The New England Patriots entered the postseason in dominant fashion. The team blew past the visiting Los Angeles Chargers with a score of 41-28 and was in control from start to finish, despite L.A. adding some points late in the fourth quarter. It was a statement win and the Patriots’ best of the season. Let’s take a look at those who stood out during Sunday’s contest, for better or worse.
Winner: QB Tom Brady
Reportedly fully healed from a sprained MCL suffered in week 10, Tom Brady played an outstanding game against a good Chargers defense — proving that he is still a force to be reckoned with. The 41-year old was in a rhythm from start to finish, spread the football around well, and made tremendous decisions while completing 34 of 44 pass attempts for 343 yards and a touchdown. It was a vintage Brady performance.
Winner: The coaching staff
New England came out perfectly prepared for an opponent that actually won more games during the regular season than the Patriots. While the players and their execution deserve plenty of praise, so does the coaching staff. The offense was unstoppable and up four scores before the Chargers even knew what hit them, the defense creatively pressured Philip Rivers all day, and the special teams eliminated the big play return threat. In the playoffs, coaching can very well be the difference and New England still is best in that category.
Winner: WR Julian Edelman
In his first playoff game since Super Bowl 51, Julian Edelman was outstanding. The veteran wide receiver was New England’s top downfield receiving threat and finished the day with nine catches for a team-high (and personal season-high) 151 yards. While Los Angeles attempted to defend the Patriots by using speed in their secondary, the team had no answer to the shifty Edelman.
Winner: DE Trey Flowers
In what might have been his last game at Gillette Stadium — he is scheduled to become a free agent in two months — Trey Flowers showed why he is the Patriots’ best front seven defender. The 25-year old dominated at the point of attack and was a big reason why the Chargers’ passing offense never got in a rhythm by consistently moving people or getting into the backfield on stunts. All in all, Flowers registered a sack, a tackle for loss, and two quarterback hits.
Winner: RB Sony Michel
The rookie’s first playoff game was a highly successful one. Not only did Sony Michel find the end zone three times, he also dominated the rest of the way. Running behind an excellent offensive line — more on that later — the first-round draft selection gained 129 yards on 24 carries and helped the Patriots control the flow of the game from the get-go. Michel showed burst, tremendous vision, and speed in the open field.
Winner: DT Adam Butler
While the stat sheet has him with just one tackle and one quarterback hit, it does not tell the whole story of Adam Butler’s game. The second-year man led all Patriots defensive tackles in playing time and was very good at challenging the interior of the Chargers’ offensive line, and opening up things for those around him. New England’s coaching staff trusted Butler to perform despite the high volume of snaps, and he delivered.
Loser: Team discipline
If there is one blemish — and yes, it is nit-picking — coming out of yesterday’s game it is the Patriots’ relatively high number of penalties. Referee Ron Torbert flagged the team nine times on the day, resulting in a loss of 75 yards. Of course, New England was up from the start so the penalties did not hurt that much but they still negated two big plays. The Patriots need to work on this moving into the Kansas City Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium next week.
Winner: The offensive line
The Chargers have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL and the Patriots dominated them at will. In run blocking, Dante Scarnecchia’s unit paved the way for 156 yards on 32 non-kneel down carries — a very good 4.9 yards per run — while it also kept Tom Brady pretty much clean for the day: while he was hit twice, the quarterback was not sacked even once. Star pass rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa were a non-factor, and the Patriots’ blockers up front were a big reason for that.
Winner: The lead blockers (Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James Develin)
Some of the praise for the Patriots’ impressive outing in the trenches has to go to the lead blockers as well — they had a very good day. Dwayne Allen and James Develin were their usual solid selves in rotational roles, while Rob Gronkowski stood out in particular. On multiple occasions he sealed the edge in the run game, took on pass rushers, and showed why he is still an excellent player in this part of the day. Even though he finished with just one 25-yard catch, Gronkowski was one of the best players on the field yesterday.
Winner: LB Dont’a Hightower
Dont’a Hightower’s 2018 campaign started inconsistently, but the veteran has since grown into the player the Patriots re-signed on a four-year, $35.5 million contract two years ago — and he was at his best on Sunday. The 28-year old was active as a pass rusher, communicated well from the heart of the defense, and also was a major factor in limiting the impact of Los Angeles’ dangerous running back duo. In his first playoff game since Super Bowl 51, Hightower showed that he is still capable of making game-changing plays.
Winner: RB James White
During last year’s regular season meeting, the Chargers had no answer for James White as a pass catcher. Yesterday was more of the same, as the 26-year old had a dominant performance as Tom Brady’s number one target: the quarterback threw 17 passes towards him, with the back catching 15 of them — tying an NFL postseason record — for 97 yards. White being an option in the short passing game helped negate the pass rush and New England to establish an offensive rhythm from the start on.
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