The Los Angeles Chargers spent the week being lauded for their defensive game plan in a Wild Card victory over the Baltimore Ravens. The blueprint got shredded into pulp by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
The Patriots had a week to prepare for the Chargers' defensive back-heavy scheme and steamrolled it en route to 41-28 victory. The final score wasn't indicative of how thoroughly New England dominated.
The first half told the tale, as the Patriotsbludgeoned the Chargers to take a 35-7 leading into the break, matching the largest halftime lead in team postseason history (equaling the lead over Tim Tebow's Broncos). Through two quarters, the Patriots compiled 347 yards, 24 first downs (to the Chargers' 23 total plays), earned 7.4 yards per play, and converted five of six third downs and five of five red zone trips. The only time New England punted, it recovered a Desmond King muff and proceeded to pound the ball into the end zone.
"We laid an egg today," Chargers safety Adrian Phillips said. "We didn't show up how we usually do. It is what it is."
"We didn't come out and execute," Chargers safety Derwin James concurred. "We made it tough on our offense today."
The Patriots' offensive line, tight end Rob Gronkowski and fullback James Devlin opened massive holes on the ground against the light L.A. defense. Rookie running back Sony Michel plowed through tackles on the second level, scampering for 129 yards on 24 carries with three touchdowns, doing much of his damage in the first half (16 rushes, 105 yards, three TDs). On the day, the Patriots generated 8.95 yards per play on 22 snaps out of 21 personnel (two running back, one tight end, two wide receivers), per Next Gen Stats.
The Pats O-line kept Brady upright and his jersey pristine much of the day. The Chargers, with the pass-rushing tandem of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, didn't have a QB hit until five minutes into the third quarter. The Chargers didn't sack Brady the entire game and finished with just two quarterback hits.
"They ran the ball when they wanted to run and they passed the ball when they wanted to pass," James said.
Despite repeatedly getting blown off the ball, the Chargers never changed on defense. On 47 defensive plays in the first half, L.A. had six or seven DBs on the field on 42 snaps. Through two quarters, the Chargers allowed 8.82 yards per play on 25 snaps with seven defensive back and zero linebackers on the field, according to Next Gen Stats. Likely due to linebacker injuries, the defensive strategy stayed the same despite the Patriots churning the clock. For the game, Bradley played seven DBs 42 times and six DBs 20 plays out of 78 snaps.
Credit goes to the Patriots. Brady, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels put on a clinic on how to attack a defense's deviances. While Michel churned out scores, Brady got the ball out quick and picked apart a vulnerable Chargers zone that left targets wide open. Julian Edelman (nine catches for 151 yards) looks completely healthy and was torturing defensive backs. L.A. came in struggling to cover running backs in the passing game. Brady took advantage, targeting James White 17 times, completing 15 for 97 yards receiving.
The Patriots came out of the game on fire, scoring touchdowns on their first four possessions and put up points on seven of their first nine drives.
A week after holding a rookie quarterback and a run-heavy offense to 229 total yards and 11 first downs, the Chargers got outclassed by the best quarterback and coach in NFL history. After taking the foot off the gas in the fourth quarter, Brady still put up 343 passing yards as the Pats gobbled up a whopping 498 total yards -- it felt like it could have been 700 yards if New England wanted.