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Patriots vs. Chargers: Fan Notes from the AFC Divisional Round

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Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots’ 41-28 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

Divisional Round - Los Angeles Chargers v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

I wonder what the rest of the population does during the second and third weekend in January. The Patriots are always playing, so I honestly have no idea.

The Patriots absolutely handled the Chargers yesterday to the tune of a 41-28 beatdown that wasn’t even remotely that close. Tom Brady was masterful, the running game was unstoppable, and Los Angeles looked outmatched from the opening whistle all the way to the end. It’s business as usual in New England.

  • I’d like to get into detail about how well the Patriots perform in divisional rounds and the way their offense steps it up and all that good stuff...but I really don’t want to jinx anything. But let’s just say watching the Patriots play in the divisional round is usually one of the very few times I have any fun watching a Pats game in the postseason.
  • Temperature at game time: 26 degrees. There was once a time, when I was younger, where I would have called that “football weather.” Now that I’m pushing 40, I’m going to go ahead and amend it to “stay inside and watch football weather.”
  • I’m not, however, old enough to still appreciate the guys who play in games like this in short sleeves, and that small yet fierce band of hydrated fans who feel that they’d be a better help to their favorite team by sitting shirtless in the stands.
  • Every stat in the book went against the Chargers winning this game - previous record, weather, playoff percentages, you name it. Usually, reading all of that stuff would have freaked me out something fierce. But at absolutely no point was I even remotely concerned that the Patriots were going to lose this one, and it was more or less over by the first quarter.
  • Every time I watch a 300 lb plus lineman pull or swing to make a block, I’m amazed by the dexterity and agility that men that size have. But watching Shaq Mason do it is something else altogether. His technique is perfect; shoulders squared, solid posture, fluid hips, and able to turn his body into the block at the exact right time so as not to telegraph the gap to the linebackers. Mason must have been something to watch during the dance circle at his high school prom.
  • When initial attempts to run through the A gaps failed, New England spread the defense with some empty sets and ran the offense more through James White. As that worked more and more, the Chargers started splitting their ends to account for the screens and quick outs, which then allowed Michel to come back to the middle of the field to pick up yards in chunks.
  • 14 plays, 83 yards, over seven minutes off the clock, eight passes six rushes, four different receivers, touchdown. Longest opening drive in the Belichick/Brady postseason era. Hoo boy.
  • Defensively, New England opened in what looked like a 4-2-5 Nickel with Chung in the box as the extra linebacker, going a little smaller up front to account for the side to side speed of Melvin Gordon. The weakness of that formation is that it leaves the team vulnerable to in-cuts through the seam, as the safeties have a lot of real estate to cover and the ‘backers are closer to the line so they can react more quickly. Rivers exploited that hole by motioning his receivers away from the sidelines and calling off-tackle runs for Gordon, which was then able to set up the long-bomb Keenan Allen TD. Gilmore jumped that in-cut seam, and Allen made a quick move to the outside. That would be the only mistake that Gilmore made all day.
  • I’m not sure if it’s new to this season per se, but one thing I’ve been noticing quite a bit this year is something I could really do without. You’ll hear the announcing crew give some version of, “we have a player down on the field. It looks like he took a really awkward hit and twisted his knee painfully. Let’s replay the injury is super slow motion so you can see the exact moment...yep, there is is, you can watch that leg snap in half right there. Let’s go back and show it to you again.”
  • I wonder if, during the offseason executives meeting, somebody piped up and said “I feel like fans would be more engaged with the sport if they got to see more graphic injuries.”
  • Julian Edelman is now the 2nd leading receiver in postseason history. The man he’s chasing? Jerry Rice, with an absurd 151. Jerry Rice is obviously the greatest receiver of all time...but maybe we can apply some Brady logic to those numbers and try to knock Rice down, diminish his greatness, and make a case for Edelman in some desperate search for pageviews.
