EditorsNote: Overhauls with quotes, more details
The best move made Sunday by the New England Patriots may have been calling heads.
The visiting Patriots won the coin toss to begin overtime, then marched 75 yards in 13 plays for Rex Burkhead’s 2-yard rushing touchdown, which kept the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense from having a chance as New England prevailed 37-31.
New England advances to face the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII in two weeks at Atlanta, after the Rams survived an overtime thriller against the New Orleans Saints earlier Sunday for the NFC crown.
Quarterback Tom Brady, coupled with coach Bill Belichick, executed a ninth AFC title for New England, and the pair will have a chance at their sixth Super Bowl title. The Patriots are the third team in history — joining the Miami Dolphins (VI-VIII) and Buffalo Bills (XXV-XXVIII) — to reach three consecutive Super Bowls.
Brady passed for 348 yards, going 30 of 46 with one touchdown, and overcame two interceptions.
“Happy we won the (overtime) toss,’’ Brady said. “We got it and we took it down the field and scored. What a game.’’
Indeed, it was. The teams combined for a whopping 38 fourth-quarter points, including 24 by the host Chiefs as they forged a 31-31 tie at the end of regulation while seeking an improbable comeback after trailing 14-0 at halftime.
First-year starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes passed for 295 yards, going 16 of 31, but the withered Kansas City defense could not give him an opportunity in overtime.
Taking possession with 32 seconds left in regulation, Mahomes completed passes of 21 yards to Spencer Ware and 27 yards to Demarcus Robinson to set up Harrison Butker for a 39-yard field goal with eight seconds left to forge a 31-31 tie to force overtime.
Then the Patriots won the overtime coin flip, and Brady consulted with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
“I looked at Josh and said, ‘You got any touchdown plays still on that call sheet? He said, ‘Yes, we do,’” Brady recounted.
New England converted three third downs in overtime on completions of 20, 15 and 15 yards, the first two to Julian Edelman and the third to Rob Gronkowski. For the game, the Patriots were 13 of 19 on third down and amassed 524 yards and 36 first downs.
“These guys just competed and competed,’’ Belichick said. “We said 60 minutes, but what did it take? Seventy?’’
Before Mahomes’ late drive, Brady actually appeared to have won the game with one of his patented late-game drives.
He got a break when an interception was wiped away because Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford lined up in the neutral zone and was ruled offsides. A 25-yard strike to Gronkowski on the next play set up a 4-yard touchdown rush by Burkhead with 39 seconds left in regulation for a 31-28 lead.
Burkhead finished with 12 carries for 41 yards and two scores, while rookie Sony Michel added 113 yards on 29 carries, including two touchdowns. Edelman led the New England receivers with 96 yards on seven grabs.
Sammy Watkins caught four passes for 114 yards to lead the Chiefs’ receivers. Running back Damien Williams scored three touchdowns, two off receptions and one off a rush, as he added 96 yards from scrimmage.
“It was back and forth and we had opportunities,’’ Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We’ll figure out a way to take advantage of those down the road. You’re sitting here thinking it was a pretty good year, but it’s going to hurt here for a little bit.’’
The AFC Championship appearance was the first ever at home for Kansas City, which participated in Super Bowl I and won Super Bowl IV, both of which were played before the AFL-NFL merger.
“We wanted to bring the Hunt Trophy home,’’ Reid said of the hardware awarded to the AFC champion. “We’re going to get that son of a gun. We’re going to have to bear down this offseason.’’
The Patriots took a 14-0 halftime lead, beginning with a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on the first possession. The march, which began after the Chiefs won the coin toss and deferred, took 8:05, the most time-consuming playoff drive ever engineered by Brady. Michel scored on a 1-yard plunge.
New England, which outgained Kansas City 245-32 in the half and held a 16-3 advantage in first downs, was again at the Chiefs 1 on its second possession. Linebacker Reggie Ragland, however, intercepted a pass in the end zone, ending a playoff-record streak of 237 pass attempts without an interception by Brady.
The Chiefs blew an opportunity to score midway through the second quarter. Mahomes connected with Tyreek Hill for a 42-yard strike to the New England 23. On the next play, Williams broke wide open on a wheel route, but Mahomes overthrew him. Field-goal range was squandered when Mahomes was sacked for a 14-yard loss by Trey Flowers.
Phillip Dorsett tacked on a 29-yard TD snag with 27 seconds left in the half to cap a 90-yard drive by the Pats. Brady went in at the break with 146 yards passing, while Michel had 75 rushing.
It was the second time in history the AFC Championship Game went to overtime, joining the Denver Broncos’ victory over the Cleveland Browns in January 1987. Never before had both conference championship games gone to overtime in the same year.
—Field Level Media