New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 13: Sony Michel of the New England Patriots scores a touchdown as he is defended by Casey Hayward of the Los Angeles Chargers during the first quarter of the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 13: Sony Michel of the New England Patriots scores a touchdown as he is defended by Casey Hayward of the Los Angeles Chargers during the first quarter of the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Doubt Sony Michel at your own risk. Discredit him if you must. But after Sunday against the Chargers, questioning this kid in a big game would be ill-advised.

Running behind an impeccable offensive line, attacking lanes with authority, and making the kind of dynamic cuts the Pats drafted him to make, Michel was a man possessed on the ground in the Patriots’ 41-28 win over the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC Divisional Playoff. Michel averaged 5.4 yards per carry, ripping off 129 yards on 24 carries, and found the end zone three times in as productive and promising a playoff debut you could ask for from a rookie running back.

Not only does he not suck, or blow, Michel is becoming a weapon. The kind that the Kansas City Chiefs will have to plan for ahead of next Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.

Michel showed how much he’s improved since the start of the season on his first score of the game, slinking around a nice opening created by Trent Brown and Joe Thuney to slip his way into the end zone. He showed it even more on his third score of the game when he muscled over the goal line through a wall of bodies.

Short yardage and goal line carries had been trouble for the rookie for most of the season. It certainly didn’t give him much trouble against the Chargers.

“Red zone is very important. We want to score when we get down there,” said Michel after the game. “I think we did a decent job. Guys executed, took pride in their jobs and we went out there and did our best.”

Jan 13, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back Sony Michel (26) rushes against Los Angeles Chargers defensive back Rayshawn Jenkins (23) during the second quarter in an AFC Divisional playoff football game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 13, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back Sony Michel (26) rushes against Los Angeles Chargers defensive back Rayshawn Jenkins (23) during the second quarter in an AFC Divisional playoff football game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Michel had podium duties after this one. He earned it. And he did it not just by powering his way into the end zone, but showing off the patience, balance and field vision that made him such a prolific runner at Georgia and one of the most productive rookie backs the Patriots have ever had.

He also showed it on a 40-yard run in the second quarter, a key play that led to a Rex Burkhead touchdown to put the Patriots up 28-7 at the time. Michel trotted through the first level as he waited for an opening, then powered through an attempted tackle as he shifted into the open field. From there he was off to the races, and if not for the speed in the Chargers secondary he might’ve found the end zone.

“Every play, the mindset is to gain great yardage and score a touchdown,” said Michel. “I mean, there was daylight in front of me, there was really no reason why I shouldn’t have scored, but it played out how it played out. There’s great players on the other side of the ball. They made a great play, but it was a great team gain.”

If there were any doubt about how Michel would look in his first time on the January stage, that has certainly evaporated now. It’ll be a whole different challenge to replicate Sunday’s performance on the road at Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game. But this game was a big win for those who had this kid’s back all season. And a major L for, well, you know who.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.