  • Edelman was absolutely uncoverable yesterday. 9 for 151 is not a horrible day. What’s odd is he didn’t run anything too crazy in terms of his routes; mainly just slants, crosses, and a few sit-down routes. Los Angeles just kept losing track of him like a kid lost in a grocery store. O
  • There was an advertisement yesterday for some home security camera to protect a family’s “hygge” - a Danish word for coziness and comfort. For most of the commercial, I thought Hygge was some new home furnishings company, and let me tell you: I was all-in. What a huge letdown.
  • This Chargers team simply isn’t built to come back from a 21 point deficit. Granted, few teams are, but when Melvin Gordon stopped being a real threat, the Patriots were able to cheat the safeties over towards the sideline, give up the short middle, and dictate what Rivers was able to do with the ball.
  • I think this also speaks to Bill Belichick knowing exactly what the tendencies of opposing QBs are. Rivers is not the kind of quarterback to take the underneath stuff and march methodically down the field. He’s going to take shots, so Belichick moved to a Cove 3 and Quarters look, which got pressure up front and protected deep, but left the middle zones wide open. Rivers didn’t audible correctly, nor did Anthony Lynn make the necessary adjustments.
  • Watching Philip Rivers get mad is my favorite thing. I don’t know what the record for most “gosh-darnits” and “drats” in a three hour span is, but I bet Rivers has it now.
  • This game was over by halftime; nobody, including the Chargers, thought that there was any chance that they’d be coming back from this one. And when the game is over by halftime, the second half becomes a combination of staying healthy, not expending too much energy, and trying some stuff out. My big takeaway from the 2nd half is the versatility of the running game out of shotgun and unbalanced formations. Regarding the latter, I counted at least three times that the Patriots ran to the weak side, Michel following Gronk and Develin as opposed to the rest of the line, which sold the misdirection perfectly.
  • I somehow made it this far without praising the absolute monster that was Rob Gronkowski yesterday. Just shoving guys out of the way like Bobby Boucher on a fake field goal, opening lanes, passing off his blocking assignments, and getting to the second level. Between Gronk and Develin, this game became 60 minutes of the Patriots giving the Chargers a wedgie, sitting on their chest, grabbing their wrists, and saying “quit hitting yourself! Quit hitting yourself!” over and over while they waited patiently for it to be over.
  • And for the record, his one reception of the day was his 69th of his posteason career. Heh.
  • On the defensive side of the ball: blitz packages and stunt rushes completely stymied this offense. New England either brought a Cover-0 blitz or showed blitz, dropped 6, and sent a linebacker around the middle to get in Rivers’ face. I guess this Chargers O-Line is as advertised, and they clearly learned nothing from the Ravens game.
  • I’ll say this: when Rivers actually had time to throw, he was hitting dimes into very tight coverage. It’s just that New England made him earn every inch of those 22 yards he threw for.
  • Rivers actually threw for 331 and 3 TDs, which is respectable. But 300 of those yards came in garbage time.
  • The only real blunder from the Patriots coaching staff yesterday was a 3rd quarter challenge where Mike Williams appeared to catch the ball, fumble it...and then recover his own fumble. Unsure what the point of that was.
  • I used to love those big collisions where helmets colliding sounded like a tough guy crushing a beer can after chugging the whole thing in one gulp. I mean I still love them...but now I love them while knowing that every single one of those hits is the equivalent of a car accident and the men who deliver them are going to be completely cast aside by a corrupt, hypocritical, and soulless league that only cares about making money.
  • I don’t think any group of fans has ever loved a 1 yard fullback dive the way Patriots fans love it when James Develin gets a carry.
  • So...Michelob Ultra is beer for people who exercise? Is that it?
  • For the record, my father LOVES Michelob Ultra. Loves it. It’s his beer of choice and it isn’t even close. He used to be a Piel’s Light guy, then he flirted with Amstel Light for a time, and then he had a brief Newcastle Brown kick...but he’s been on the Ultra Train for well over a decade now and he’s not going back. His main reasoning is that he’s been known to drink 20-30 beers in a sitting, so if you’re going to go that hard, may as consume as few calories as possible.
