Wow. You’re welcome, dear readers. A blowout, not nearly as close at the 41-28 final score indicates. Just like I called it last week:
This has to turn into a nail-biter, right? Like, a 2014 Baltimore playoff, losing-feeling-in-my-fingers, stomach-on-spin-cycle type game … (I predict) a late Chargers field goal attempt to tie it gets blown off course.
Well. Maybe not just like I called it.
Up until Sunday, if you wanted to watch the Patriots dismantle an AFC West opponent in the playoffs, you would have had to check out their mismatch with Tim Tebow and the High-Altitude Acolytes from seven years ago (full game video here on YouTube for as long as the NFL doesn’t notice). That 45-10 score better reflects the dismantling of a Foxboro foe; in both of these games, however, New England had a 35-7 halftime lead.
Stats don’t always tell the whole story, but Sunday’s halftime numbers did. Quarterback Tom Brady connected on 23 of 29 passes (a habba-ha-wha? 79 percent completion rate) for 233 yards and one cotton-candy-sweet-and-soft lofter to Phillip Dorsett for a touchdown (see the highlight at the 2:37 mark of this video). Brady threw to Julian Edelman seven times for 107 yards and James White ten times for 71 yards. Running back Sony Michel ran 16 times for 105 yards (6.6 avg.) and three scores. Again: by halftime, folks.
So many numbers, what to choose, what to choose? Oh, total yards? New England 347, Los Angeles 128. Time of possession? Pats 20:11, Chargers 9:49. First downs – and this is my favorite – Pats win 24-6.
Yeah, maybe not quite the angst-riddled stomach-churner I’d envisioned. Pretty good time, though.
As an older Patriots fan, maybe I reflect on this franchise’s past more than some would like, but we don’t talk enough (or maybe can’t quite grasp) the fact that this team will play their eighth AFC Championship game in a row. Before 2001, New England had been to the AFC title game twice in team history, beating the Dolphins in January 1986 and the Jaguars in January 1997. Brady has started at QB for 17 of his 19 years in the league and has reached this point 13 times. I mean, it barely makes sense.
Who knows what will happen next week? (Note: not this guy.) After a tumultuous year containing a Detroit Disaster and a Miami Meltdown on their way to their worst record since 2009 (says a lot, having 11-5 seem underachieving), New England finds themselves back in the fight. Kansas City, here we come.
I Say Tom Oughta: Perhaps what makes Brady so great is his ability to take what defenses give him. L.A. seemed willing to surrender a fair amount, especially in the underneath zones. For every short gainer came a completion that turned into big yardage via screen or slipperiness. Brady ended up completing 34 of 44 passes (77 percent) for 343 yards and the one TD. Once the short passing game got going, Brady started finding medium-range targets over encroaching linebackers. A game that he helped the offense control from the start, using up time like a day at the DMV. The Patriots’ opening drive turned into a 14-play, 83-yard trek to the end zone that took up almost half the quarter (7:11). That drive got topped after halftime, when the QB led his cohorts for over half the third quarter (7:32), gaining a field goal for a 38-7 lead. Exactly what a team wants to do in the midst of preserving a blowout.
I don’t know if Tom Brady is the best ever. I’m just not sure who’s better.
All The White Moves: Okay, 15 receptions for 97 yards. Not bad, James White. Whatever name you can think of for a short pass, White caught one on Sunday. Flat pass. Screen. Bubble screen. Shovel pass. Perch pass. Pickerel. Gar. (Sorry – pretty sure those last three are types of fish.) White beat his own Patriots playoff record (14, set vs. Atlanta in the Super Bowl), and tied the NFL record for most playoff grabs with Darren Sproles, formerly of the Saints. Impressive video compilation of White’s day – which included zero carries – here.
Energy Measured In Jules: As noted above, sometimes statistics fail to tell the entire tale. Edelman’s nine snags for 151 look great, numbers-wise, but a quick peek at his highlight reel reveals how his tenacity played a role on Sunday. At the 0:12 mark, with the game tied at 7 (remember, this game was tied) and New England facing a second down and 13, Edelman caught a pass about seven yards deep in the flat, spun out of one tackle, dipped under another, and dove for the first down marker. Another, at the 0:52 mark, shows Edelman catching the ball two yards shy of the sticks on second and 10, turning, jamming his shoulder into cornerback Desmond King, and push-sledding him two yards past the first-down line. An impressive display of effort from the start to get the home team off and running.
Oh, did I say running?
Waitin’ On A Sony Day: Big Man. The Patriots have a running game, for reals. Michel ran for 129 yards on 24 carries (5.4 avg.) and piled up three scores behind the blocking of his offensive line, fullback James Develin, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen – heck, just about everyone in a Patriots jersey not holding a beer. Michel seems to have the ability to either squeeze into tiny spaces or burst through defenders on a case-by-case basis. Keep in mind, the previous week, the Chargers held Baltimore to 90 yards rushing total and a 3.9-yard average. Ravens running backs gained a mere 36 yards on 14 attempts (2.6 avg.). Strong work up front to set up a great day for Michel.
