KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Tom Brady and the New England Patriots did what they’ve done for the better part of two decades.
Make plays when the game is on the line.
The most accomplished quarterback in NFL history led the Patriots downfield in overtime, surgically converting a trio of third-and-10s, and gave Rex Burkhead a chance to score the touchdown that gave New England a 37-31 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game Sunday night.
It was the 12th time in Brady’s postseason career that he engineered a game-winning drive, and this one came in the face of all those critics who claimed the 41-year-old quarterback was nearing the end.
That the Patriots’ dynasty was about to be usurped by the up-and-coming Chiefs.
“He’s been there so many times before it’s like second nature to him,” said Burkhead, who also scored a touchdown in a back-and-forth fourth quarter. “He’s had the pressure, he’s been in those moments before and all your trust and confidence is in him to get the job done, which he did.”
The Patriots led 14-0 at halftime, but watched as Patrick Mahomes and the NFL’s highest-scoring offense roared back to take a 21-17 lead with 7:45 left in the fourth quarter.
Brady and his veteran playmakers got down to business.
He first led a 10-play, 75-yard drive that Sony Michel capped with a 10-yard run on fourth down to retake the lead. Then, after the Chiefs jumped back ahead on Damien Williams’ TD run, Brady led the Pats downfield with a crucial third down completion to Rob Gronkowski to set up Burkhead’s score.
The Chiefs managed to get the field goal they needed to force overtime, but the Patriots won the coin toss and defensive lineman Trey Flowers knew that the game was all but over.
“I mean, I was ready to go out there if we had to,” Flowers said with a grin, “but you know, (Brady) put it away for us. It’s just a blessing.”
Now the Patriots (13-5) are off to Atlanta to face the Los Angeles Rams, who survived their own overtime thriller in New Orleans thanks in part to a blown call by the officials.
“I can’t say enough about the effort that our players gave today, and the coaching staff, just an awesome job by all of them,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “They deserve it, and they earned it.”
As for the Chiefs? Well, another postseason begins in heartache.
Mahomes capped a masterful first year as the starter with a dazzling second half, throwing three touchdown passes and leading his team back time after time. But he rued a slow start that put the Chiefs in a 14-0 halftime hole, and an overtime in which he never got a chance with the ball.
“I thought if we got the chance we’d score,” he said.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid likewise lamented an opportunity to scribble over a series of postseason letdowns on his own resume. His defense, which had struggled all season, crumbled down the stretch, and a team that won its third straight AFC West title was left trying to get over the hump.
“This gave us a little of what we have looking forward to us in the future, and that’s where we’ll go when we’re done aching here,” Reid said,” and it’s a bright future. We have great players. And we’ll get over the hump here, the big hump, that’s this game here.”
As the Pats prepare for Atlanta and the Chiefs prepare for the draft, here are some key takeaways from a wild AFC championship game, the first ever played at Arrowhead Stadium:
WEAK WALL: The Chiefs’ defense allowed the Patriots to pile up 524 yards in 94 plays, going 13 of 19 on third down and 4 of 5 in the red zone. New England also possessed the ball for 43 minutes, 59 seconds, all while keeping Brady from getting sacked once.
RUNNING WILD: The Patriots dominated one of the NFL’s worst rush defenses, piling up 176 yards on the ground. Sony Michel led the way with 113 yards and two touchdowns, while Burkhead added 41 yards and two more scores.” We went out there and just executed our game plan. Guys did their jobs and it helped us drive the ball down the field,” Michel said. “That’s what we needed.”
COIN TOSSES: Reid’s decision to defer after winning the opening coin toss proved unwise as the Patriots marched downfield and chewed up most of the opening period. Then, the Chiefs lost an even more important toss before overtime, effectively ending their season.
WHAT ROAD: The Patriots were just 3-5 on the road in the regular season, and they hadn’t won a road playoff game since 2006. Meanwhile, the Chiefs had lost just once at Arrowhead Stadium all season, and that came when they blew a late lead to the Los Angeles Chargers.
PLAYOFF NUMBERS: The Patriots improved to 11-4 in AFC championship games, while the Chiefs are still seeking their first trip to the Super Bowl since January 1970. “You have to take in the hurt. You have to accept the hurt. It’s supposed to hurt,” Mahomes said. “You’re doing everything you can to get to the Super Bowl and you fall short, it’s going to hurt.”