The New England Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Chargers ##-## on Sunday, clinching their eighth-straight trip to the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City for the chance to play in their third-straight Super Bowl and fourth in five years.
The Patriots absolutely crushed the Chargers. This is what we learned.
Tom Brady played an incredibly smart game
Brady finished the day completing an impressive 34 of 44 passes (77.3%) for 343 yards and a touchdown. Brady was incredibly decisive with the football and knew exactly how to dice up the Chargers on any given play.
The Patriots entire passing offense relied on Julian Edelman (9 catches for 151 yards) and James White (15 catches for 97 yards) and we all could have predicted that coming into the game.
The Chargers played the same Cover 3 defense that the Seattle Seahawks played in Super Bowl XLIX and that the Atlanta Falcons played in Super Bowl LI. So of course Edelman and White would have big roles. The Chargers couldn’t do anything to stop them.
And Brady played a near perfect game, finding White and Edelman underneath, but also finding Edelman deep down the field in favorable coverage. Brady’s knee is finally healthy and that bodes well for New England.
The Chargers wanted nothing to do with the Patriots running game
For as great as Brady played, the story of the game might be running back Sony Michel, who racked up 129 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. He added in a reception for 9 yards. Rex Burkhead added in a touchdown of his own as the Patriots finished the day with 156 rushing yards.
New England wanted to challenge the Chargers’ soft interior as Los Angeles’ linebackers are injured. Josh McDaniels called a bunch of running plays early on and it was clear that the Chargers couldn’t stop the Patriots’ offensive line and that was the theme of the day. Michel was a machine and the Patriots broke the Chargers’ spirit by the second quarter.
The Patriots played a simple offense
There were no surprises with the Patriots offense on Sunday. We knew that the Patriots would throw to Edelman and White and rely on their rushing attack. The fact that everyone knew that and the Chargers- who have a great team- couldn’t do anything to stop it is a great sign for the Patriots.
Note: The 41 points by New England was the most the Chargers allowed all season.
If the Patriots’ running game is able to be as effective in Kansas City as they were in Foxborough, New England will have a real chance to slow down the game and upset the Chiefs.
Major tip of the cap to the Patriots’ run defense
The Patriots defense was outstanding on Sunday and their run defense allowed the team to generate a big early lead. Melvin Gordon finished the day with a mere 15 rushing yards on 9 attempts (1.7 yards per carry) and the entire Chargers team only gained 19 rushing yards on the day.
New England routinely forced the Chargers into second- and third-and-long situations and dictated the Chargers’ offensive game plan. The long distance downs required Los Angeles to throw the ball and that allowed the defensive front to really rush after Philip Rivers and allowed the secondary to focus on shutting down the receivers.
The defense played a complete game and it was all thanks to stellar run defense.
Dont’a Hightower had his best game of the season
Hightower gave a vintage performance, zipping all over the field and making plays at every level. He only recorded 2 tackles on the day, but that’s because the entire defense was so dominant there were incomplete passes left and right.
Hightower generated a lot of pressure on Rivers, forcing those errant throws, and he did a great job of preventing any sort of rushing attack from developing. The defense is so much better when Hightower plays well.
The Patriots pass defense was nearly lights out.
The Patriots secondary wasn’t perfect- Stephon Gilmore lost track of Keenan Allen on the Chargers’ opening drive resulting in a touchdown- but they did a great job against one of the most potent passing attacks in the entire league.
After giving up that score, Gilmore erased Allen from the game. J.C. Jackson and Jason McCourty did a great job of limited the Chargers receivers (at least until garbage time), while Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty made sure that the tight ends were never involved.
And the fact that the Chargers running backs- who led the NFL in receiving yards in the regular season- were never a part of the passing game means that the linebackers did a great job, too.
New England will play in their 8th-straight AFC Championship Game
This is an extension of the team’s NFL record. This is ridiculous. Whatever happens next week, please note that the run the Patriots have been on with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady at the helm during the salary cap era is completely preposterous.
It will be difficult to beat the Chiefs in Kansas City. After the Patriots annihilated the Chargers, I think anything is possible.
Welcome to Pats Pulpit Live: Victory Edition! The Patriots whooped the Chargers 41-22 and will be heading to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs in next week's AFC Championship Game!Posted by Pats Pulpit: For New England Patriots News on Sunday, January 13, 2019