The New England Patriots are officially on to Kansas City, thanks to a dominant 48-21 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in the divisional playoff round. The home team and second seed in the AFC put the foot on the gas from the get-go in all three phases and did not let up until the contest was pretty much wrapped up. All in all, it was an impressive outing from a team that was seemingly playing under its potential during most of the regular season.
Naturally, reactions after the game were overwhelmingly positive — and Bill Belichick, who took the podium first for his postgame press conference, set the tone for that. “A great job by our team today. I couldn’t be prouder of the effort from the coaching staff, players,” the Patriots’ head coach said about his team’s performance. “Had a really good week. Obviously, ready to go. Played a good game today against a good football team.”
Los Angeles was indeed one of the Patriots’ biggest obstacles of the year, at least on paper. The team finished the regular season tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the best record in the AFC at 12-4, and was 8-1 on the road before heading into Foxboro. New England did what New England does, however, at least this season so far: win against playoff opponents. The Patriots improved to 5-0 versus the postseason field with their victory yesterday.
To do that, New England had to hold off a very talented L.A. team. “The Chargers are really, as I said all week, very impressive in everything they do,” said Belichick about his club’s opponent. “I thought our team played well and made plays in every area and played with a lot of energy, a lot of effort. It’s good to be playing this time of year, good to be able to move on. Give the players credit — they really competed well today and that’s what you need this time of year.”
The players themselves shared Belichick’s feelings about the game. Quarterback Tom Brady, for example, praised the quality of the Chargers’ defense during his own postgame remarks. “They’re a good defense and I think they do a lot of things well and I thought we just did a good job executing,” Brady said. “Again, blocking great and running the ball well and guys made some great catches, converted early on third downs. It was really important.”
“It was good to get ahead of that team,” the 41-year old, who played a very good game and finished with 34 completions on 44 attempts for 343 and a touchdown, continued. “They have a lot of good skill players, a very good offense. They battle to the end. They’re a great football team. [...] You get to this point and there’s very little margin of error and you’re going to have to be good in all phases. Running it, throwing it, kicking it, playing defense, everything.”
Brady was not the only offensive player to feel good about his performance on Sunday. Tight end Rob Gronkowski, who registered just one catch but was dominant as a blocker, also sounded positive after the contest. “That was a real fun game out there, just the way we were executing,” the 29-year old told reporters after the game. “It was a great overall offensive unit... that we went out there and just put plays together and put up points.”
“We just kept executing, we just kept grinding, we kept pounding the ball and we had to do what we had to do, and that’s what you want to do every time you touch the ball,” Gronkowski continued. “You want to score.” And score the Patriots did seemingly at will early on during the contest — getting almost all of their offensive personnel involved in one way or another.
“It was a really good win, it felt good,” said wide receiver Phillip Dorsett after a game in which he caught four passes for 43 and also added his first playoff touchdown reception. “A playoff win we all know is extra important. We’re still here, we’re still going. We know it’s going to be a challenge next week so we have got to get in and have the same focus we had this week on the game plan and all the details.”
Running back James White also shared this sentiment after posting a record-tying 15 catches against the Chargers. “You’ve got to play your best football at this time of year,” the 26-year old said. “I just try and put my best foot forward, have no regrets, study my opponent as best as possible and just try to put my best performance out there every time I step out there. For us, we just enjoy the opportunity, don’t take it for granted and just play in the moment.”
The offense was not the only unit to play lights-out football at times on Sunday, as New England’s defense also imposed its will at times to keep a talented opponent at bay. “The opportunity to be out here is a blessing,” said cornerback Jason McCourty, who appeared in his first playoff contest after nine seasons of mediocrity or worse with the Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns.
“This is what you play for, the opportunity to continue to play this time of the year. Personally, team wise, this is a great accomplishment — for me, you just try to take it moment by moment,” continued the 31-year old. His twin Devin McCourty also shared his thoughts about the team’s mindset after the game. “I let the guys know each time that when we do get a win, realize this is a blessing.”
“This is a special group, and I think we’re starting to realize that we have one opportunity to try to take advantage of everything that’s in front of us,” the defensive team captain added. “I thought the team from the past two weeks — the bye week, this week — just a great mindset of putting everything we got out there on the field, practice, meetings, and just have an opportunity to try to work again next weekend. It’s a blessing.”
One of McCourty’s fellow team captains, special teams ace Matthew Slater, also tried to keep things in perspective. “We’ve been extremely blessed over the last eight years to be a competitive football team,” he said when asked about the Patriots reaching their eighth straight AFC Championship Game. “I think there are a lot of reasons for that, but I don’t know, the good Lord keeps giving us some good opportunities and we try to take advantage of them.”
“We’re humbled to be in this situation. Love this group of guys, love this locker room. Hopefully we can keep it going,” Slater continued. But if it goes according to his quarterback, the Patriots are far from being done. When asked about the satisfaction of proving people wrong, Brady calmly responded by pointing out his main goal. “I just like winning,” he said. “I just like winning.”
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