Patriots and Saints Move on to Championships [OPINION]
The Los Angeles Chargers, with the better record (13-4) and better roster (on paper), took their celebrated 8-1 road record to Foxboro yesterday. The New England Patriots (11-5) took the field as the AFC's No. 2 seed and East Division Champion, and with their undefeated home record (8-0). They also carried with them their 40-pound chip on their shoulders, indignant about having to hear how it was "all coming to an end" on Sunday.
The Chargers had some very impressive road wins this season for sure; at Seattle, at Kansas City, and in Pittsburgh. Their quarterback Philip Rivers has built up an impressive resume over the years and is always a threat to win, given the weapons are quality ones.
Los Angeles had the weapons and the roster quality, but we're talking about going to Foxboro in mid-January where the temperature is 40 degrees colder than it is out there in southern California. Foxboro, where Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and the Patriots have been preparing, resting and perhaps most importantly, healing for two weeks.
New England took the field in front of their 72,000 fans as they attempted to advance to their eighth straight AFC Championship game.
This one was over with quite a few minutes remaining in the second quarter. Brady was 34-of-44 for 343 yards and a touchdown. The Pats' rushing game amounted to 153 yards with four TDs. Julian Edelman and James White were uncoverable and the ground game of the Patriots kept Brady comfortable from the Chargers pass rush that has been so very good all year.
The Patriots' vastly improving and quite under-the-radar run defense kept the Chargers to a miserable 19 yards rushing with a 1.9 yards per carry. Rivers did have his usual 300-plus yards, but mostly due to the Pats having the luxury of a huge lead.
The score was 41-28, but the game was hardly that close. The halftime score was 35-7 and 38-14 as the fourth quarter began. Belichick had obviously decided to keep his team healthy for the next game.
After their opening drive, the Chargers did not compete.
The Patriots advance to the AFC Championship game in Kansas City, a place where the AFC's top-seeded Chiefs have embarrassed the Patriots in recent years. For some reason, Arrowhead Stadium has been a great home field advantage for the Chiefs in the regular season, but they have had their share of well-documented postseason issues for many years now.
Things were definitely tighter in the NFC game.
The Philadelphia Eagles entered the Superdome in New Orleans as the defending world champions and a team that has been hot. The well-rested Saints found themselves down 14 points early on, and while they made the corrections on defense, the offense was less than dominant as they recovered the lead but struggled to keep it.
The score was 20-14 and was always in doubt until two key plays sealed the fate late in the fourth quarter. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles fired a strike to receiver Nelson Agholor who, for some reason, never turned to look back until the ball whizzed four feet to the right of his shoulders just as he slipped past the defensive coverage on a fly route.
Had he turned at the right time, he likely would have adjusted his direction slightly and snagged the ball, right in stride for a big gain if not a clear path to the end zone.
The kill shot of this game was the perfect strike Foles threw to Alshon Jeffries, only to see the ball go right between his hands and into the hands of Saints corner Marshon Lattimore.
The Saints will host the L.A. Rams next Sunday at the Superdome.
The cream has risen to the top for the NFL's conference championship games.
Ken Pittman is the host of The Ken Pittman Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RadioKenPittman. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.