FOXBORO, Mass. — As soon as the ball was snapped, Phillip Dorsett knew Desmond King was toast.
The New England Patriots had been running this play all week in practice, hoping they would see the Los Angeles Chargers defend it a certain way. The second he saw a sliver of confusion on King’s face, Dorsett was sure six points were forthcoming.
He was right.
On third-and-6, Julian Edelman ran a quick out to occupy boundary cornerback Casey Hayward, and Dorsett blew past King — the Chargers’ All-Pro slot corner — on a flag route to the back of the end zone. Quarterback Tom Brady delivered a perfect ball, and Dorsett hauled it in for the first postseason touchdown of his NFL career.
It was one of five touchdowns the Patriots scored in the first half Sunday as they bulldozed the visiting Chargers 41-28 at Gillette Stadium in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.
After the game, Dorsett explained exactly what he saw on his 15-yard score, which put the Patriots ahead 21-7 early in the second quarter.
“Me and Jules were in a stack, and we were talking about it the whole week,” the wide receiver said. “We knew that they might mess it up. They might. Once they hesitated, I just took it, and I knew I was going to get it. I knew the ball was coming, because I knew Tom was going to make the right read.”
As Edelman motioned into position behind Dorsett, King began waving toward Hayward, evidently unsure of his assignment. That moment of hesitation was all Dorsett needed to see. He threw his arm up at the 5-yard line, asking for the pass that Brady already had begun to deliver.
“I saw it at the snap, and that’s why I just shot,” Dorsett said. “I just went.”
As had been the case in previous games against Gus Bradley-coached or -inspired defenses, the Patriots spent the first half making a mockery of LA’s Cover 3 scheme. Edelman and running back James White combined for 24 catches on 30 targets in the win, accounting for 248 of Brady’s 343 passing yards.
Dorsett, who caught four passes on five targets for 41 yards, said the Patriots knew exactly what to expect from the Chargers’ defense.
“You see it when you play teams that play a lot of zone,” he said. “You know where the holes are. You know where they are, and you just try to exploit them. And I think that’s what we did (Sunday).”
The Chargers began playing more man coverage and blitzing more frequently in the second half, but by that point, the Patriots had built an insurmountable 35-7 lead. Even with LA scoring 21 of the final 27 points, New England was able to breeze to its eighth consecutive divisional-round victory.
The Patriots’ season has not ended before the AFC Championship Game since 2010 — an unparalleled run of success that Dorsett attributes to the intelligence of the team’s players and coaches.
“I think that’s the reason why we win a lot of games,” the wideout said. “We’ve got a lot of smart guys in this locker room that can be able to dissect the game plan and then even when a team changes what they play, be able to adjust. I think that’s the good thing about this locker room and these coaches. They’re amazing when it comes to game-planning and making adjustments.”
Individually, Dorsett continues to be an incredibly reliable target for Brady. He’s caught 20 of the last 21 balls thrown his way since Week 4, and the lone incompletion, which came during the second quarter Sunday, actually might have been intended for tight end Rob Gronkowski.
“We work a lot in practice, and we worked a lot in camp just to get on the same page,” Dorsett said. “He makes it easy for me, and I try to make it as easy as I can for him to just be able to throw the ball, put the ball in different places, and I just try to catch it. I mean, for any quarterback, I would try to be a reliable piece for them. That’s just taking pride as a receiver.”