AFC Championship Recap

New England Patriots 37
Kansas City Chiefs 31

There are a number of rumors that have travelled with New England this season as they struggled in road games. Some losses were puzzling, like Detroit and Tennessee, while others took a miracle, like Miami. But it doesn’t matter how those rumors and hot takes began to swirl. Because they all became fuel for the fire as New England entered a frigidly cold Arrowhead Stadium to face the Chiefs. There, the Patriots did what they’ve done for so long that it isn’t even considered exciting anymore. They did what it took to win.

The most persistent, and flat-out wrong rumor is that New England doesn’t have a defense.

The thinking was that Mahomes couldn’t be stopped. The Patriots held him to 16/31 passing for under 300 yards and sacked him four times.

The Chiefs were shut out in the first half and ran a total of only sixteen plays, but came back swinging in the second half, capitalizing on some big plays. Tyreek Hill caught a 42-yarder, but never caught another pass. Travis Kelce? Three catches for a total of 23 yards. Sammy Watkins proved his worth in the Chiefs scheme, accounting for over a third of their total offense. Running back Damien Williams would prove more effective as a pass catcher than a rusher but scored three of the Chiefs four TD’s. In short, the Patriots made the Chiefs one dimensional and took away their two biggest playmakers. It’s what they always do. It’s the Bill Belichick modus operandi.

You may have heard some rumors about the New England offense as well.

Tom Brady is too old? He leads all passers in the playoffs with 691 yards in two games. That’s over a hundred more than Patrick Mahomes, in case you were wondering.

The Patriots don’t have a number one receiver? Julian Edelman leads all receivers in the playoffs with 247 yards.

Gronk is a shell of himself? Tell that to the Chiefs secondary, see what they have to say about the matter. His eleven targets and seven catches were his most since the last Super Bowl. Bonus, his abilities as a blocker were on full display as the Pats ran all over a soft Chiefs front that struggled to adjust.

After the Patriots eight-minute long opening touchdown drive, it was clear what their strategy on offense would be. New England would run over, around and through the Chiefs weak run defense. They did so at will, draining the clock of opportunities for the Chiefs young gunslinger and maintaining control of an almost uncontrollable opponent. Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and James White combined for four touchdowns as the Patriots overwhelmed the Chiefs in the ground game, outgaining them 176 yards to 41. New England’s clock control strategy worked to perfection, as they held the ball for over forty-three minutes.

As the Chiefs frantically clawed their way back into the game late in the fourth quarter, there was the sense that maybe, just maybe, the youngster could will his team past the juggernaut.

He did everything he could, going touchdown for touchdown with the greatest of all-time, then managing a thirty-second field goal drive to force overtime.

What happened next was simply inevitable. The Patriots won the toss, and the young gunslinger watched the man who’s been on top of the game for almost twenty years show why he’s the greatest to ever play the game. Every big pass that needed to be made, Brady made it. Every big third down catch that needed to be made, Gronk and Edelman brought it down. Then, after Brady had made his magic going down the field, Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels left his calling card in the red zone, as if to remind the Chiefs exactly how they had been bested. Three consecutive Rex Burkhead runs right through the teeth of the Chiefs defense for the final seventeen yards and the final six points. You might ask why Burkhead in that moment, instead of rookie back Sony Michel? Easy. Because Rex was fresher. He had carried the ball only twelve times in the game to Michel’s workhorse twenty-nine. No egos needed to be satisfied in that moment. There was just a job that needed doing.

As Burkhead plowed forward, Arrowhead Stadium wasn’t shaking. It was shaken, and it was deathly silent. Seventy-six-thousand or so fans watched in disbelief as the Chiefs fell just short, like so many other AFC contenders who have seemed poised to end the Patriots unfathomable run of excellence. The Chiefs had the MVP, but it wasn’t enough. But here’s the thing. Even if we could say that Patrick Mahomes is, at this moment, a “better quarterback” than Tom Brady (we can’t), that’s not how football works. It never has been. The Patriots have been able to build and sustain the greatest dynasty in the history of professional sports by understanding the game in its entirety. That’s why the Patriots seldom covet superstar free agents, or college prospects with myopic focus on a singular skill. Game plan flexibility is what has consistently made the Patriots so tough to beat, and it’s what has them headed to their absurd ninth Super Bowl in the last eighteen years.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out Tom’s other playoff recaps here

Image Source: USA Today

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