Patriots

Patriots decimate Chargers to advance to eighth straight AFC Championship game

Follow along for the latest news from Gillette Stadium Sunday afternoon.

Sony Michel
Sony Michel of the New England Patriots scores a touchdown defended by Casey Hayward of the Los Angeles Chargers during the first quarter. Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

This AFC divisional round playoff matchup was billed as a talented and road-tested Chargers team coming into Gillette Stadium and challenging an up-and-down and sometimes inconsistent Patriots team.

That did not happen.

New England dismantled Los Angeles, 41-28, to advance to its eighth straight AFC Championship game and its 13th with Tom Brady at quarterback. The Patriots will face the Chiefs in Kansas City next Sunday (6:40 p.m., CBS) with a shot to make their fourth straight Super Bowl.

Brady, who is now 28-10 in the postseason, and the offense got the scoring started on the first drive, electing to receive the opening kickoff and marching 83 yards in 14 plays, with rookie Sony Michel, who had a career day, scoring the first of his three touchdowns.

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Philip Rivers and the Chargers answered on their first possession, but that was the only time the Chargers could match the Patriots, in any phase.

New England scored touchdowns on its first four possessions, and its only first-half punt resulted in a fumble by Desmond King and a recovery by Albert McClellan to set up Michel’s third touchdown. The Patriots would go on to score on seven of their first nine possessions, roll up 30 first downs and 499 total yards, convert on seven of 14 third downs, and hold the ball for 37 minutes and 21 seconds..

The defense was dominant, frustrating Rivers and blanketing his receivers all game. The unit held LA to 128 first-half yards and 316 overall, 22 first downs, and 5 for 13 on third down.

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With his second quarter touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett in the second quarter, Brady extended his streak of touchdown passes to 13 straight postseason games, tied for the third-longest streak. The quarterback finished 34-of-43 passing for 343 yards and a touchdown, the 15th time he has crossed the 300-yard passing mark in the playoffs.

Julian Edelman finished with nine catches for 151 yards, the highest yardage output of his postseason career. His first catch of the second quarter moved him into second all-time in postseason catches (he now has 98 total), behind Jerry Rice (151). James White finished with 15 catches for 97 yards, breaking his own franchise record for receptions in a postseason game.

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Below are updates from the game as it unfolded.

Fourth quarter

FINAL — Patriots 41, Chargers 28

Patriots 41, Chargers 28 (0:00): Nate Ebner recovered another onside kick, then Tom Brady knelt twice to run out the clock as the Patriots advanced to face the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game.

Patriots 41, Chargers 28 (0:59): After driving 72 yards in 11 plays, Philip Rivers found Antonio Gates in the corner of the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown.

The pair connected for a 14-yard gain on 4th and 10 to keep the chains moving early in the drive, before Rivers completed two passes to Tyrell Williams and Justin Jackson for a combined 39 yards.

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A roughing the passer penalty on Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower on the edge of the red zone set up Gates’s score. The Chargers failed to convert the 2-pt conversion.

Patriots 41, Chargers 22 (2:59): Although Bill Belichick kept Tom Brady on the field, the quarterback handed off three times and the Patriots went three-and-out.

Patriots guard Joe Thuney was whistled for holding on the first play, and the Chargers stopped Rex Burkhead well short of the first down marker on 3rd and 15.

Patriots 41, Chargers 22 (4:12): Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore picked off Philip Rivers, tearing the ball away from its intended target, Keenan Allen.

The Chargers had picked up one first down, a 12-yard completion to Antonio Gates, before Gilmore’s interception on 3rd and 10.

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New England took over at the Los Angeles 33-yard line.

Patriots 41, Chargers 22 (5:04): After Nate Ebner recovered an onside kick for the Patriots, the offense went three-and-out via a 1-yard rush by Sony Michel and two short completions to Chris Hogan and James White.

Matthew Slater downed Ryan Allen’s punt at the Los Angeles 2-yard line.

Patriots 41, Chargers 22 (7:38): Chargers tight end Virgil Green caught a 1-yard touchdown, and Los Angeles converted the 2-pt conversion with a pass over the middle to Keenan Allen.

On the first play of the drive, Philip Rivers found Tyrell Williams for a 29-yard gain. The quarterback targeted Williams again two plays later, and though the pass fell incomplete, Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson was flagged for pass interference.

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Then, on 3rd and 4 from the New England 33-yard line, Philip Rivers tossed a pass to Keenan Allen near the goal line. The play was initially ruled an incompletion after the wide receiver lost the ball after crashing to the ground, but after review the officials marked him down at the 1-yard line.

