FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — This is what Tom Brady and the Patriots were waiting for.
An always-confident Brady has been telling the world for weeks his team still had more and that the offense was working on putting it all together.
Sunday, it happened. In the most-important game of the season (so far).
Exploding for five first-half touchdowns, the Patriots advanced to their record eighth straight AFC title game with a 41-28 divisional game rout of the Chargers on a chilly day at Gillette.
Thanks to the crazy play that turned the New England win in Miami into a disastrous loss, the Patriots will be on the road next Sunday to face the Chiefs, a team they beat in Foxborough earlier this season.
“K.C’s had a helluva year,” Brady said after throwing for 342 yards and a touchdown. “They gave us everything we could handle (in October, a 43-40 Pats win). I’m sure it will be the same. It will be a tough game. They’re well coached, they’ve got a good offense and played well defensively against the Colts Saturday.
“It will be a lot of fun to go back there and play in a championship game and try to advance.”
This will be Brady’s 13th AFC title game, his sixth on the road.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, who knows Brady well from Lynn’s days as a Jets assistant, wasn’t surprised at what he got Sunday.
“I was expecting to see his best today. It’s playoff time,” he said.
The last time the Patriots were in K.C., they were thrashed 41-14 to fall to 2-2 in 2013 — before going on to win the Super Bowl on the Malcolm Butler play.
Now, they’re going back.
“They’re the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They deserve it,” said coach Bill Belichick. “… We’ll see how it goes.”
This game wasn’t as close as the final score indicates. New England scored 31 straight points after a 7-7 tie and led 38-7 in the third quarter.
Spurred by chants of “Beat L.A.,” rookie Sony Michel ran for three first-half touchdowns and the Patriots, improving to 16-6 in divisional-round games, ran up 347 yards of first-half offense in taking a 35-7 halftime lead. They then cruised to the win over the outclassed visitors.
Michel finished with 129 yards on 24 carries, Philip Dorsett and Rex Burkhead also scored first-half touchdowns, James White caught 15 passes and Julian Edelman nine Brady passes.
The Patriots scored on five of their seven first-half possessions — and even their failure came with asterisks. The Chargers muffed away one punt and the only other time the Pats didn’t score was the result of Dorsett being ruled — incorrectly, according to replays — to have stayed inbounds. That ran the clock out before a Stephen Gostkowski field goal try.
Gostkowski kicked a pair of short field goals for New England’s second-half scoring.
With the Chargers doing their usual defensive thing of loading up on defensive backs, the Patriots killed them with the run and short passes. Michel scored on runs of 1, 14 and 5 yards and also ripped off a 40-yarder in falling four yards shy of his rookie-season high.
“It was a wide-open hole,” Michel said of the 40-yarder. “Anybody could have run through it.”
Perhaps. But he is the one who did it and the 129 yards brought him to 1,060 for the season.
“He had a great game. He’s just had a great year,” said Brady, 23 of 29 in the first half before finishing 34 of 44. He also established an NFL record by throwing his 227th postseason pass without an interception as the Patriots finished off a perfect 9-0 home season.
“We knew what they were going to do,” said the Chargers’ Joey Bosa, whose father, John, starred at Keene High, Boston College and played in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins. “We knew Tom was going to get the ball out quick. We were out of our gaps in the run game.”
The Pats drove 83 yards on 14 plays after winning the toss and taking the ball, but Philip Rivers brought the Chargers right back down the field — a blown Stephon Gilmore/Jason McCourty coverage leading to a 43-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Keenan Allen.
The wild card Chargers, who hadn’t lost a true road game all year (their only “road” loss was at the L.A. Coliseum they share with the Rams), could have gone home right there. A 28-yard pass from Brady to Edelman set up Michel’s 14-yarder and the Pats never trailed again as New England registered a season first-quarter-high 14 points.
The Patriots’ defense made life miserable for Rivers, twice called for delay of game amid the crowd noise. With the running attack non-existent, he was forced to throw and much of his final total of 331 yards (25 of 51) came with the game out of reach.