FOXBORO, Mass. — Early in the third quarter of Sunday’s divisional-round playoff game at Gillette Stadium, a miscommunication up front allowed New England Patriots defensive tackle Adam Butler to come screaming through the line like a runaway freight train.
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers quickly threw the ball away to avoid being run over by the 304-pound pass rusher, then began reaming out his offensive line, likely trying to figure out how in the world Butler had gone completely unblocked.
As an enraged Rivers ranted and raved, the stadium video board displayed a close-up of Butler. He was smiling.
That image perfectly encapsulated the Patriots’ 41-28 victory over the visiting Chargers, during which Rivers, who became increasingly agitated as the afternoon wore on, seemed to face pressure on every snap.
“I can remember one play in particular where they just cut me loose,” Butler said after the game. “I mean, 300-pound guy running clean at you unblocked? I mean, c’mon, I think we’d all be frustrated with that. But it wasn’t just me. It was everybody that got pressure on him. That’s frustrating.”
He added: “It was definitely fun. I was kind of laughing at him getting frustrated. It was kind of funny.”
The Patriots sacked Rivers just twice — one by Trey Flowers and another by Adrian Clayborn, who returned to the lineup after two consecutive healthy scratches to replace an injured Deatrich Wise — but they pressured him on 29 of his 53 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
On the whole, the Patriots tallied 35 total pressures (two sacks, three QB hits, 30 hurries), their highest single-game mark this season. New England built a commanding 38-7 lead before allowing LA to claw back to respectability with three touchdowns in the final 17 minutes.
“We understood that in order to be successful, we’d have to get some pressure on (Rivers), not allow him to step up in the pocket, not allow him to be comfortable,” said Flowers, who led the Patriots with 7 1/2 sacks during the regular season. “So we kind of made it a goal for us in our game plan just to press the pocket. Don’t allow him to step up. And I think we executed well.”
Flowers and linebacker Dont’a Hightower each tallied seven total pressures for New England, with Butler adding five, defensive end John Simon contributing four and linebacker Kyle Van Noy three.
“I thought we put constant pressure on (Rivers),” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “I thought he handled it well, like he always does. But we just kept battling. We got him a few times, and he stepped up there and made some great throws under pressure. That’s what you’ve got to try and do. You’ve got to keep slugging it out with him in the pass rush and try to get the timing off a little bit. It’s hard, but that’s what you’ve got to try and do.”
Comparatively, the Chargers, who boast one of the NFL’s top edge-rushing duos in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, pressured Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on just six of his 44 dropbacks, sacking him once.