The New England Patriots played a near-perfect game against the Los Angeles Chargers and defeated their opponent 41-28 en route to earning their eighth straight AFC title game berth. But which plays actually were the biggest from the team’s perspective on Sunday? Let’s take a look at the changes in win probability to find out (percentages via NumberFire). What can be seen fairly quickly is that the biggest plays all happened early in the game, before the blowout was actually on.
5 best Patriots plays
Q1: 3-6-LAC 9 (7:56) T.Brady pass incomplete short right to R.Gronkowski. PENALTY on LAC-C.Hayward, Defensive Pass Interference, 8 yards, enforced at LAC 9.
Win probability: +5.89%
New England, which opened with a 60.54% win probability to open the game, elected to receive the kickoff after the coin toss — and the plan worked perfectly. New England drove the length of the field, and along the way converted four third down situations. The final of which came on the goal line and turned out to be the game’s biggest play from the Patriots’ perspective: tight end Rob Gronkowski was interfered with on a pass attempt from Tom Brady, and one play later the Patriots were up 7-0.
Q1: 2-8-LAC 42 (2:19) T.Brady pass deep middle to J.Edelman to LAC 14 for 28 yards
Win probability: +5.71%
The two biggest pass plays of the day for the Patriots both were catches by wide receiver Julian Edelman. The veteran, who finished the day with 151 receiving yards on nine catches, made his biggest play from a win probability perspective on New England’s second possession of the day: Brady connected with him for a gain of 28 yards to set up the offense at the Chargers 14. On the very next play, Sony Michel scored to put the Patriots up 14-7.
Q2: 3-6-LAC 15 (12:22) T.Brady pass short left to P.Dorsett for 15 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Win probability: +5.59%
One drive after going up 14-7, New England added to its lead thanks to a 15-yard pass from Brady to Phillip Dorsett. The second-year Patriot, who had a solid performance as the team’s third wide receiver, caught his first postseason touchdown after getting behind the defense and open near the left corner of the end zone. The score was Dorsett’s second big play on the drive as he also had an 11-yard reception on a 2nd and 10 just three plays earlier.
Q1: 1-10-LAC 14 (1:42) S.Michel right tackle for 14 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Win probability: +4.05%
After the Chargers tied the game at seven, New England answered in style by driving 67 yards in seven plays. Following the aforementioned 28-yard pass from Brady to Edelman, Sony Michel capped the series with a 14-yard off-tackle run to the end zone. It was the second of three touchdowns the first-round rookie would score in his playoff debut — all while also gaining 129 yards on the ground.
Q1: 3-9-LAC 26 (:42) P.Rivers pass incomplete short right.
Win probability: +3.46%
New England’s biggest defensive play of the day came after Michel made it a 14-7 game. The Chargers gained just one yard on the first two plays of their ensuing possession and forcing a 3rd and 9 had to settle for a punt. Defensive lineman Adam Butler provided a good rush up the field to force Philip Rivers out of the pocket, and in combination with solid downfield coverage the quarterback was forced to throw the football away.
5 worst Patriots plays
Q1: 1-10-NE 43 (5:03) P.Rivers pass deep right to K.Allen for 43 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Win probability: -9.09%
While the Patriots offense opened the game in spectacular fashion, the team’s defense was off to a slow start. The Chargers moved the football well early on before a 43-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Keenan Allen tied the game. The Pro Bowl wide receiver was left wide open by New England’s secondary as cornerback Stephon Gilmore made a wrong read and lost his assignment deep.
Q1: 3-15-LAC 28 (6:52) P.Rivers pass deep right to M.Williams to LAC 46 for 18 yards.
Win probability: -4.85%
The Patriots came close to stopping the Chargers’ first drive rather quickly: after a run for no gain, an incompletion, and a delay of game penalty, L.A. faced a 3rd and 15 situation. However, the team was able to convert thanks to wide receiver Mike Williams beating Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty for a gain of 18 yards.
Q2: 3-7-LAC 39 (10:55) P.Rivers pass short middle to M.Williams to LAC 49 for 10 yards.
Win probability: -2.61%
Down two scores already early in the second quarter, the Chargers were in dire need of an answer — one that the defense did not have, so it had to come from the offense. However, Los Angeles struggled to get into a rhythm and on its third possession found itself in another unfavorable situation facing a 3rd an 7. But once more, the Philip Rivers to Mike Williams connection helped the team convert. Ultimately, though, the drive ended in a punt.
Q2: 3-1-LAC 10 (12:45) PENALTY on NE-C.Hogan, False Start, 5 yards, enforced at LAC 10.
Win probability: -2.33%
Up 14-7, the Patriots drove into the Chargers red zone again. And once again the drive came down to a third down play — one that was made longer due to Chris Hogan getting penalized for a false start. While the play did cost New England 2.33% in win probability and brought the club’s chances down to “only” 80.74%, it did not hurt too much: one play later, Brady and Dorsett connected to convert but scored the team’s third touchdown.
Q1: 2-7-LAC 49 (5:47) M.Gordon left tackle to NE 43 for 8 yards.
Win probability: -1.60%
Los Angeles found itself in a 2nd and 7 situation on its first series when it gave up the longest run of the day: an 8-yarder that set up the 43-yard passing touchdown to Keenan Allen. All in all, however, New England’s offense did a tremendous job against a talented backfield as the Chargers gained a mere 19 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.