The stadium was frost bitten and anxious as Matthew Slater’s voice boomed “Heads” while the coin was flipped. Moments later, the crowd erupted as the referee echoed Slater’s choice. When asked if New England wants to punt or receive, the wide receiver screamed, “We want the ball!”. And with this flip of a coin, the Patriots would advance to Super Bowl LIII past the Chiefs.
Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead
No pair of running backs could have played better in a game like this. When Sony Michel began to run low on fuel, Rex Burkhead was there to pick up the slack (and vice versa). Even though Kansas City was able to find ways to dull the running back’s momentum later in the game, both players still found concrete ways to contribute when it mattered. Michel finished the game with 29 runs for 113 yards and 2 touchdowns. Burkhead followed shortly behind with 12 rushes for 41 yards, 4 catches for 23 yards, and 2 touchdowns as well. Michel’s second touchdown gave the Patriots enough hope to truly give everything they got in overtime. Burkhead was able to take this energy and score the winning touchdown. The running backs have been the backbone of New England’s team and the Patriots wouldn’t be going to the Super Bowl without them.
Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman
A more iconic duo of receivers simply doesn’t exist. The chemistry between Gronkowski, Edelman, and Brady is incredulous. Gronkowski did a marvelous job of blocking every defender on Kansas City as well as contributing a handful of first down receptions. Edelman was Brady’s clutch receiver and he caught nearly everything thrown his way, while taking multiple hits from the defense. Gronkowski caught 6 passes for 79 yards, and Edelman had 7 for 96 yards. While neither player scored a touchdown, they contributed with a collective eleven first down conversions. The offensive push by the Patriots is second only to their defensive shut down.
Kyle Van Noy and Trey Flowers
The defensive line gave its strongest performance of the season in this game. Patrick Mahomes’ offense was restricted from multiple scoring drives due to the pressure from players such as Van Noy and Flowers. Van Noy began with a 14 yard sack to end the Chiefs’ first drive of the game. More force was shown in their second drive, forcing a 4 and 1 punt. Van Noy delivered big in the next drive with good reads, and this is where Flowers stepped in. Flowers came plowing through to sack Mahomes for another 14 yards, taking them out of field goal range and forcing another punt. These two linebackers are the only reason why Kansas City didn’t destroy New England.
Brady didn’t bring his A- Game today; his showing against the Chargers last week was just too good to be true. He completed 30 of 46 passes for 348 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions. His passing was normal: off target, inconsistent, and slow. The interceptions were what nearly killed the Patriots. His first interception was a touchdown; there is no excuse for him throwing the ball to a linebacker on the other team. The Patriots were one play away from completely demoralizing the Chiefs; instead, Brady gave them a gift that kept on giving. Brady’s team couldn’t play the same after that interception. Their confidence faded and more game changing mistakes were made. Their near demise all began with him.
Cornerback J.C. Jackson couldn’t pull his game together. From start to finish, he was never prepared to stay on top of his receiver. Jackson began with not being able to stop Kansas’ first touchdown of the game in the first few minutes of the second half. Next, a pass interference call. The flag moved the Chiefs all the way to the 1 yard line, where they scored on the next play, making the score 17-14 Patriots. During Kansas City’s next drive, Hightower was able to recover a fumble by their receiver… except Jackson’s holding call took it away. That would have iced the game for New England. Finally, to top it off, another pass interference call on the next play (which resulted in a touchdown for the Chiefs). Jackson played his worst game all season; unfortunately it came at a critical point in the season.
Stephon Gilmore, Keion Crossen, and Devin McCourty
The Patriot’s Secondary was the weakest unit on either side of the game. Kansas completed 11 of their 18 first downs via passing. While none of these players cost the team nearly as much as Jackson, they still contributed greatly to New England’s near loss. Devin McCourty and Keion Crossen tag teamed in allowing a 42 yard conversion in the second quarter. Stephon Gilmore couldn’t cover receiver Sammy Watkins, who caught a pass for 54 yards in the third quarter. Crossen missed a critical tackle at the end of the third quarter that ultimately resulted in a touchdown for Kansas. Each of these players made good plays, but the bad ones made a greater impact on the flow of the game.
This AFC Championship game came down to the simple flip of a coin, because either team would be able to score on their first possession of the ball. Matthew Slater gets a piece of the victory for putting New England in the drivers seat, but ultimately the victory belongs to the individual players who put in the sweat and work. Super Bowl LIII will host the AFC Patriots as well as the controversial NFC Rams. An old timer vs. integrating “rookie”. This matchup is one that could go either way, but regardless, an exciting game is on the horizon.