Patriots 41, Chargers 14 (9:39): The Patriots matched the Chargers with a three-and-out of their own.

Tom Brady handed the ball off to Sony Michel all three plays, and the running back was stopped for no gain on 3rd and 1. Punter Ryan Allen booted the ball into the end zone for a touchback.

Patriots 41, Chargers 14 (11:47): The Chargers went three-and-out for the fourth time.

Los Angeles was backed up 10 yards by an offensive holding penalty on the first play, then Philip Rivers threw three straight incompletions. Kyle Van Noy nearly had an interception on the second of those throws, but the potential pick slipped through his hands.

Punter Donnie Jones sent the Patriots back to their own 48-yard line.

Patriots 41, Chargers 14 (12:23): Stephen Gostkowski capped an eight play, 63-yard drive with a 30-yard field goal to extend the Patriots’ lead.

Julian Edelman, who continued to climb in the record books, reeled in a Tom Brady pass deep downfield for a 35-yard gain early in the drive. The wide receiver was whistled for holding on the next play, but James White wiped out the 10-yard penalty by bursting through the Chargers defense for 23 yards on 1st and 20.

New England stalled at the Los Angeles 16-yard line after two incompletions and a 4-yard completion to Chris Hogan.

Third quarter

Patriots 38, Chargers 14 (1:16): Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts stuffed Melvin Gordon with a huge hit on 1st and Goal from the New England 1-yard line, but could not prevent the running back from punching into the end zone on the next play.

The touchdown capped a 10 play, 72-yard drive that ran over five minutes off the clock. The officials gave the Chargers a 15-yard boost early in the drive, when Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers was whistled for roughing the passer.

After back-to-back completions to wide receiver Mike Williams for a combined 25 yards, the officials again sided with Los Angeles when Williams looked to have fumbled on the next play. Bill Belichick challenged the ruling that the runner was down by contact. The review determined there was no clear recovery after the fumble, so the Chargers kept possession and the Patriots lost a timeout.

A defensive holding penalty on Stephon Gilmore kept the drive alive on 3rd and 13, and a 17-yard completion by Philip Rivers to Tyrell Williams in the red zone set up Gordon’s score.

Patriots 38, Chargers 7 (6:31): Stephen Gostkowski, called into action for his first field goal attempt of the game, sent the football through the uprights.

On 3rd and 4 early in the drive, Rob Gronkowski left two bruised Chargers in his wake before safety Adrian Phillips finally managed to drag him to the turf 25 yards from the line of scrimmage.

The Patriots marched to the red zone, where they faced 4th and 2 from the Los Angeles 17-yard line. Bill Belichick elected to go for it, and Sony Michel rewarded the decision by rushing seven yards for a first down.

New England did not make the same decision when the drive stalled again three plays and no gain later. Gostkowski’s 28-yard field goal put 31 points between the sides.

Patriots 35, Chargers 7 (14:44): Los Angeles went three-and-out on the first drive of the second half.

Philip Rivers threw back-to-back incompletions, then a 3-yard completion to Tyrell Williams who was stopped well short of the first down marker. Donnie Jones punted 34 yards to the New England 33-yard line.

Second quarter

The Patriots led 35-7 entering the break. A few stats:

Total yards: NE 347, LAC 128

Plays: NE 47, LAC 23

Yards per play: NE 7.4, LAC 5.6

First downs: NE 24, LAC 6

Third down: NE 5-6, LAC 2-6

Penalties: NE 1-5, LAC 4-23

Tom Brady: 23-29, 233 yards, 1 TD, 111.6 rating

Philip Rivers: 7-16, 121 yards, 1 TD, 90.9 rating

Patriots 35, Chargers 7 (0:00): New England picked up one first down before the end of the half as Tom Brady found Julian Edelman for a 12-yard gain. However, the clock ran out after Philip Dorsett was tackled at the Los Angeles 30-yard line.

Patriots 35, Chargers 7 (0:51): Philip Rivers and the Chargers went three-and-out.

Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers sacked Rivers for a 10-yard loss on the first play of the drive. The quarterback closed part of the gap with a 10-yard completion to Antonio Gates, but threw an incompletion on 3rd and 10 as the drive stalled.

Patriots 35, Chargers 7 (1:43): Sony Michel powered past a collection of Chargers defenders for a 5-yard touchdown as the Patriots made the most of the short field position.

On the first play after the turnover, Tom Brady fired a pass to Julian Edelman for 19 yards. Then the 41-year-old quarterback threw a tight spiral to Philip Dorsett, who picked up nine yards on 2nd and 8 to set up Michel’s score.

