By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
FOXBOROUGH -- To say that the New England Patriots simply beat the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday would be kind.
For 60 minutes, the Patriots downright disrespected, demoralized, and embarrassed the Chargers to a 41-28 final. Even the box score took pity on the Chargers, honestly, making this appear closer than it ever was after dueling opening-drive scores. The Patriots went for it on fourth down while holding a 21-point first half lead, and even challenged plays in an attempt to drop a 40-point half on the Chargers. The Chargers had no clue how to stop the Patriots from dunking on them and quarterback Philip Rivers devolved into a walking temper tantrum, absolutely losing his top every other play.
I'm honestly not sure San Diego would want to take this franchise back following a loss like that.
But this was not just the Chargers, whose day began with the team shouting at stadium security to not bleep with their bus, being unable to handle the ghouls and on-field chills of Foxboro. This was not the rigors of three cross-country flights in 10 days hurting the Chargers at the most inopportune time. This wasn't even the Chargers failing to show up and/or acting out the part of the Shaughnessy-trademarked opening round "tomato can."
This was instead your vintage "We're the [expletive] Patriots, you're nothing. Now take your beating and get the hell out here" effort. The Chargers -- like the Tebow Broncos and Luck Colts steamrolled en route to Super Bowl appearances in years prior -- were the mere sacrificial lamb to prove a greater point.
The point being this team, for all of their much-publicized 'flaws,' can still be an absolute wagon capable of winning the Super Bowl.
Now if you're a bobo, honk, or perhaps even honkin' on bobo (shoutout to my parents for naming me after Steven Tyler, my life stinks), Sunday's effort was just the culmination of what you saw this team work towards for 16 weeks.
“We just came in and just kept working each week," Pats center David Andrews said. "This isn’t just a magical process that happened this week. It’s a combination of all the hard work all year and we were able to just put it together.”
It was the elusive 60-minute effort that the Patriots desperately tried to put together all year, with Week 17's home win over the New York Jets coming as the closest thing. It was everything us Hammerin' Honk Aarons and Bobo Brazils considered a legitimate possibility for this 53-man roster at 1-2, after the Miami Miracle, and even after the debacle in Pittsburgh.
To those on the other end of the spectrum, though, Sunday should have been a revelation.
I mean, after all, the Patriots were an old, talent-drained team across the board. Led by a 41-year-old quarterback falling off a cliff, the team's second-best player was an oft-injured tight end that already had one foot in a WWE ring, and they 'boasted' an always-bending, always-breaking defense that lost its heartbeat to Tennessee by way of an unexplained Super Bowl benching.
To that group of doubters, all 11 of the Patriots' regular-season victories seem to have some sort of asterisk next to them, and their losses meant infinitely more than their victories. It was exhausting, but there was no way around it.
Yet, this same older, talent-drained team -- an act of sabotage by a vindictive coach (who also happens to be a lousy GM) -- straight-up made easy work of a team every talking head from here to Wickersham lauded as superior. They made Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram disappear. Keenan Allen absolutely torched Stephon Gilmore for the first Los Angeles score of the game, but Gilmore was nails after that. The Patriots got at Rivers for two sacks (and seven quarterback hits in all by the day's end).
At no point in this game did the 12-4 Chargers look like the alleged second-best team in the AFC. Unless you were considering the Patriots the best team in the AFC, and if that AFC was in a parallel universe, actually.
And to the yeah, but'ers of the world, there's no real hill left to die on here.
The Patriots officially have the talent and makeup to be among the league's final four for the unfathomable eighth year in a row, and are 60 minutes away from competing for the Super Bowl for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Perpetually lost in the sexy panic over how this is all gonna end for Brady and Belichick is the fact that the Patriots have once again built a legitimate Super Bowl contender, and that they even have some good players on their ham-and-egg roster.
“I think that just goes with the type of players that we have in this locker room," Duron Harmon said of the franchise's continued playoff success. "We have unselfish players who buy into the team. We have no guys who are ‘me guys’ that just worry about themselves or worry about stats. You see those guys throughout the league each and every week, but we have guys who are just committed to one thing and that’s winning. Putting the team first, doing whatever you can to make sure that at the end of the day on Sundays that we’re victorious and we have the win.”
But most importantly, almost everything the Patriots accomplished on Sunday is road-friendly.
The Patriots brought out some additional creativity to take advantage of a unique-looking Charger defense, but the bulk of their attack came from the names and faces you've come to expect: Edelman, White, and Michel. The latter name is especially important, as run-blocking isn't something decided by the venue. Nor would you expect the Chiefs to scheme up a gameplan -- be it from a structure or personnel standpoint -- that truly slows Edelman and White down and out of an impact. The Patriots have actually found a way to make a Rob Gronkowski throwback showing in the passing game feel like a welcomed bonus, not a necessity.
And it finally feels as if the Patriots are ready for their greatest challenge yet: Beating an elite team on the road, and at Arrowhead, where New England's dynasty died for the first time, some 1,568 days and two more Super Bowl banners ago.
"That was a pretty crappy loss that night," Brady said of that infamous 2014 loss in Kansas City, which provided the rally cry for that eventual championship squad. "I think we showed a lot of perseverance, a lot of toughness. This team is showing it. We've had some tough losses this year too but you just keep fighting. That's what football is all about. It's a season. It's not one game or four games or eight games. It's 16 games and you get a chance to be in this position. It'll be a tough game.
"It's going to be a lot of fun to go back there and play in a championship game and try to advance."
And their chances of doing exactly that have never seemed better.
At least if we're finally paying attention to what we've ignored for entirely too long.