KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tom Brady may be the uppercase GOAT, but for a while Sunday night, it looked like his friend Julian Edelman would be the lowercase goat — as in the guy who blew the AFC Championship for the Patriots.
Instead, Edelman rallied from a near-mistake in the fourth quarter and a real mistake moments later to make two huge catches in overtime to help send New England to the Super Bowl for the third straight year.
“Julian’s the ultimate competitor,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “From his first playoff game against the Ravens to tonight, Julian gives you everything he’s got on every play all the time. We all make mistakes out there. There are plays we’d like to have back that aren’t perfect but nobody competes harder than Julian does. He puts a lot into it. You know what you’re going to get from him. He’s a very physically and mentally tough football player. He came through with a lot of big plays for us tonight.”
With 8:39 left in the fourth quarter and the Patriots clinging to a 17-14 lead, the Chiefs punted the ball away. Edelman, who is a sure-handed punt returner, let the ball hit the turf but instead of running away from it, he crouched and tried to field it off a hop. The ball took an odd bounce and appeared to hit him. Chiefs receiver Dieter Gehrig picked up the ball and ran into the end zone. The officials ruled Gehrig recovered the muffed punt, but he could not advance it so it would be Kansas City ball at the New England 26.
The play was reviewed, though, and overturned as the officials ruled the ball never hit Edelman. It was difficult to see whether the ball hit Edelman, even in slow motion, but the officials overturned the call.
“I didn’t think I was that close,” Edelman said. “Thank God it took a short hop on me. I don’t play baseball, so I didn’t touch it. It was close, though, I guess.”
Two plays later, Edelman made a mistake that would stick. He let a Brady pass go off his hands and Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen intercepted it, setting up the Chiefs’ go-ahead touchdown.
“It’s part of the game,” Edelman said. “I always preach you’ve got to have a short memory whether it’s good or bad. That was a bad play. I felt awful. But you’ve got to move on. You’ve got to look forward to the next time your number’s called.”
In overtime, Edelman redeemed himself. He made two difficult catches on third-and-10 plays on the game-winning drive. The Chiefs had good coverage on both plays, but Edelman picked up gains of 20 and 15 yards to push the Patriots closer to the win and the Super Bowl.
Edelman missed last year’s big game as he was recovering from a torn ACL. This season, he began the year suspended after failing a PED test.
“I didn’t get to go last year, so this is pretty awesome,” Edelman said. “It’s been a crazy year.”