KANSAS CITY, Mo. — They just won’t die.
The Patriots survived a wild back-and-forth game to beat the Chiefs 37-31 in overtime in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. The win puts them in the Super Bowl for the third straight year and fourth time in five years. They will face the Rams in two weeks in Atlanta.
The game ended 4:52 into overtime when Patriots running back Rex Burkhead scored his second touchdown of the game, this one a 2-yard plunge that kept the Patriots dynasty alive for another day.
The Patriots spoke after the game about this one being special because they felt doubted this season. After starting 1-2 and again in December when they lost two games in a row, some questioned whether this was the end of the Patriots’ championship run. Brady was not always Brady. Rob Gronkowski could barely move. The chinks in the armor were showing.
But here we are, getting ready for a ninth Super Bowl with Brady and coach Bill Belichick in starring roles.
“The odds were stacked against us,” Brady said of this season. “It hasn’t been that way for a while. It certainly was this year. We started off so slow.”
On Sunday night, they started off fast and finished faster.
After a fourth quarter that featured four lead changes and a game-tying field goal by the Chiefs with eight seconds left in regulation, the Patriots won the coin toss to start overtime, meaning Brady would have the ball and the Patriots’ fate in his right hand.
“As soon as I saw it was heads, I was like I’ve seen this before,” Patriots captain Devin McCourty said of the coin toss. “I know what happens at the end of this one.”
McCourty said he ran off the field to “get comfy.” He then watched Brady work his magic yet again.
Brady and the Patriots converted on third-and-10 three times in the overtime, twice on throws to Julian Edelman and once to Gronkowski. The final one to Gronkowski moved the ball to the Kansas City 15. Burkhead then gained 10 yards to the 5, and 3 yards to the 2 before scoring the touchdown and sending the Patriots to Super Bowl LIII.
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“I was probably as excited as I’ve been in a long time,” Brady said. “One play here, one play there could have changed everything, but that’s football. I’m just proud of our team.”
Brady finished 30-of-46 for 348 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Gronkowski, who had been written off by many, had six catches for 79 yards. Edelman, who looked like he’d be a goat after a ball went off his hands for an interception in the fourth quarter, came up with the two clutch third-down catches in overtime and finished with seven catches for 79 yards.
The Patriots controlled the ball, running 94 plays to the Chiefs’ 47 and holding the ball for 43 minutes, 59 seconds. Kansas City had it for 20:53. The Patriots had 524 total yards, 176 on the ground as they kept the Chiefs explosive offense off the field.
A tame game became wild in a fourth quarter that featured 38 combined points. The Patriots completely controlled the game early and had a 14-0 lead at halftime. Then, the Chiefs woke up. They scored on their first drive of the second half and early in the fourth quarter to cut the Patriots’ lead to 17-14.
That is when the lead began to see-saw as these two heavyweight offenses traded haymakers, each one feeling like it could be a deciding blow. Instead, the other continued to find a counterpunch and kept the crowd at Arrowhead Stadium on their feet. The final minutes of the game featured a Brady interception off Gronkowski’s hands that was wiped out by an offsides penalty, a muffed fumble that wasn’t and big play after big play.
After watching Brady lead his team down the field to take a 31-28 lead with 39 seconds left in the game, Patrick Mahomes found an answer as he marched the Chiefs into field-goal position with a few beautiful throws, including a 27-yarder to Demarcus Robison that got them to the Patriots 21. From there, Harrison Butker made a 39-yard field goal to tie the game at 31 with eight seconds remaining in regulation.
After a slow start, Mahomes made some electric throws and finished 16-of-31 for 295 yards with three touchdowns. The Patriots did a good job of harassing Mahomes, though, sacking him four times.
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The Chiefs’ fourth-quarter answer came after Brady took his team 65 yards down the field with less than two minutes to play. The drive almost ended when a ball bounced off Gronkowski’s hands and was intercepted by Charvarius Ward. The play was negated by a penalty on Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford for lining up offsides. On the next play, Brady hit Gronkowski for a 25-yard gain to the 4. Burkhead scored from there to give the Patriots a 31-28 lead.
Now, the Patriots are back in the Super Bowl. They are the third team in NFL history to go three straight years, joining the 1971-73 Dolphins and 1990-93 Bills. For Belichick, this is his ninth Super Bowl, something he did not feel like waxing poetic on after the win.
“Right now I’m just happy for our team, happy for our coaching staff, our players, the entire organization for what we accomplished tonight,” Belichick said. “We’ll start getting ready for the Rams. I don’t know about historical comparisons. I’ll leave that to the experts here.”