FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — With a few minutes left in the first half, on their fifth attempt to slow down Tom Brady and the Patriots, the Los Angeles Chargers finally managed a defensive stop.
It was only temporary.
Desmond King fumbled New England’s first punt of the game, Albert McClellan recovered the ball just inches before it went out of bounds , and Chargers defense was back on duty. The Patriots needed just four more plays for their fifth touchdown of one of the most dominating opening two quarters in NFL postseason history.
One week after stopping Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card round, the Chargers (13-5) allowed touchdowns on New England’s first four possessions to lose 41-28 on Sunday and blow an opportunity to advance to their first AFC championship game since the 2007 season.
Instead, the Patriots reached the conference title game for the eighth straight time, with a chance to reach the Super Bowl for the third year in a row and the ninth time under Brady and coach Bill Belichick.
The Patriots are the second team in league history to score a touchdown on each of the first four drives of a playoff game, joining the 2000 Indianapolis Colts (in a first-round game against Denver).
The only other first-half possession they failed to score was their last, when they took over with 51 seconds left and moved to the Los Angeles 36. And it was only because Phillip Dorsett was stopped inbounds and the clock ran out that they weren’t able to attempt a field goal.
Allen did not punt again until there were under 10 minutes left in the game.
The Chargers lost on the road for just the second time all season, but this one wasn’t even close. Before heading into the locker rooms at the half trailing 35-7, they:
—Gave up 347 yards of offense, while gaining just 128.
—Had six first downs to 24 for New England.
—Allowed the Patriots to convert all five times they were in the red zone and on five of six third downs.
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