Brady, Pats fired up by underdog status
It's playoff time in the NFL, which of course means it's Tom Brady time.
Brady and the Patriots ran riot against the vaunted defence of the Los Angeles Chargers in a 41-28 rout at Foxborough, where Sony Michel ran for 129 yards and had three touchdowns and Julian Edelman had nine catches for 151 yards.
The result - the Patriots advance to their eighth straight AFC championship game.
New England will play at Kansas City in next week's AFC title game. The Patriots beat the Chiefs 43-40 in Foxborough in Week 6.
It is the 13th conference championship game appearance by the Patriots during the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.
"It's going to be a good game," Brady said of the rematch with the Chiefs.
"They're a good team. We played them earlier this year. I know everybody thinks we suck and, you know, we can't win any games, so we'll see. It'll be fun."
Brady finished 34 of 44 for 343 yards and a touchdown in the 15th 300-yard passing game of his storied career and improved to an 8-0 record as a starter against Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who drops to 1-8 against New England, despite throwing for 331 yards and three touchdowns.
New England scored on its first four possessions of the game to build a 35-7 halftime lead.
The Chargers added three touchdowns in the second half , but it was much too late.
Los Angeles lost for just the second time on the road and first time outside Los Angeles this season.
In its past four trips to the playoffs, Los Angeles has lost in the divisional round.
Rivers seemed poised to keep Los Angeles in the game, connecting with Keenan Allen for a 43-yard score on Los Angeles' first offensive possession. It was the longest touchdown of Allen's career, including the postseason. It turned out to be just a blip. The Chargers punted the four other times they had the ball in the first half.
The Patriots were efficient throughout the opening 30 minutes, going 5 for 5 in the red zone, 5 of 6 on third down and committing only one penalty.
New England didn't go three-and-out for the first time until its fifth offensive touch of the day when it punted with 3:32 left in the second quarter. But Ryan Allen's 48-yard punt was fumbled by Desmond King, sending the ball rolling toward the sideline.
The referees ruled the ball went out of bounds before New England's Albert McClellan appeared to recover it but the play was reversed after a challenge by Bill Belichick.
The turnover proved costly, with the Patriots scoring just four plays later when Michel crossed the goal line from 5 yards for his third touchdown of the half.
New England established the run early, creating big holes in a Chargers defence that ended the regular season ranked ninth in the NFL, allowing just 106 rushing yards per game.
Michel carried 16 times for 105 yards in the first half.
He set the tone early, scoring from 1 yard on the opening possession of the game. It capped a 14-play, 83-yard drive in which he rushed five times for 15 yards and had a 9-yard reception.