KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Hop on the midnight train to Georgia. Or drive a double-wide down 95 South. Or fly Delta. Just get yourself to Atlanta. The Patriots are going back to the Super Bowl.
Dissed and dismissed as old and vulnerable for a good part of their uneven season (a 3-5 road record, really?), the Patriots orchestrated yet another death-defying comeback and beat the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs, 37-31, in overtime at frozen Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, advancing to the Super Bowl for the ninth time in the 18-year partnership of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
The Pats dominated this one early, then watched the pinball-scoring Chiefs come back on the arm of second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The final quarter was festooned with penalty flags, official reviews from New York (Walt Coleman and fanboy judge Richard Berman weighing in), and comeback drives by Brady and Mahomes. There were five fourth-quarter lead changes, and the Patriots and Chiefs both scored twice in the final 3:32 of regulation.
“We’ve overcome a lot this year,’’ said Brady. “Down, but not out. That’s probably as excited as I’ve been in a long time. The odds were stacked against us.’’
New England won it when Rex Burkhead ran across the goal line from the 2-yard line in the fifth minute of overtime. Brady converted three third-and-10s in the final drive, finding Julian Edelman twice and Rob Gronkowski once. The battering Burkhead did the rest. The stunned Chiefs never touched the ball in overtime, just as the Raiders never got the ball in OT of the Tuck Rule game when all this started.
When the Patriots play the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII Feb. 3, it will be the 17th anniversary of the underdog Pats stunning the Rams, 20-17, in Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans. This means if you had a child who turned 2 in February 2002, that child today would be a freshman in college, watching the same coach and the same quarterback playing against the same franchise on the same date in Atlanta next month.
It is the Super Bowl Circle of Life, also known as the Patriot Way in the 21st century National Football League.
There’s more, people. The 2018-19 Patriots in Atlanta will represent the latest local masterpiece in New England’s new-millennium sports high renaissance. The Patriots have a chance to win their sixth Super Bowl (which would tie them with the Steelers for tops in NFL history) and bring our region its 12th championship of the Duck Boat Century.
For three quarters, the AFC Championship game was a tour de force for Belichick and his staff of masterminds. The Patriots were 3-point underdogs, attempting to win a road playoff game for the first time in 12 years — and they made it look easy.
The well-washed, polite innocents of Kansas City never knew what hit them. Folks were friendly and confident as they partied in the endless acres of parking lots throughout Sunday afternoon. This was the biggest game in the 47-year history of the stadium. And the Chiefs and their fans actually thought they were going to win. With highlight-reel kid quarterback Mahomes and the top-scoring offense in the NFL, the Chiefs were favorites to get to their first Super Bowl since Hank Stram and Len Dawson ruled the football world in 1970.
The Patriots dominated the first half in every aspect and led, 14-0, at intermission.
Kansas City won the pregame coin toss but opted to give the Patriots the ball, and that proved costly. Directing a smash-mouth attack, Brady marched the Patriots 80 yards on a whopping 15 plays and consumed more than eight minutes of clock. Sony Michel’s 1-yard TD run — New England’s 10th run of the series — gave the Pats a 7-0 lead.
It would be hard to overstate the Patriots’ dominance in the first 15 minutes. New England amassed 119 yards, while the Chiefs, the top offense in the NFL, went for minus-11 yards. The Patriots ran 24 plays to Kansas City’s four. New England had 10 first downs, KC had one, and that was via penalty.
Despite this dominance, the score remained close, largely due to one of the worst gaffes of Brady’s illustrious playoff career. With New England ready to take a 14-0 lead in the first minutes of the second quarter, Brady got silly on a third-and-1 from the 1 and threw a pass into the end zone (intended for Gronk) that was picked off by Chiefs linebacker Reggie Ragland.
This was a true head-scratcher, something like what Pete Carroll tried to do to the Patriots at the end of Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Ariz. The Pats were dominating the Chiefs on the ground, yet tried a risky pass play from the 1-yard line. And it cost them 7 points in a surprisingly low-scoring game.
Before halftime, Brady drove the Pats 90 yards in eight plays over 2:41, capping the drive with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett.
It was hard for the Chiefs fans to watch. The Chiefs were not shut out in any half of any game this season. It was a great advertisement for Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores, who is expected to be named head coach of the Miami Dolphins when this season finally ends.
The Chiefs got on the board quickly after intermission as Mahomes found tight end Travis Kelce in the end zone to cut New England’s lead to 14-7.
The Patriots led, 17-7 at the start of the fourth, then came the late-game chaos.
We had penalties, reviews, and a bunch of scores. We had five lead changes.
Fortunately, Brady and Belichick were never rattled.
Down, 28-24, with two minutes left, Brady took the Patriots 65 yards in six plays over 1:24.
“There’s no one I’d rather have in a two-minute drive than No. 12 and he just proved it again,’’ said Edelman.
To their credit, Mahomes and the Chiefs did not quit and forced overtime with a field goal in the closing seconds.
But nobody beats the Patriots in the playoffs in overtime.
They are AFC champs for the ninth time in the Belichick-Brady reign.
They are Super Bowl bound.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org