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Over the past 18 seasons, how many teams have lost to the New England Patriots long before they ever boarded a plane to Massachusetts?
The Los Angeles Chargers had no chance on Sunday, but we didn’t know that until shortly after kickoff. The Chargers’ coaching staff was overmatched by Bill Belichick and his crew. Los Angeles’ game plan used mostly six and seven defensive backs, like it did last week against the Baltimore Ravens, then they played back in a zone. Like Tom Brady had never seen that before.
The Chargers stopped absolutely nothing. There was no pass rush. They couldn’t stop the run. Brady cut them up with a billion short passes against the backed-up extra safeties. We’ve seen this all before, against many, many different teams.
Stop if you’ve heard this one, too: The Patriots are moving on to the AFC championship game with the 41-28 win. Brady was 23-of-29 for 233 yards and Sony Michel had 105 yards and three touchdowns … before halftime. Brady set an NFL record with his 227th straight postseason pass without an interception, a streak that dates back to Super Bowl LI. It was a rout.
New England will play at the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday with a Super Bowl berth on the line. Amazingly, it’s the eighth straight AFC championship game for the Patriots.
The biggest factor in the Patriots’ dynasty, which dates back to their first Super Bowl win at the end of the 2001 season, is that Belichick and his staff can outmaneuver anyone, and Brady knows exactly how to execute the plan, no matter what it is. That was clear on Sunday. The biggest mismatch of the game happened behind the scenes on Monday and Tuesday, when the coaching staffs started putting together their game plans.
Bill Belichick and his staff are Sunday’s MVPs
The Chargers were out-coached. They’re not the first team that has happened to, and they won’t be the last.
The lack of adjustments from Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley was troubling. CBS analyst Tony Romo was pointing out through the first half how the Patriots were beating the Chargers’ zone coverages, and he implored them to run more man coverage. They didn’t.
“It’s just too easy for Tom,” Romo said late in the first half, when the score was 35-7. “You’re going to play zone, he’s going to throw underneath and beat the pressure.”
Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris was watching from home and saw early on what was happening.
Even though everyone seemed to understand what was happening early on, there were no significant adjustments as the game quickly got out of hand. Brady wasn’t as sharp as usual against the blitz this season, but the Chargers rarely sent any extra rushers at him. Whenever the Patriots needed a short completion, they got it. If you’ve watched any Patriots game in the Brady-Belichick era, you’ve seen that script. Brady doesn’t need to go for the big uppercut because he knows he can jab a defense into submission. It was a unanimous decision.
The Patriots scored four touchdowns on their first four drives. When Los Angeles finally got a stop, punt returner Desmond King lost a fumble and the Patriots scored shortly after. It was 35-7 at halftime.
The moment was too big for the Chargers. They took delay-of-game penalties. Mike Williams dropped a long pass on their first drive. A miscommunication led to the Chargers having just 10 men on the field for a Patriots touchdown. There were a couple of first-half penalties on defensive backs, after third-down stops, that really hurt and were debatable, but it didn’t matter.
The Chargers lost the game early in the week, long before they left Los Angeles, with a game plan that Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Brady had no problem beating.
Patriots making a late charge
The Patriots showed signs of life in Week 17, blasting the New York Jets. The offense was amazingly efficient against the Chargers. Even if the Chargers had a lame game plan, you still have to execute against it. Brady rarely missed anyone, and the running backs were fantastic too. The game was over long before halftime. And this wasn’t the Jets. This was the 12-4 Chargers. The Patriots embarrassed them.
Now comes the tough part: Replicating that on the road. The Patriots finish this season 9-0 at home, including playoffs, but they’re 3-5 on the road. The Chiefs looked very good on Saturday in ripping apart the Colts. Arrowhead Stadium will be nuts for Sunday’s AFC championship game. Presumably, Chiefs coach Andy Reid and his staff will be more creative than the Chargers.
We’re getting the two most deserving teams in the AFC championship game. We’re used to seeing the Patriots in this spot. We’re used to seeing them in the Super Bowl too, and the Chiefs should realize they better be sharp all week if they’re going to keep New England from making it there again.
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