Patriots 41, Chargers 28: Patriots Make a Statement With a Furious Rout of the Chargers

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The essence of the New England Patriots’ reign as this century’s most successful N.F.L. team has been their peculiar capacity to feel smug and belittled at the same time.

It is a paradox the Patriots have put to good use at pivotal times on the way to five Super Bowl victories, winning some games because of unbridled confidence and others because they believed they were being unfairly disparaged.

Sunday’s 41-28 thrashing of the Los Angeles Chargers in an A.F.C. divisional round playoff game — the Patriots led by 28 points at halftime — was conspicuously in the latter category. After an uneven season in which New England stumbled through the final quarter of its schedule and many in the N.F.L. community prepared an obituary for this dynasty, the Patriots had built up a fair amount of righteous indignation.

The result Sunday was a furious ambushing of the visiting Chargers, a talented team largely relegated to being bystanders as New England scored 28 unanswered points before halftime to put the game virtually out of reach. Proof of the Patriots’ mind-set for the afternoon came minutes after the final whistle when quarterback Tom Brady stared into a television camera during an on-field interview.

“I know everyone thinks we suck and can’t win any games,” he said. “So we’ll see.”

Asked to elaborate on his comments later, Brady grinned, paused and added: “I just like winning.”

But he also had begun to brace for another week of feeling disrespected; the Patriots will travel to Kansas City to face the top-seeded, high-scoring Chiefs in the A.F.C. championship game next weekend.

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Philip Rivers was under pressure all game, preventing him from making his typical impact with downfield passes.CreditGreg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

And they will be a pronounced underdog.

“Yeah,” Brady said. “We’ll look forward to that.”

Indeed, they will. It is a rarity for a team competing in its eighth consecutive A.F.C. conference championship game to know it will be spending the week fending off scores of questions about the offensive might and superior skill set of the opposition.

But these Patriots, always assured yet still vulnerable, said they are used to it. Said tight end Rob Gronkowski: “We’ve been hearing that kind of stuff for years now. We laugh at it and keep moving forward.”

However the Patriots-Chiefs matchup is ultimately perceived and analyzed in the coming week, New England undoubtedly fired an eye-catching warning shot across the bow of the remaining N.F.L. teams chasing a Super Bowl victory.

The first indication that the Patriots meant business Sunday came at the pregame coin toss. Coach Bill Belichick rarely elects to receive the opening kickoff when his team wins the toss. This time, he did.

At that moment, the Chargers, despite all their success this season, should have known they were in trouble.

With surgeon-like precision, Brady completed 23 of his first 29 passes as the Patriots scored touchdowns on each of their first four possessions. After one punt, they scored another touchdown.

While Sunday’s victory was the Patriots’ ninth successive postseason win at Gillette Stadium, their utter dominance of the Chargers was still somewhat surprising. Los Angeles’s offense and defense each ranked in the N.F.L’s top 10; just a week ago, the Chargers thoroughly manhandled a stout Baltimore Ravens team in the wild-card round.

But from the beginning Sunday it was clear the Chargers were not playing Baltimore’s one-dimensional offense or its rookie quarterback, Lamar Jackson.

New England’s Sony Michael had three rushing touchdowns in the first half of the Patriots’ win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.CreditDavid Butler II/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

It was also clear that Brady, who appeared to be slowed by a gimpy knee in the last quarter of the regular season, was more rested and that New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had devised an effective, multifaceted game plan to deal with the six- or seven-defensive-back zone defense the Chargers had used against the Ravens.

Brady, who completed 34 of 44 passes on Sunday for 343 yards, threw only short passes to his wide receivers and running backs to start the game in a fast-paced attack that had the Chargers reeling. The Patriots’ 14-play opening drive concluded when running back Sony Michel rumbled into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown. It was the first of three first-half touchdowns for Michel, who rushed for 129 yards.

One of Brady’s main targets through the air was Julian Edelman, who had nine receptions for a team-high 151 yards.

The Chargers tied the game in the first quarter on a 43-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Philip Rivers to Keenan Allen. But it proved to be the high-water mark for Los Angeles, which rallied for three largely meaningless touchdowns in the second half.

Rivers has never beaten Brady in eight tries during his career and defeated the Patriots only once when Brady was injured. Rivers is also now 0-3 against New England in the postseason, including a defeat in the A.F.C. championship game in 2008.

“It was an emotional week — just being back here after 11 years,” said Rivers, who completed 25 of 51 passes for 331 yards. “It’s tough. It takes a long time to get back to the same spot. So it’s certainly a disappointing finish.”

As for the Patriots, the vibe in their locker room after the game was, not surprisingly, a little swagger and a little defiance.

The veteran wide receiver Matthew Slater made a sarcastic joke about how the Patriots were “aging.” Asked what he really meant by the remark, Slater smiled and answered: “That we’ve still got a little left in the tank.”

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