It was to be the end of an era. The aging quarterback was to be defeated by ‘Father Time.’ It was time for a new suitor to take the throne in the AFC.
However, in the words of the great Rocky Balboa, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots “didn’t hear any bell.”
On the heels of a thrilling overtime victory on Sunday night, the Pats are headed to their third straight Super Bowl. Once again, they did so on the clutch brilliance of their 41-year old quarterback.
As he has done, so many times before, Brady led the Patriots 75 yards after winning the overtime coin toss. Running back Rex Burkhead’s 2-yard touchdown lifted New England past the Kansas City Chiefs 37-31 to capture the Lamar Hunt Trophy for the ninth time in the Brady-Belichick area.
Setting the Tone
The Patriots began this game determined to slow the most-prolific offense in the AFC. They did so by attempting to keep them off of the field as much as possible. They opened with a methodical, eight minute drive that covered 80 yards in 15 plays. Running back Sony Michel rushed for 32 yards and scored from the one-yard line. As they had done just one week earlier against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Pats jumped out to a 7-0 lead.
After holding quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs scoreless on their opening drive, Brady and the Pats looked poised to take e 14-0 lead. Once again, at the one-yard line, Brady dropped back for a third-down pass intended for tight end Rob Gronkowski. However, the pass was short was short and Chiefs defender Reggie Ragland intercepted it in the end zone.
Although the interception stalled the Pats offensive momentum, the defense continued to keep the scales tipped in their favor. When the Chiefs finally notched a big play on Mahomes’ 42-yard completion to wide receiver Tyreek Hill, it went for naught. After overthrowing running back Damien Williams near the end zone, Patriots LB Kyle Van Noy sacked Mahomes for a 14-yard loss, sending Kansas City out of field goal range. For the remainder of the first half, the Patriots kept dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the call.
Prior to the end of the first half, Brady led the Pats 90 yards, connecting in the end zone with wideout Phillip Dorsett. The Pats would take a 14-0 lead into halftime.
The Chiefs wasted little time in lighting the scoreboard early in the second half . On their opening drive of the third quarter, Mahomes threw a 54-yard completion to Sammy Watkins who found separation from New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore. He then connected with tight end Travis Kelce, on a slant touchdown to make it 14-7. After a 47-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal extended the Patriots lead, Mahomes found Williams for a touchdown strike that made the score 17-14.
However, the fireworks were just starting in Kansas City.
In an uncharacteristic twist, wide receiver Julian Edelman appeared to muff a fourth-quarter punt return, which would have given the Chiefs the ball with prime field position. Upon further review, it was determined that Edelman had, indeed, not touched the ball and the call was overturned. However, Edelman definitely touched his next try. Brady’s pass to arguably his most valuable target, deflected off his hands directly to safety Daniel Sorensen. His 22-yard return set up Kansas City at the Patriots 23 yard-line. Once again, Damien Williams, found an open seam down the left sideline for the score. Kansas City had taken the lead 21-17.
However, if history has taught us anything, it would be that a slim lead is never safe if Tom Brady has time left on the clock. Patrick Mahomes was just as effective in that area down the stretch as well. The Patriots quarterback engineered a 75-yard march, capped by a Sony Michel touchdown to make the score 24-21. The Chiefs answered right back with a Williams’ 2-yard run, giving the Chiefs a 28-24 edge. New England continued the volley-for-serve offensive onslaught with a 4-yard touchdown from Rex Burkhead with 0:39 remaining. That would prove to be just enough time for Mahomes to lead the Chiefs into field goal range. Harrison Butker connected on a 39-yarder to sent the AFC Championship game to overtime.
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On to Atlanta
Upon winning the coin toss, the Patriots were determined to keep Mahomes and the Kansas City offense from seeing the field. The drive, during which New England had three third-down conversions, against an exhausted defense was reminiscent of when the Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, also in overtime.
As a result, the New England Patriots are headed back to the Super Bowl. Awaiting them in Atlanta are the Los Angeles Rams, who defeated the New Orleans Saints 26-23 in overtime to capture the NFC championship. The Rams last made the Super Bowl in 2002. The then, St. Louis Rams, fell the the Patriots 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI, in what many consider the birth of the Patriots dynasty.
For New England, they became the third franchise to reach three Super Bowls in a row. Head coach Bill Belichick now has 30 postseason victories, more than Bill Walsh and Don Shula combined. Both Belichick and Brady will seek their sixth Super Bowl Championship with the Patriots on February 3, 2019.
One more victory is needed. As always, it will not be easy. Once again, it will take ‘everything they’ve got.’
-Mike D’Abate is the Managing Editor of Full Press Patriots and is a National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the NFL. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC