patriots were unable to get back into the game in the third quarter, despite holding the Chargers to “only” one touchdown. The offense continued to struggle moving the football into scoring range and San Diego was able to continue its domination on both sides of the football. As a result, the Western Division champions steadily widened the gap to their Eastern counterpart.

San Diego added two more touchdowns in the final period to bring the game to an end: The Patriots lost their first ever title game appearance 51-10. The point differential shows just how dominant the Chargers were, and so does the stat sheet. San Diego outgained Boston 610 yards to 261, while the defense struggled against both the pass and the run. The prime example for this is the game's MVP.

The Chargers' Keith Lincoln gained 206 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, while also catching seven passes for 123 yards and a score. The Patriots' defense just had not answer for Lincoln, who played an integral part in helping San Diego win its first and so far only pro football championship that day. The Patriots, on the other hand, had to wait until the after the Super Bowl was established – 36 years, in fact – to finally call themselves world champions (something the Chargers did in 1963 after the NFC's Chicago Bears declined to play them for the world championship).