FOXBOROUGH — Another year, another trip to the AFC title game.
In maybe their most complete performance of the season, the Patriots systematically disassembled the Chargers in front of a sellout Gillette Stadium crowd Sunday afternoon, crushing Los Angeles by a 41-28 score in the divisional round and setting up another trip to the AFC title game — the eighth straight year New England will be going to the conference championship.
Tom Brady was 34-for-44 for 343 yards with one touchdown. Sony Michel had 24 carries for 129 yards and three touchdowns. And James White had 15 catches for 97 yards.
New England will face Kansas City in the AFC championship game next Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
One of the biggest questions coming into the game was whether or not the Chargers would use extra defensive backs in this one — much like they did in their Wild Card win over the Ravens — and when Los Angeles went there, the Patriots were ready. In truth, this one was no contest from the jump. New England had touchdowns on their first four possessions, while the Chargers were only able to punch it in once in the early going.
A lot of that Patriots’ offensive firepower came from Michel, who had 16 carries for 105 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone, a lot of that at the expense of Los Angeles’ subpackages. White added some spice in the passing game with 10 first-half catches for New England. When it came to the passing game, Brady and the Patriots were successful in getting the ball out as quickly as possible — L.A.’s pass-rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram did not have a sack.
On the other side, the Patriots were able to play some good complementary football — the early lead led to the Chargers having to throw to get back in the game, and New England teed off on Philip Rivers. The Patriots’ secondary clamped down much of the afternoon -- after an early gaffe from Stephon Gilmore led to a Keenan Allen touchdown, it was clean most of the rest of the way.
The Chargers would tack on a pair of fourth-quarter, garbage-time touchdowns to cut the lead to 41-28, but they got no closer.