Patriots

Patriots, Sony Michel gladly accept Chargers invitation to run wild

Patriots, Sony Michel gladly accept Chargers invitation to run wild

FOXBORO -- Chargers coach Anthony Lynn and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley could've just held up signs when the Patriots offense was on the field. One each. 

RUN IT. DARE YA.

When the Patriots took the ball to begin the game, the Chargers responded by doing what they did last week against Baltimore: They flooded the field with defensive backs. Praised for their game plan a week ago -- matching quarterback Lamar Jackson's speed with the speed of their corners and safeties -- the results couldn't have been more different Sunday. 

The Patriots answered Los Angeles' athleticism with power, forcing smaller players to muck it up near the line of scrimmage and tackle hard-charging rookie running back Sony Michel. "The Blazin' Haitian," as Julian Edelman called him, rushed for 129 yards on 24 carries, breaking 100 before halftime. As a team, the Patriots ran for 155 yards on 34 attempts for an average of 4.6 yards per carry in their Divisional Round win, 41-28. 

Before the Patriots started killing clock in the fourth quarter, they were averaging over 5.0 yards per attempt. 

PATRIOTS 41, CHARGERS 28

"We saw on film the different personnel groups they run, and we knew that there would be certain times where we'd have to execute," right tackle Marcus Cannon said when asked about the lighter packages the Patriots faced early on. "We knew that there would be a little more importance on execution against certain personnels than others."

Though the Patriots said during the week that they expected the Chargers to handle Tom Brady differently than they handled his stylistic antithesis Jackson, they knew there was a good chance they'd see safeties playing linebacker roles, trying to shoot gaps as run defenders as opposed to taking on 300-pound behemoths head-on.

According to Pro Football Focus, seven of the Chargers' top-10 players in terms of playing time Sunday were defensive backs. Players like safeties Derwin James, Jahleel Addae and Adrian Phillips all mucked it up near the line of scrimmage, and the Patriots did their best to take advantage. 

"They've been doing it all year," Bill Belichick dead-panned after the game. "They did it against us last year."

It wasn't always easy for the Patriots. Their first two carries of the game combined for -2 yards. But later on their opening drive, Michel had carries of 11 and five yards before his one-yard touchdown plunge. 

PATRIOTS 41, CHARGERS 28

Both came against six defensive backs.

Michel's 12-yard run -- highlighted by a hard cut back across the grain almost as soon as he touched the football -- on New England's second drive helped spark another touchdown drive. His 40-yard scamper -- following big blocks from Rob Gronkowski and David Andrews -- eventually led to a Rex Burkhead score. 

Both came against six defensive backs. 

"When you do get that, when you get a lot of defensive backs out there, you've got to run the ball," Gronkowski said. "You've got to put your hand down and make yards the old way, the old-fashioned way, and that's by running the ball. We did a lot of that."

The Patriots scored 31 points unanswered between the first and third quarters, draining clock all the while in part because the Chargers had no consistent answer to the Patriots running game. Against the Ravens in the Wild Card round, not only did the speed of Bradley's defense help them defend the run, but his big bodies up front man-handled the Baltimore line, meaning that some run plays never even sniffed the smaller defenders at the second level.

PATRIOTS 41, CHARGERS 28

The Patriots had that aspect of the Chargers defense mostly figured out as well, utilizing combination blocks -- like the ones that cleared the way for Burkhead's touchdown run -- to create double-teams at the point of attack that created an initial running lane. Once things got to the second level, and once those double-teams worked their way to the diminutive defenders waiting for them, there were freeways to travel. 

On Michel's 40-yarder, Gronkowski and Cannon opened things up to get it going while David Andrews chugged out Phillips. The 300-pounder sealed off the 210-pounder with ease, and Michel was gone.

Patriots offensive linemen would never admit it after the game -- ever the students of their 70-year-old position coach Dante Scarnecchia -- but their eyes had to widen at the sight of so many defensive backs on the field. They were invited to run, and they gladly accepted. 

"You would like to come out with that outcome every time but every team is different," Cannon said. "These guys are going to be different than KC, and we're going to have to go back to the drawing board and do everything that we can. Film study, making sure our technique is right. We gotta dot all the is and cross all the ts to make sure we keep doing what we need to do to make sure our run game's going."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Julian Edelman puts percentage on chance Rob Gronkowski returns to Patriots

Julian Edelman puts percentage on chance Rob Gronkowski returns to Patriots

Rob Gronkowski says he's done with football, but his pal Julian Edelman isn't 100-percent convinced.

Edelman discussed Gronk's retirement on Barstool Sports' "Pardon My Take" podcast and was asked to give a percentage on the former tight end returning to the Patriots somewhere down the line.

"I’d say, maybe, an 11 percent chance,” Edelman answered.

Sure, that may be a cop-out response considering 11 happens to be Edelman's jersey number, but Patriots fans can at least find solace in the fact he didn't say "zero."

Edelman also says while he hasn't had a conversation with Gronkowski about the injuries taking a toll on the 30-year-old throughout his career, he could tell Gronk was banged up last season.

”When you’re banged up, football’s not always fun," Edelman said. "I can speak for myself on that. When you’re dealing with things — ankle, foot, back … Football is amazing when you feel great. … But it’s not easy, especially when you get older and have accumulated a lot of injury. So, you started seeing that it was tougher [for Gronkowski]. It gets tougher for everyone."

Gronkowski seems adamant he's staying retired, but he's certainly gotten a kick out of trolling those who believe he'll eventually return to the gridiron.

Time will tell whether the future Hall-of-Famer will change his mind. Until then, you can bet Gronk will continue living every moment of retired life to the fullest.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Tom Brady posts selfie with rival Peyton Manning: 'We were friends this whole time'

Tom Brady posts selfie with rival Peyton Manning: 'We were friends this whole time'

The NFL might never again see a quarterback rivalry as awesome as the one between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

Brady's New England Patriots and Manning's Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos teams squared off in many classic regular season and playoff battles, including a few AFC Championship Game matchups.

Despite the intense on-field rivalry, these legendary NFL QBs are friends off the field, as Brady reiterated in a tweet posted Wednesday featuring a selfie of him and Manning.

It's not often you see arguably the two-best quarterbacks in NFL history in one photo. 

Brady is coming off his sixth Super Bowl title, and oddsmakers like the Patriots' chances of winning a record seventh championship next season. Manning didn't enjoy the same postseason success as Brady, but he did win one Super Bowl each with the Colts and Broncos, in addition to many regular-season records that still haven't been broken.

The Brady-Manning rivalry was similar to the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rivalry for the NBA in the 1980s -- both players pushed each other to new heights, and made their respective sports more exciting in the process.

Edelman reveals when he earned Brady's trust>>>

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.