  • Look at this throw from Tommy B to Edelman. Good lord. That’s right up there with Brady to LaFell in terms of throws most people will forget about, but I won’t. I want to find this cliff Brady has apparently fallen off of and jump, because it would appear the bottom is strewn with $100 bills, Vitamin Waters, posters of Carmen Electra in her prime, and puppies.
  • I mean seriously: Brady sells the playaction, steps up into a clean pocket (kudos to the offensive line for an excellent day in protection), releases the ball while Edelman is still covered, places it just past the oustretched hands of the defensive back, hits Edelman in stride, and managed to freeze the safety enough to allow Edelman to pick up an extra 20 yards or so. He also threw that ball about 60 miles per hour. Are you kidding me?
  • The second half of this game was little more than a glorified practice, so there isn’t really much to talk about here. I’m just glad that nobody got hurt and there’s a lot of great momentum heading into an incredibly hostile environment.
  • If I’m a Chargers fan today, I’m happy overall with the season. This is a good team with a lot of young weapons and a strong defense. They should be competitive in what is shaping up to be an incredibly tough division. That said: I’d be pretty upset with the overall effort from the team in this game, and I’d have a hard time shaking the feeling that LA rolled over and put up the white flag before this game even started.
  • I’ve also been on the receiving end of beatings like this during my time as an athlete. Losing soccer games 15-0. Enacting the old little league mercy rule when it’s 19-0 before the third inning and everyone just wants to go home already. Playing against the backups and equipment boys with the game well out of hand. It’s never fun. But do you know what the worst part of it always was? When the opposing team just stopped trying. They’ve smacked you around so thoroughly that they don’t even bother to take the game seriously anymore. I’d personally rather lose by 300 points to a team that’s giving me the respect of their best effort than lose by 10 to a team that completely mailed it in.
  • There are likely a lot of you who have spent a fair amount of time as of late calling out Max Kellerman and Stephen A Smith, both of whom were on record saying that there are plenty of other playoff QBs they’d rather have - including Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers - than Tom Brady. And to those people I say: you’re the EXACT reason they say what they say, and the EXACT reason they still have a job. People like Kellerman and Stephen A. Smith and Rob Parker and Shannon Sharpe and the whole slew of other sports “analysts” are only on the air to spout complete nonsense. To make awful, awful calls. To say inflammatory things that drive people nuts, and then when they’re wrong folks can’t wait to rub it right in their face. And when they’re right - it’s been known to happen on occasion - they’re on the air the next day as smug and obnoxious as can be while you sit there, seething. You can’t click on their stuff fast enough to see what utter BS they’re going to spout next. You’re all falling right into the trap.
  • And you know what the worst part about all that is? Everyone knows it. Nobody who read that just had an epiphany. They all know they’re being pulled around like a dog on a leash, and they’re completely helpless to stop it. They know what those guys are doing and they just can’t resist. It’s the little scratch on the roof of your mouth that would heal if you could just stop tonguing it...but you can’t. It’s people like them who keep going to see crappy remakes of great movies that they know they’re going to hate, just so they can go on Facebook and Twitter to talk about how much they hate it. You all love it and you know it.
  • But in case either of those guys need a hot take for today: the Patriots were held to six point in the second half. That inability to finish games is going to haunt them this week against the Chiefs. The Chargers made a game of this because the Patriots got lazy and couldn’t finish - it’s been a real problem for them all season.

The last time the Patriots won a playoff game on the road was all the way back in 2006, when they upset the 14-2 Chargers in the Divisional Round. If they’re going to break that streak on Sunday, they’re going to need to give it everything they have and play completely mistake free football. The final score of that game may legit end up 60-57.

Eight straight AFC Championships.

#Cliff