In true championship fashion, the New England Patriots defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime by a score of 37-31 to secure their third straight trip to the Super Bowl.
Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick knew what had to be done to secure the victory — keep Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes off of the field.
In order to keep the sophomore gunslinger, who threw for 50 touchdowns in his first full season as a starter, on the bench, New England would have to establish a run game. Not only would that burn the clock, but it would ease up the pass rush on quarterback Tom Brady.
Just like last week’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Patriots were hot from the get-go. Tom Brady and running back Sony Michel were all business on the first drive of the game as the Patriots capitalized on a Michel touchdown run. Overall, it was a near flawless drive that consisted of 15 plays, spanned 80 yards, and took over eight minutes off the clock.
While the Patriots started off hot, they had to play perfectly to keep Mahomes and the potent Kansas City offense in check — and perfection was certainly not the word to describe the half. On their second drive of the game, the Pats were able to move the ball down to the Chiefs’ one-yard line.
Facing a third-down and one, Brady ducked back in the pocket after a convincing play-action fake to Michel and fired an errant pass targeting Rob Gronkowski into a sea of red. Chiefs linebacker Reggie Ragland was the defender who picked off the pass and smartly downed the ball in the end zone.
Uncharacteristic mistakes like that aforementioned incident can be killer in the postseason, especially against a volatile offense like Kansas City. New England dominated the first half, ending the second quarter leading 14-0.
The Chiefs displayed an offensive revival in the second half, scoring a touchdown just over two minutes into the third quarter. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce made a great catch for the score, but the highlight of the drive was a 54-yard bomb from Mahomes to receiver Sammy Watkins. The AFC Championship game only picked up from that point.
While both quarterbacks played spectacular games, it was clear to see that Brady was the better quarterback that day. It may have been that he has miles more game (and playoff) experience compared to the second year pro, or it could have been the frigid temperatures that he thrives in. Regardless, Brady displayed a better sense of all aspects of playing throughout the game.
On the first possession for the Chiefs, Mahomes was faced with a third and 10; when the pocket collapsed, he should have tried to throw the ball away. Instead, the young passer tried to rely on his athleticism and took a 14-yard sack.
Mahomes made the same mistake again late in the first half, taking another 14-yard sack that ended up knocking the Chiefs out of field goal range. Brady, on the other hand, was rarely touched, and not sacked once.
He was, however, gifted an absurd roughing the passer call in the second half that could have been a sack by Chiefs’ defensive tackle Chris Jones. The Patriot offensive line, especially the interior consisting of left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews, and right guard Shaq Mason, did an excellent job of neutralizing Jones, who is one of the most disruptive inside rushers in the league.
Credit has to be given to the tackles as well, who protected Brady from Chiefs outside linebacker Dee Ford.
Both quarterbacks performed amazingly under pressure, as each gunslinger orchestrated drives in the final two minutes to get their respective team points. Once again, the nod of the hat has to be given to Brady.
In no way is this a slight to Mahomes, who has been wonderful this year—Brady was simply given an extra opportunity as the Patriots won the coin toss in overtime.
While the ageless wonder was four for nine passing in overtime, he was three for three on third down, making the clutch throws when it mattered. New England was able to secure a win at Arrowhead Stadium, and they should be prepared to do so again in the future—this Kansas City team is special and will be competing for the AFC for the foreseeable future.
As preparation for the Chiefs’ lightning-fast offense, Belichick sought after speed. That led to the surprise active designation for defensive back Obi Melifonwu and equal shocker of an inactive designation for defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr.
The defensive unit looked amazing in the first half, both in coverage and with pressuring Mahomes. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy was outstanding, as he led the team in tackles and had multiple drive ending sacks.
All-Pro Stephon Gilmore was amazing as usual—it was definitely a team effort, but the entire secondary contained Chiefs’ receiver Tyreek Hill, limiting him to one catch for 42 yards.
Late in the fourth quarter, Gilmore jammed the ball out of Kelce’s hands, only to have linebacker Don’t’a Hightower jump on it. Unfortunately, a defensive holding by J.C. Jackson negated the play. Still, the defense proved that they were prepared to make a play on what was the biggest drive of the game to that point.
While the special teams and offense had their flaws, the defense was stalwart throughout the game. They did allow 31 points and gave up multiple foolish defensive pass interferences. Still, they exhibited a bend-not-break mentality and gave Tom Brady and the offense the opportunity to do what they do best throughout the entire game.
The success this defense has seen can certainly be attributed to Belichick and defensive signal-caller Brian Flores. Having a leader such as Hightower on the field does wonders for this team.
Veteran presences in the secondary from safety Devin McCourty and Gilmore only help the front seven even more. By quelling this juggernaut Kansas City offense, the Patriots’ defense proved that they can go against the best and come away victorious.
After a walk-off victory, members of the Patriots were ecstatic. Cornerback Jason McCourty, brother of safety Devin, is in his first year with the Patriots. He was quoted saying “I’m going to the Super Bowl…and I’m not a guest of Dev’s!”
Although this is the third straight trip to the Super Bowl for Brady, and ninth overall, he had the perfect answer when asked how it felt to be returning to the big game: “Un-f***ing-believable, bro.”