Pushing Down On Me, Pressing Down On You: Under pressure, Phil Rivers? The Chargers QB completed fewer than half of his passes (25 of 51) and had one interception to go along with his three touchdowns (two of which happened during the defense’s bend-don’t-break-or-break-at-this-point-it-won’t-matter mode). Using a series of blitzes with more twists than a season of “Lost,” the Patriots managed to keep Rivers uncomfortable, forcing consistent inaccuracy and get-me-the-hell-outta-here throwaways. The home team only managed two sacks (Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn), a number that falls short of describing the mayhem up front. NESN’s Zack Cox has a story on Rivers’ frustrating day here.
Mos’ Steph: New England’s defense features a number of very good players, but only one Pro-Bowler. That’s cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who did notable work covering Pro Bowl receiver Keenan Allen for over three quarters (minus a 43-yard touchdown where Allen got so open he considered buying end zone space as a timeshare). Beyond that early gift, Allen caught one pass for 32 yards. Gilmore made a great interception, curling under Allen to leap and swipe the 15-yard offering from Rivers (highlight here). We’ll see how Gilmore’s aggressiveness plays in Kansas City (note: refs seem to favor home teams), but he remains a big reason why New England has gotten this far.
A Visit To The Rob Bar: I’m going to say something unpopular among Patriots fans. After this season, I hope Gronkowski retires. Maybe buys up a small seaside bar that turns into a nightclub after 10 p.m., featuring shots mixed in a Gronk Shaker consisting of a protein shake and whatever brand of alcohol that pays him (Gronk Spikes for everybody!). I’d love to watch the guy play more seasons; nevertheless, Gronk seemed like he was in real pain at points this season, whether getting up from a pile or shuffling off to the sidelines. We caught (or, were blessed with) a glimpse of his ability on his lone pluck of the day. Gronk shrugged off one defender, hip-checked another, and carried a third for four yards to complete a 25-yard gain. He also blocked with a vendetta, pushing linebackers aside like they were children and he was working crowd control at a Wiggles concert.
Best all-around game of the season for New England? Hard to say no.
Fancy Nantz-y: CBS put on their best duds for the Chargers-Patriots clash, cat-walking with Jim Nantz and Tony Romo. Strong work by both. Nantz may have messed up a name or two, while Romo probably got a little over-excited at one point or other (seriously, at times he sounds like teen fans waiting outside a pop concert venue thinking they see the talent getting off a tour bus: Whhhooooaa!). Still, both had a handle on the game from the start, even as it got out of control. Personally, I like it when announcers acknowledge a blowout and refrain from the broadcaster’s trick of trying to keep viewers by lying. To each man’s credit, neither said, “A score and a stop here, and we could have a game on our hands!”
As usual, CBS did yeoman work in the stats department, running down Brady’s records and potential records, how Rivers’ Chargers have done vs. Brady’s Patriots over the course of their careers (um… not good), with other notable tidbits popping up on the screen or in graphics. Nantz also does a good job of relaying info as it’s happening, as when he noted Brady had connected on seven of eight passes during New England’s opening drive. Whichever producer had Nantz’ ear on that play, kudos.
As a former QB, Romo saw the potential damage early, noting that Los Angeles tends to keep defense simple, line up and beat your guys with their guys. “They play 90 percent zone coverage. In my experience, that’s not how you beat a Tom Brady team.” Tony Romo: the most informed guy at the sports bar, ever.
Some other nice details of the CBS broadcast:
• After the first touchdown of the game, they went to commercial playing “Give It To Me,” by J. Geils. If you’re from New England and don’t recognize this song, I did not know you in high school.
• Personally, big fan of the above-field camera during kickoffs like they used with 1:27 left in the first quarter. It’s the best way to get a sense of the frenetic action on the field, considering you have 10 guys running full speed plowing into 10 guys waiting for them in pursuit of one guy sprinting with the ball. I understand limiting kickoffs because of the brutal physics involved, but every one has the potential excitement of a fourth-and-goal play: something big could happen. Anyway, thanks for the sky cam, XFL.
• Great sequence of replays after Rex Burkhead’s touchdown near the end of the half (video here). We got many views of Gronk and left tackle/geological formation Trent Brown double-teaming defensive end Melvin Ingram, with Gronk sliding off to push linebacker Kyle Emanuel into the end zone; meanwhile, we could see center Dave Andrews IHOPping a dude. Nice work, CBS.
• Descriptive graphics near the end of the first half: Los Angeles had run 20 plays; New England had gained 20 first downs. Also, the Chargers had five first downs compared to the Patriots’ five touchdowns. (Though CBS did make a mistake on that last one, saying the home team had six touchdowns. Math skills, people!)
And now, a few of the replays I wish CBS had shown. An off week for a typically on-point crew.
• Missed the opening kickoff that hit fullback Devlin. Was it headed out of bounds? It happened too quickly to see, even when rewound.
• About one minute into the game, Michel got stopped for a one-yard loss. Who missed the block? Hard to see from the sideline, impossible to judge without replay. Same thing again at the 12:50 mark of the first. Michel doesn’t lose yardage often, so it would have been nice to see what New England’s offensive line needed to work on early.
