Los Angeles has chosen to use extra defensive backs most of the season in an effort to cover for their lack of healthy linebackers. In the wild card round against Baltimore the group flourished. Against the Patriots on Sunday, not so much. New England dominated up front for 60 minutes, pushing the smaller Chargers off the ball throughout the contest. Sony Michel made his postseason debut a memorable one by rushing for 129 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries. He ripped off a 40-yard run in the second quarter and consistently knifed his way through the second level. He comprised the bulk of the ground production for the Patriots, who finished with 155 yards on 34 carries in a game that was never competitive.
Despite the huge afternoon on the ground, the key to this victory was the passing game. Tom Brady toyed with the Chargers zone looks, consistently beating them with short, quick throws – mostly to Julian Edelman and James White – that consistently put the ball in his receivers’ hands in space. Edelman was the difference as he seemingly broke tackles after each one of his nine catches. He piled up 151 yards on the afternoon, shredding the highly-touted Chargers secondary with tough runs after the catch. White tied a postseason record with 15 catches that added another 97 yards, meaning 24 of Brady’s 34 completions went to that pair. Phillip Dorsett chipped in with four catches for 41 yards and a touchdown – Brady’s lone scoring toss of the day. But the story was Brady, who completed 34 of 44 for 343 yards and nothing close to a turnover. The protection was solid but Brady’s ability to analyze things so effectively got the ball out of his hands on most plays before any hint of pressure could be created. This was an old-school dominating performance by the offense.
The Patriots did a nice job early in the game of containing Melvin Gordon. Elandon Roberts effectively filled his gap on one first-down run on the second series, creating a second-and-10 during what would become a three-and-out for Los Angeles. I mention this specific play because basically the run game was not a factor from that point on as the Patriots dominance eliminated Gordon from the equation. He carried nine times for 15 yards in the entire game. Justin Jackson added a 4-yard run and that was it – 10 carries for 19 yards as a team for a Chargers offense that wanted to remain balanced. The score prevented that from every happening, but the strong work up front kept it from getting off to a strong start as well.
This was the lone area that wasn’t completely and totally perfect – but it was still pretty good. The pressure up from provided by Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Adam Butler and Dont’a Hightower was a huge factor. They flustered Philip Rivers at times and made him throw sooner than he wanted to throughout. But on the occasions when Rivers did have time, he hit on some big plays and took advantage of some coverage breakdowns. One came on the first series when Keenan Allen beat Stephon Gilmore with a double move and there appeared to be a mix up on the back end that left him all alone for an easy 43-yard touchdown that tied the game at 7. The rest of the first half featured stout Patriots defense with the pressure forcing some quick, inaccurate throws from Rivers. Once the game was out of reach he was able to mount some scoring drives in the second half, but that was really the result of the game situation more than anything else. Rivers finished 25 of 51 for 331 yards and three touchdowns to go with an interception on a nice play by Gilmore. Again, not as perfect as everything else but still pretty solid.
This just wasn’t the Chargers day. L.A. signed kickoff specialist Nick Rose with the idea of touchbacks against Cordarrelle Patterson. He wound up recording one in his three attempts. The opening kickoff was a line drive that deflected off James Develin out of bounds at the 17, which worked out for the Chargers but was pretty ugly. Patterson did take one out to the 33 off a short kick following Allen’s touchdown. Stephen Gostkowski was perfect on the day with five PATs and a pair of short field goals but once again the Patriots had trouble corralling returners inside the 25. The Chargers were stopped inside the 25 just twice in eight kickoffs, and one of those went to the 24. The Chargers Desmond King muffed a punt late in the second quarter that Albert McClellan recovered just inside the sideline to give the offense a short field. Ryan Allen had a couple of touchbacks in his four punts but also had one downed at the 2 by Matthew Slater. Edelman had a 16-yard return in the second half but averaged 7.4 yards on his five attempts. Overall, it was an all-around dominating effort in every aspect by the Patriots.