While the AFC Championship was won in overtime, much of the real drama of the Patriots’ win over Chiefs occurred in the fourth quarter. Four lead changes, multiple drives with under two minutes remaining, and 38 of the game’s 68 points were scored in the fourth.
Officiating also played a significant role, as challenge flags were thrown and turnovers were reviewed. Crucial penalties on both sides negated what could’ve been decisive plays, prolonging the struggle.
The Patriots eventually won, 37-31, advancing to their third Super Bowl in a row. The crux of the road win over the Chiefs was engineered in a frantic fourth quarter.
On the very first play of the fourth, officials penalized Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson for pass interference on Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, moving the Chiefs from the 14-yard line down to the goal-line. Patrick Mahomes fired a touchdown pass on the next play.
New England — still leading 17-14 — took more than five minutes off the clock on the ensuing drive, traveling 51 yards on nine plays. However, it ground to a halt when Rex Burkhead was stopped on 4th and 1.
The Patriots defense responded by forcing a three-and-out from Mahomes and the Chiefs. With 8:47 remaining — and the Patriots still up 17-14 — Kansas City punter Dennis Colquitt booted the ball from his own 27-yard line.
The result appeared to be disastrous for the Patriots, as Julian Edelman seemed to have touched the ball when it bounced near him, meaning it was a live football. The Chiefs recovered and looked to have caught a major break.
However, officials reviewed the call (as it was deemed a turnover on the field). On the CBS broadcast, analyst Tony Romo could be heard reacting as many fans did at home. What initially looked like an obvious call – that Edelman had in fact touched the ball – was anything but on the replay.
Eventually, the call was overturned as Edelman was judged to have (miraculously) never touched the ball, and the Patriots retained possession.
But again, the game shifted directions. Two plays after the overturned fumble on the punt, Brady’s pass tipped off Edelman’s fingers and was intercepted by the Chiefs.
Kansas City, which had been momentarily deprived of a turnover, now had the ball back. Still, Bill Belichick wasn’t done tormenting the Chiefs with officiating decisions. The Patriots immediately challenged what was initially ruled a Sammy Watkins catch for seven yards. After review, it was ruled to be an incomplete pass.
On the next play, however, Kansas City made no mistake. A well-designed screen play to running back Damien Williams took the Chiefs into the end zone, and it also gave them the lead (21-17).
With 7:45 remaining, and trailing for the first time in the game, the Patriots responded with an emphatic 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
The Patriots benefitted from a phantom roughing the passer call against Brady on 2nd and 7 on the New England 28-yard line.
Later, on 3rd and 8 near midfield, Chris Hogan made a tremendous catch that became the next reviewed play.
Hogan’s one-handed grab withstood the officials’ review.
After moving into Chiefs’ territory thanks to a string of catches and runs from Burkhead (as well as a timely Rob Gronkowski reception), the Patriots faced a pivotal 4th and 1 at the Chiefs’ 10-yard line.
Since New England’s last drive was stopped in similar circumstances, the Patriots went to rookie running back Sony Michel, who produced a different result. The 23-year-old running back split the Chiefs’ line and scampered in untouched for a go-ahead touchdown.
With a 24-21 lead and 3:32 remaining in the game, the Patriots now tried to force a mistake out of the Chiefs and end the game. Two plays later, it momentarily appeared that they had.
After catching a short pass from Mahomes, it looked like Kelce fumbled the ball and that Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower had recovered it at the Chiefs’ 28-yard line. Yet the play was called back because of a pass interference call against Jackson and the Patriots.
Jackson committed pass interference again two plays later, allowing the Chiefs to move into Patriots’ territory. And on 2nd and 10 at the Patriots’ 40-yard line, Mahomes completed a 38-yard pass to Watkins. The Patriots – most notably Bill Belichick – protested that it had been offensive pass interference, but the play stood.
Williams carried it in for the Chiefs on the next play, giving Kansas City a 28-24 lead with 2:03 remaining.
Taking the ball back, it was again Brady’s turn to answer. Two quick completions to Edelman and Hogan moved New England past midfield. Another pass to Hogan was reviewed and – this time – overturned against the Patriots. This meant instead of it being first down, it was now 3rd and 10.
On the pivotal play, Brady threw in Gronkowski’s direction, but the pass tipped off of the tight end’s hands and was intercepted by Chiefs defensive back Charvarius Ward. It appeared to be a near season-ending turnover. But again, as the Chiefs were saved by Jackson’s penalty, the Patriots were saved by Kansas City defensive end Dee Ford lining up offside.
Ford’s penalty wiped out the interception in what proved to be yet another game-changing moment.
Brady’s next pass went again to Gronkowski, this time producing a different result.
The completion put New England inside the five-yard line. Burkhead’s run gave the Patriots another lead one play later, 31-28.
Mahomes, remarkably, still managed to work the Chiefs into field-goal range despite having only 39 seconds left in the game. From there, Harrison Butker drilled the field goal to send the AFC Championship into overtime for the first time since 1987.
The overtime period – in which the Patriots won the toss and immediately took the ball – proved notable for its third-down conversions. Although Brady was just 4-9 in the period, he was 3 for 3 on third downs, including both of Edelman’s catches in overtime.
Another Burkhead rushing touchdown capped a dramatic AFC Championship win for the Patriots. It marked the third time in the Brady-Belichick era that a Patriots playoff game went to overtime. Each time, New England has won the toss and ended the game before its opponent could even touch the ball.