Tom Brady and the Patriots aren't done writing history, apparently.
Bill Belichick's Patriots went on the road and overcame a pair of fourth-quarter deficits to dramatically defeat the Chiefs 37-31 in overtime Sunday evening to secure a spot in Super Bowl LIII against the L.A. Rams.
It's New England's third straight trip to the big game, ninth appearance during the Belichick era and 11th overall for the franchise.
Tom Brady's offense took the AFC title game's opening drive and marched 80 yards in 15 plays to a Sony Michel 1-yard touchdown run for the 7-0 advantage. When Patrick Mahomes punted on his first possession thanks to a 14-yard sack by Kyle Van Noy, it looked like a Patriots squad that struggled away from Gillette Stadium all season might roll to a road victory.
But, this would be a full 60-minute game and then some. New England led 14-0 at halftime, but as he did in the regular season matchup between these teams the presumed NFL MVP Mahomes put up a flurry of second-half points.
The Patriots led 17-7 after three quarters before the scoreboard and the game got, as they say, lit. With a pair of touchdown passes by the midpoint of the fourth quarter, Mahomes had the home squad up 21-17. New England added a pair of rushing touchdowns in the latter part of the fourth, while Mahomes drove to another score and then a game-tying Harrison Butker 39-yard field goal with less than 10 seconds to play.
But it was New England that won the overtime coin toss, took the ball and never looked back on the way to Rex Burkhead's 2-yard touchdown run to ensure that Kansas City never saw the field in the extra period. Along the way Brady completed three key third-and-long plays, two to Julian Edelman and one to Rob Gronkowski as the future Hall of Fame quarterback added to his and New England's ever-growing legend.
It was a game that included endless big plays, questionable calls and non-calls, replay reviews and turning points throughout the night. But, in the end the Patriots made just enough plays on both sides of the ball to continue on to the biggest game in sports.
Seventeen years after kick-starting the Patriots dynasty that's nearly two decades old against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, New England has the chance to get a sixth ring and keep the history rolling against the now-Los Angeles squad in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.
"I can't say enough about the effort by our players and coaching staff today," Belichick said. "It was awesome. We expected it to be a 60-minute game and it turned out to be more than that. It was a great back-and-forth battle, particularly in the fourth quarter. In the end we were able to make a few more plays than the Chiefs. That's why we'll be able to continue our season. So many guys stepped up tonight. They deserve it and they earned it.
"It's good to win."
Before moving on to two weeks of hype and buildup to a matchup with upstart genius Sean McVay, young star passer Jared Goff and the Rams, here are the personnel highs and lows from the win over the Chiefs.
Offensive line – The offensive line dominated the Chargers to open the postseason and were almost as good on the grass at Arrowhead. Brady threw the ball 46 times but was not sacked and was hit just once by a defense that includes elite pass rushers Chris Jones, Dee Ford and Justin Houston. Brady has thrown the ball 90 times in the first two weeks of the postseason and has yet to be sacked. In Kansas City the unit also paved the way for 47 rushing attempts for 177 yards and four touchdown runs. Dante Scarnecchia and his offensive line are one of the main reasons the Patriots are in the Super Bowl.
Rob Gronkowski/Julian Edelman – There were times this year that New England's offensive struggles and Brady's down numbers were blamed on the fact that his tight end and slot receiver were no longer playmakers. Sunday night in Kansas City brought vintage performances from Gronkowski and Edelman. The slot receiver caught seven of 10 passes thrown his way for 96 yards, including two key third-down receptions for 20 and 15 yards, respectively, to keep the game-winning overtime drive going. Edelman took a licking and simply kept on ticking. And the Patriots needed it. Gronkowski caught six of 11 targets for 79 yards. His 15-yard contested catch beating Eric Berry on third-and-10 extended the overtime drive to the 15-yard line to help set up the win and ensure Mahomes never got a shot in extra time.
James White/Sony Michel/Rex Burkhead – New England's running backs continue to be a key part of the offensive attack this January, both on the ground and catching the ball. White, as he has in so many big games, came up huge. His first six touches of the day all went for first downs, including five third-down conversions. He made a couple highlight reel catches along the way, finishing with four catches for 49 yards and six rushes for 23 yards. Michel had his second 100-yard effort in as many postseason games, carrying the ball 29 times for 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns, giving him five scores this postseason. Beyond the game-winning touchdown, Burkhead totaled 12 rushes for 41 yards and two scores as well as four catches for 23 yards. The backs combined for 249 yards from scrimmage, nearly half of the team's 524 total yards of offense.
Pass rush – Kyle Van Noy got things going and led the way, but the Patriots pass rush as a group put pressure on Mahomes both physically and, seemingly, mentally. Van Noy's 14-yard sack had it looking like an early rout. He then had a strip sack to end the first half that made sure the Chiefs didn't get on the scoreboard. Van Noy not only had two of the Patriots four sacks, but led the team with 10 tackles. But the pass rush came from all over the front. Trey Flowers had a big 14-yard sack early. Lawrence Guy and John Simmon split a sack. Patrick Chung, Dont'a Hightower and Adrian Clayborn got in on the pressure, too. It was a solid all-around day from the rush, even if Mahomes got his play going in the second half.
Kickoffs – With just one game to play, it still seems the like the Patriots haven't exactly figured out how they want to execute on kickoffs. There was a squib kick to end the first half that gave K.C. the ball at the 42 and were it not for a strip sack may have given the home team a shot at a field goal. There were two late kickoffs shy of the goal line that K.C. returned out past the 30-yard line. Stephen Gostkowski should be able to put the ball into the end zone on his kickoffs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and that's probably the best tactic at this point given the Patriots season-long issues covering some of the shorter kicks, including at a chilly Arrowhead.
J.C. Jackson – Jackson did not play when the Patriots and Chiefs met in the regular season. Since then he'd become a key playmaker in the secondary, but the undrafted rookie struggled mightily in Kansas City. Jackson was called for three penalties, including a pass interference in the end zone on Travis Kelce. He had a costly pass interference down the right sideline covering Sammy Watkins late. Jackson was also beaten easily by Kelce for a 7-yard touchdown. He gave up a 27-yard catch to Demarcus Robinson on the Chiefs final drive to set up the game-tying field goal. It was a tough night overall for the young cornerback.
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