Patriots 28, Chargers 7 (3:22): The Patriots went three-and-out before Ryan Allen jogged onto the field for his first punt of the afternoon.

On the return, Chargers cornerback Desmond King fumbled the ball and Albert McClellan recovered the ball for New England just inside the sideline. The officials initially ruled the ball out of bounds, but reversed the call after Bill Belichick challenged the play.

The Patriots offense took over at the Los Angeles 35-yard line.

Patriots 28, Chargers 7 (4:16): On 3rd and 10 at his own 47-yard line, Philip Rivers — under pressure once again — threw an incomplete pass intended for Melvin Gordon.

The Chargers had advanced 26 yards on the first play of the drive, via a deep ball to Tyrell Williams, before a stuffed run and two incompletions stalled the drive.

Julian Edelman returned Donnie Jones’s punt to the New England 21-yard line.

Patriots 28, Chargers 7 (6:04): Running back Rex Burkhead took advantage of a Rob Gronkowski block as he punched through the Chargers defense for six yards and a touchdown.

The Patriots offense needed just six plays to travel 83 yards on the drive — in large part because Sony Michel took a handoff at the Los Angeles 49-yard line, bounced away from a would-be tackler, and sprinted for a 40-yard gain.

On the first play of the drive, Tom Brady threw a short pass to James White, who picked up 25 yards before he was pushed out of bounds.

Patriots 21, Chargers 7 (9:12): Devin McCourty leaped to break up Philip Rivers’s lofted pass intended for tight end Antonio Gates on 3rd and 10 from the Chargers 49-yard line.

The Los Angeles offense had moved the chains twice on the drive, with an 11-yard completion to Melvin Gordon and a 10-yard connection to Mike Williams over the middle on 3rd and 7.

A no-gain rush by Gordon, followed by an incompletion and McCourty’s intervention stalled the drive. Punter Donnie Jones pinned the Patriots at their own 13-yard line.

Patriots 21, Chargers 7 (12:17): The Patriots overcame a false start penalty on Chris Hogan as Tom Brady found Phillip Dorsett in the end zone on the next play for a 15-yard touchdown.

The score punctuated an eight play, 58-yard drive. Julian Edelman caught back-to-back passes early to climb to second all-time on the career postseason receptions list.

New England faced 3rd and 1 on the Los Angeles 10-yard line when Hogan was whistled for moving before the snap, before Dorsett scored on 3rd and 5.

First quarter

Patriots 14, Chargers 7 (0:24): Philip Rivers and the Chargers went three-and-out.

Running back Melvin Gordon rushed for 1-yard on the first play, before two incompletions (the second an intentional throw-away) brought out the punt unit. Donnie Jones sent the Patriots back to their own 42-yard line.

Patriots 14, Chargers 7 (1:35): On 1st and 10 from the Los Angeles 14-yard line, Sony Michel broke through the Chargers’ defensive line, dove for the pylon, and added the Patriots’ second touchdown of the afternoon.

Julian Edelman sparked the seven play, 67-yard drive. The wideout picked up 14 yards on a 2nd and 13, then darted into space in the middle of the Los Angeles secondary for a 28-yard gain that set up Michel’s score.

Patriots 7, Chargers 7 (4:56): Philip Rivers answered the Patriots’ score by floating a deep ball to Keenan Allen, who was wide open downfield and strolled in for a 43-yard touchdown. The score capped a 6 play, 67-yard drive, which wide receiver Mike Williams kept alive early.

When Rivers looked for Williams deep downfield on the second play of the Chargers’ drive, William’s dropped the pass. However, Williams made up for the error on the next play with an 18-yard reception on 3rd and 15.

Two plays later, Rivers again looked beyond the Patriots’ secondary and Los Angeles reached the end zone from the New England 43-yard line.

Patriots 7, Chargers 0 (7:49): After a 14 play drive that covered 83 yards in over seven minutes, rookie running back Sony Michel rushed for a 1-yard touchdown.

Michel and James White led New England downfield as Tom Brady found both running backs with short passes out of the backfield. White took a shovel pass 17 yards for a first down, then kept the drive alive with a 6-yard completion on 3rd and 5 at the edge of the red zone.

Brady looked for Rob Gronkowski in the end zone on 3rd and 6 at the Los Angeles 9-yard line. The pass fell incomplete, but Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward was whistled for pass interference to set up Michel’s score.

Coin toss: The Patriots won the toss and elected to receive. Tom Brady and the New England offense will start with the ball.

Inactives

Patriots: Keionta Davis, DL. Stephen Anderson, TE. James Ferentz, OL. Ufomba Kamalu, DL. Obi Melifonwu, DB. Duke Dawson, DB. Deatrich Wise, DL.