• Michel gained 11 yards up the middle on Los Angeles with about 4:40 remaining in the first. No replay to see how it happened, though rewinding at home it looked like the Chargers flowed to their left and Michel sliced his run toward daylight. Could’ve used another angle.
• On that note, would have loved to see another angle of special teams ace Matthew Slater downing a punt at the two-yard line with a little over five minutes left in the game. I know it was late and the outcome had been decided, but the details kept us watching, and there were few finer details than how to stop a hurtling spheroid before it crossed a random-in-the-sense-that-the-universe-is-random line. (Just wondering: what other word is there to describe someone great at special teams? Special teams expert? Aficionado? Special teams specialist? Nope. Ace, all the way.)
One last critique, not of CBS, but of Cris Carter on FS1. While trying to emphasize that the Chargers’ Antonio Gates had slowed down with age, Carter said the tight end “can’t outrun his shadow.” The panel chuckled at this apparent colloquialism, but then I started to wonder: who can? I mean, a shadow literally travels at the speed of light. People don’t outrun the light they’re blocking that makes shadows. Now I can’t stop thinking about it. Is this a real thing that people say, or did Carter just get ahead of himself?
Alas, we may never know.
Some commercials that caught my eye:
Taco “Hell” by Hieronymus Bosch: I’ve been watching the Taco Bell mind trip ad “Grande Fantasy” for a few weeks now and can’t really get a handle on it. I guess people emerging from plants and statues and other oddities qualify as a “burrito dream,” but that has never been my experience. My burrito dreams consist of something attacking my mid-section, only when I wake up the attack is coming from inside.
If It’s A Choice Between A Turkey And Ray Liotta… Chantix has a new cold turkey commercial (actually, “Slow Turkey,” because it’s so tough to quit cold turkey. Get it? I did, eventually). Certainly made me look, and I had an easier time watching a CGI turkey than trying to figure out what exactly has changed about Ray Liotta’s face.
I do hear that the turkey is so slow, he can’t outrun his shadow. Callback!
Another Case Of The Mondays: Saw a commercial for an upcoming Showtime series called “Black Monday,” which looks so entertaining and crazy that I can’t believe they can maintain that level of wackiness for an entire show, much less season of shows. Seriously, watch this trailer and tell me it doesn’t look like an online parody (of what, I’m not sure).
Take Five: I loved the shorter commercial for Pizza Hut featuring an Abe-Lincoln-looking dad asking his kids to “Behold the power of the five-dollar bill.” After the children offer no response, he starts talking to himself as if they were thanking him, which is something I totally do. “Oh thanks, Dad. You’re the best!” is something I have told myself more times than I can count.
Netflix Note Of The Week: Man, Netflix has so many shows that they should change their name to Veruca Salt. I want a new show, and I want it NOW! Some solid stuff has popped up recently. Got a chance to watch Sierra Burgess is a Loser, a nod to a 1980s-like teen romance without all the problematic misogyny and racism. (Hey, no one loved Sixteen Candles more than I did, but my God.) Also a few nifty ’80’s references in the opening scene, from the synth music to the actors who play the parents. A well-acted, thoughtful movie, with more laughs than I expected via the sidekick.
Now And Den: Non-Netflix movie recommendation? Den of Thieves, now on Showtime. It’s a bank heist action movie that recalls a lot of the cat-and-mouse tension of Heat, but with a better overall plan by the criminals. I mean, really, what was the plan in Heat? Go into a bank wearing suits and toting enough firepower to take down a castle, fill duffle bags with money, and leave?
Really? That’s the plan? Sure you don’t want to think that one over a bit, maybe add a modicum of stealth? Anyway, Den of Thieves. Check it out.
Well, dear readers, I’ll leave you with this: The best Boston sports year of my youth came in 1986. Two different ways to look at that time.
Way Number One: The Patriots won three road playoff games in January, including the AFC Championship over the rival Dolphins (“Squish the Fish!”). The Bruins made the playoffs. The Celtics won their 16th NBA Championship, the third of the Larry Bird era. The Red Sox came back to win the ALCS and took the Mets to seven games in the World Series.
Not bad, right? A positive overall year for Boston fans. OR…
Way Number Two: The Patriots got blown out by the Bears in the Super Bowl. The Bruins got swept by the Canadiens. The Celtics would not win another championship for over 20 years. The Sox blew the series, losing Game Six in an historically excruciating way.
Yeah, yeah. There is that.
When you look back on this unprecedented era of success in Boston sports, how are you going to remember your perception of it? Let’s try to enjoy this while it’s happening and avoid looking back and thinking, hey, we should have appreciated that more.
Off we go, back to the AFC Championship. The K. C. crowd will figure prominently in this one, throwing off New England’s offense early, but if the visitors can keep it close in the first half, they can definitely pull off the upset. Should be fun.
Chris Warner thought Ferris Bueller’s Day Off held up until he remembered cell phones exist now. He’s on Twitter @cwarn89.