By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) -- This was supposed to be a close game.
It was not a close game.
The Patriots took the field Sunday and absolutely steamrolled the Chargers, opening up a 28-7 lead in the first half. Los Angeles never recovered. The Patriots won 41-28, but that's only due to a pair of garbage time touchdowns scored by L.A.
It was a game that was, essentially, over at halftime. But the league had television obligations to uphold, so the teams went ahead and played the second half anyway.
Here's a look at the Ups and Downs from the Patriots' 41-22 playoff win over the Chargers. (Forewarning: The numbers might be a bit imbalanced this week.)
Not a bad first taste of playoff football for the rookie.
He capped off his first-ever postseason drive by plunging in from the 1-yard line, and he finished the job on the Patriots' second drive by diving over the right pylon to complete a 14-yard touchdown run.
Michel had 43 yards and the two touchdowns in that first quarter, helping the Patriots build a 14-7 lead.
Later in the first half, Michel slid through a small hole on an outside run and burst through the open field for a 40-yard gain, helping to set up a Rex Burkhead touchdown run that made the score 28-7.
Then, after L.A. muffed a punt, Michel made it count by bullying his way into the end zone on a 5-yard touchdown run -- his third score of the first half.
Michel topped the 100-yard mark ... before halftime. He finished with 129 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.
There are players who crumble in the postseason. There are players who thrive in the postseason. And then there is Julian Edelman.
The guy is just a force. Statistically, he filled it up in this game (he had 107 yards on seven catches before halftime), but with him, it's always a little bit more than that. He muscled his way to a first down, breaking a would-be tackle from Desmond King to keep the Patriots out of a third-and-4. He absorbed heavy contact over the middle but immediately returned to his feet. He broke a 16-yard punt return as part of 32 return yards in the first half.
He just does it all. And in games like this one, he's a guy you want on your team.
He finished the game with nine catches for 151 yards, moving into second place all time for most postseason receptions, trailing only Jerry Rice.
Most people knew going in that it would be a big day for James White. Everyone except the Chargers.
White was the Patriots' most dangerous -- and most often used -- weapon out of the backfield, as evidenced by his final stat line: 15 receptions for 97 yards.
White was immense on the opening drive of the game, catching five passes for 45 yards.
Philip Rivers was not very good, and that's because the Patriots really didn't give him a chance to be. Trey Flowers was a menace, Adrian Clayborn forced an incompletion with a pressure up the gut, and Patrick Chung forced another incompletion with pressure off the edge. Flowers and Adam Butler combined to wallop Rivers on an incompletion late, just for good measure. Then Dont'a Hightower got in on the fun to force L.A. to punt long after the game was in hand.
Flowers and Clayborn were rewarded with a tick apiece on the stat sheet for bringing Rivers down.
It was a long, long day for Pip Rivers. The Patriots' pass rush made sure that was the case.
Credit goes to the coverage, too. Stephon Gilmore had one major goof, but overall, he and Jason McCourty and J.C. Jackson did an excellent job of keeping the Chargers' big receiving corps in check.
For a washed-up, over-the-hill bum, Tom Brady had a good game. He completed 34 of his 44 passes for 343 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions.. ... Phillip Dorsett, who occasionally went into witness protection during the season, stepped up in a big way. He caught Brady's touchdown pass in the first half, and finished with four catches for 41 yards and the score. ... The unsung heroes of the day were, as usual, the interior linemen. Shaq Mason, David Andrews and Joe Thuney were immense. Tackles Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon deserve credit for a day of cleanliness for Brady, too. ... Gilmore had a pick late in the game. While it didn't matter much on the scoreboard, he showed great ball skills to get that one. ... Nate Ebner recovered two onside kick attempts.
The Patriots' All-Pro corner spent the entirety of the first drive covering Keenan Allen. That is, until the final play, when Gilmore wasn't covering Allen. In fact, he wasn't covering anyone.
On a first-and-10 from the New England 43, Rivers chucked a deep ball to Allen up the right sideline. He was wide open, as Gilmore seemed to guess that Allen was going to run a post route instead of a go.
It was a costly mistake, allowing the Chargers to answer the Patriots' opening scoring drive and tie the game.
The Belichick-Adams Challenging Mechanism
Hey, in a blowout, you have to pick nits. And in this case, it appeared as though the mechanism for deciding to throw the challenge flag failed Bill Belichick and Ernie Adams. (At least, we always assume Adams is the man in Bill's ear.)
Belichick decided to throw the red challenge flag after Mike Williams appeared to have fumbled late in the third quarter. This part of the challenge was wise. But unfortunately for the Patriots, they forgot to make sure that they recovered the fumble, because in fact, Williams recovered the fumble.
It didn't matter, because the Patriots led 38-7 at the time. But the moment will likely serve as a friendly reminder to those involved with deciding whether or not to challenge that they'll need to be a little bit sharper going forward.
And ... that'll do it for the Downs this week. We're not going to get too critical about some leaky defense in the fourth quarter of a blowout win. It's on to Kansas City.
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