FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady recognizes there are some who believe his team is nearing the end of its run of unprecedented playoff success.
On Sunday, Brady and Co. took their first step toward possibly silencing those voices a little longer.
Sony Michel ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns as the Patriots beat the Los Angeles Chargers 41-28 in a divisional-round matchup to earn their eighth straight trip to the AFC championship game.
The top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs, who won the AFC West and routed the Indianapolis Colts 31-13 on Saturday, will host second-seeded New England next Sunday at 6:40 p.m. The Patriots beat the Chiefs 43-40 on Oct. 14 in Foxborough, where New England was 9-0 this season.
It will be the 13th conference championship game appearance by the Patriots during the era that includes both Brady and coach Bill Belichick, who took over in 2000, the year Brady was a sixth-round draft pick.
"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."
The Chargers haven't reached the AFC title game since the 2007 season.
Philip Rivers finished 25-of-51 passing for 331 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He is 0-5 in games played in Foxborough, including 0-3 in the postseason.
Brady finished 34-of-44 for 343 yards and a touchdown. He is 8-0 as a starter against Rivers, who is 1-8 against New England.
For Rivers, seeing Brady again pick apart the Chargers' defense was another reminder he was competing against one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.
"He's up there, if not the all-time great, then one of," Rivers said. "That argument can go on forever. Was he rolling at the highest level today? I think we can all agree on that."
New England's James White tied Darren Sproles' NFL playoff game record with 15 catches, totaling 97 yards, and Julian Edelman had nine catches for 151 yards.
Edelman said the running opened up the field for the rest of the offense. The Patriots scored on their first four possessions and led 35-7 at halftime.
"It was awesome to get Sony out there trucking," Edelman said. "Rex (Burkhead) was out there, he scored. And 'Sweet Feet' (James White) being 'Sweet Feet'. Sony's over there being a little horse. It was awesome."
The Chargers added three touchdowns in the second half, but it was much too late. They lost for just the second time on the road in 10 games and first time outside L.A. this season. In their past four trips to the playoffs, the Chargers have been eliminated in the divisional round.
"We got our butts kicked," coach Anthony Lynn said.
Rivers seemed poised to keep his team in the game, connecting with Keenan Allen for a 43-yard touchdown on the Chargers' first possession. It was the longest score 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 series of the day, punting 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 upon review after a challenge by Belichick.
The turnover proved costly, with the Patriots scoring four plays later when Michel, the rookie from the University of Georgia, crossed the goal line from 5 yards out for his third touchdown of the half.
Asked if this victory proved at least some doubters wrong, Brady paused and smiled.
"I just like winning," he said. "I just like winning."
Brady has a touchdown pass in 13 straight postseason games, tied for the third-longest streak in the NFL since 1950. The only longer streaks in that stretch came from Brett Favre (20) and, well, Brady (18 from 2001-11).
The 41-year-old quarterback extended his postseason record with a 15th 300-yard passing game. Peyton Manning is next on the list with nine.
But it was far from all about Brady against the Chargers. New England established the run early, creating big holes in a defense that ended the regular season ranked ninth in the NFL, having allowed an average of just 106 rushing yards per game.
Michel carried 16 times for 105 yards in the first half, and he scored from 1 yard on the opening series to cap a 14-play, 83-yard drive in which he rushed five times for 15 yards and had a 9-yard catch. The Patriots added scoring drives of 67, 58, 87 and 35 yards.
Michel became just the second rookie in franchise history to have a rushing touchdown in the postseason. He joined fellow Georgia alum Robert Edwards, who ran for a touchdown as a rookie in New England's 1998 wild-card loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Michel also became the first New England player with two rushing scores in the first quarter of a playoff game since LeGarrette Blount did it in the 2013 divisional-round win against Indianapolis.