Chargers: Sean Culkin, TE. Detrez Newsome, RB. Cole Toner, C. Forrest Lamp, G. Dylan Cantrell, WR. Anthony Lanier, DE. T.Y. McGill, DT.

Pregame scenes

Tom Brady

After a two week hiatus, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady returned to doing his usual pre game scream routine to the fans in the south end zone after he took the field for pre game warmups.

Patriots Chargers

Chargers offensive lineman Scott Quessenberry warms up before the game.

J.C. Jackson

Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson gets loose before the game in the cold.

Julian Edelman

New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman warms up.

Chargers Patriots Football

Vendor Ryan Fahey sells programs in the parking lot of Gillette Stadium.

Pregame news

■  Although it has been talked about all season, the NFL Network on Sunday reported that tight end Rob Gronkowski will strongly weigh retirement when this season is done.

Jim McBride’s keys to victory for each team

Chargers

1. Electric avenue: The defense must get Tom Brady off his spot. If he’s given the time or is allowed to step up and deliver strikes, he will rock on through this defense.

2. Electric atmosphere: Don’t fall behind. The Chargers have been tremendous on the road, but Gillette Stadium is no ordinary venue. Follow the game plan from Baltimore and don’t freak out.

3. Electric blanket: Contain James White. The Chargers have had trouble containing receivers out of the backfield, and they’ll face a huge challenge with Sweet Feet. Get him on the ground quickly or he’ll be dancing all afternoon.

Patriots

1. Red-hot take: This team can’t settle for field goals when it reaches the red zone. It’s been an area of trouble at times this season, but touchdowns win playoff games, so empty the playbook and get the 7.

2. Red-hot take II: Bend but don’t break when the Chargers get to the red zone. Los Angeles scored just one touchdown in three trips last week. Another performance like that and the Chargers will fizzle.

3. Red army: New England’s versatile safety trio of Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon has to support the troops near the line of scrimmage while also helping out over the top.

Read his full scouting report here.

Pregame reading

■ What experts are predicting for Sunday’s Patriots-Chargers game

■  Our football writers answered eight questions on this matchup.

■  Chad Finn’s Unconventional Preview: This contest will make some history we won’t soon forget, and three players to watch not named Tom Brady.

■  How much really separates the Patriots and Chargers? Alex Speier dove into the numbers, examining the Chargers’ record in cold weather, their record in 1 p.m. East Coast games, the role turnovers have played in their season, their blitzing tendencies, and their ground game.

■  Christopher L. Gasper: Do you believe? Do you believe the Patriots will summon their best football for the playoffs simply by virtue of being the Patriots? That it’s an ingrained, automatic response to a special occasion, no different than blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. Right now, belief outstrips proof for these Patriots.

■  Don’t expect to see much of that seven defensive back grouping from the Chargers in the AFC divisional-round game Sunday. The Patriots have the personnel to force the Chargers into putting their linebackers, who represent the weakness in their defense, on the field. What remains to be seen is if the New England running backs can take advantage of it.

■  Melvin Gordon thinks James White should get more carries. Stephon Gilmore still sees the quickness of a guy recruited as a safety in Melvin Ingram. We asked former college teammates from the Patriots and Chargers to scout each other.

■  Tara Sullivan talked to Stephen Gostkowski and Lawrence Tynes about the pressure on NFL kickers in the playoffs and going from revered to reviled — or vice versa — with one swing of the leg.

■  Brian Flores’s story, from Brooklyn to BC to the Patriots, was impeccably told last February by Sullivan. And it’s a great one to revisit now in what could be one of his final weeks in Foxborough, as the Dolphins have reportedly narrowed the focus of their head coaching search to Flores.

■  Sarah Thomas will become the first woman to work an NFL playoff game Sunday, when she serves as a down judge in Patriots-Chargers. Here is what a few Patriots players said about it.

■  Will tight end Hunter Henry play? “We’ll see,’’ he said with a smile.

■  Philip Rivers wears the same hat every day of the week. He wears it to practice, he wears it around the house, he wears it to each postgame news conference.

“I have it on right now,’’ Rivers said Wednesday.

The hat adorns a Latin phrase: “Nunc Coepi.’’

“It just means, ‘Now I begin,’ I think in its most literal terms,’’ Rivers said. “It’s a different way of saying, one play at a time. You begin new no matter what. I use it in my personal life as well, family life, prayer life, whatever it is. You begin again. Good or bad day, or good play or bad play, or whatever it is. You have a chance to get back up and begin again. It’s something that’s really stuck with me.’’

Rivers and the Chargers found new life this season, and Ben Volin wrote about it.