After over three hours of feeling my heart tumbling around in my chest like a UCLA gymnast, the Patriots put an end to the tension with a Rex Burkhead touchdown in overtime, sending Arrowhead Stadium fans home to contemplate the end of their season and whether or not they should continuing embracing the tomahawk chop in 2019.
Maybe the fans’ and players’ emotions after this 37-31 work of football performance art could best be summarized by the body language of defensive back Charvarius Ward, who, after tackling Julian Edelman on the receiver’s second straight third-and-long conversion in overtime, sat on the ground and put his hands up in the air. A real “what are we supposed to do?” gesture. Quarterback/Legend Tom Brady continued his hot third-down streak with a slingshot pass to slanting tight end Rob Gronkowski for 15 yards to set up the visitors on their hosts’ 15-yard line. Three runs later, Burkhead burst into the end zone, capping off the 13-play overtime drive and sending New England into delighted mayhem.
As far as roller coasters go, this game made Kingda Ka look like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. You want to watch an exciting NFL contest? It’ll take you a little over seven minutes of game time (which, for fans, translated to multiple lifetimes).
Chiefs score on a Damian Williams run for two yards, 2:06 left. Too much time for Brady?
Yup. Brady floats a maple seed to Gronkowski along the left sideline for 25 yards. Burkhead rushes the final four yards for a 31-28 lead with 0:38 left. Too much time for Patrick Mahomes?
Yessir. Mahomes moves 48 yards in two plays, missing his one shot at the end zone but setting up a game-tying field goal with 0:11 remaining in regulation.
The fourth quarter featured 38 points, with KC outscoring NE 24-14. For comparison, the Saints beat the Eagles in the divisional round, 20-14. Then came OT, which included three (three!) successive third-and-10 conversions.
My God, what a game. We’ll get to the numbers below, but my favorite stat involves Brady, who is heading to his ninth Super Bowl in 17 years as a starter. That means that Brady plays in the final game of the season more often than he doesn’t. My second favorite stat? Super Bowl 53 will be Brady’s 40th playoff game, an extra 2.5 seasons. Cuckoobananas. Such a batguano-crazy game that we’ve all forgotten some overlooked plays which I shall remind us of below.
Greatest Of All Tom: Brady completed 30 of 46 passes for 348 yards and a touchdown, a lovely, 29-yard archer shot to Phillip Dorsett in the end zone that gave New England a 14-0 lead at the half. (Ah, the first half. Those were quieter times, my friends.) You’re going to read a lot about Brady’s fourth-quarter and overtime throws, so I’ll add an overlooked play.
(Let’s make it official…)
Overlooked Play: In OT, on second and 10 at their own 35, Kansas City pass rusher Justin Houston crashed down on Brady in the pocket, but the QB slid forward to elude the sack and threw the ball toward Edelman for an incompletion. If Brady takes the sack there, we’re talking third down and 17, upping the difficulty factor. Punting to the Chiefs would have spelled the end.
We all focus on the big things, but it’s the details that matter, and Brady knows them as well as anyone. Whether it’s Gronk or Jermaine Wiggins, Dorsett or DavidPatten, Edelman or Deion Branch, Brady knows how to move the ball down the field during those times when most people start looking for a fainting couch. Another playoff win, another Super Bowl. Ridiculous, really. (Full overtime video here on YouTube, at least until the league finds out.)
Overlooked Play: Speaking of details, this is a small-yet-crucial part of a play we all remember. If you view the highlight of Brady’s TD pass, you’ll see running back James White slide to his left to block a blitzing defender, giving Brady time. Clutch players need clutch teammates.
Must Be Something You Eight: Not to downplay this epic ending, but I daresay the Patriots won this game on their first possession. (Ha. Just got to use “daresay” in a sentence.) Their opening 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive took 8:05 off the clock and set the tone for the entire first half, where New England had 42 offensive plays compared to KC’s 16, 245 yards compared to 32, and 16 first downs vs. three. The Patriots gained five first downs on their starting drive, as the halfback hydra of Sony Michel, Burkhead, and White all participated. Michel rushed for 28 yards on that drive, including an 11-yarder to set up his one-yard slam into the end zone. White snaked his way through tacklers to convert two third downs. Burkhead ran once and caught one pass.
The Chiefs adjusted in the second half to address their running defense woes. Because of that, no Patriot averaged more than four yards per carry (Michel came the closest: 29 rushes for 113 yards and a 3.9 avg., with two TDs). But from the top, the Patriots quieted the crowd, established dominance on the ground, and most importantly kept Mahomes on the sideline for over half of the quarter.
Overlooked Play: Receiver Chris Hogan made a remarkable catch on third and eight with 6:24 left in regulation to keep a drive going. Stabbed that ball like a heron on a crab.
Front And Center: Kudos galore to the offensive line, especially center David Andrews, for keeping on the same page in a noisy environment. Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Marcus Cannon helped New England rush for 176 yards on Sunday, with enough effectiveness to keep the clock going and maintain possession. This resulted in an astounding 97 offensive plays on the day, taking up almost 44 minutes out of a possible 65. The Patriots also converted on 68 percent of their third downs, allowing zero sacks vs. the most productive sack combo in the NFL. Not a single false start penalty in that after-hours rave of sound? Crazy strong day up front.
Gronking Pains: I can’t tell how much pain Gronk is in right now. It’s January. It’s below freezing. He’s had various ailments throughout the year. But by God, when those lights come on, the man knows how to deliver. Six catches for 79 yards, most of those with safety Eric Berry clinging to him like a baby possum on its mom. His final catch – the aforementioned 15-yard slant – demonstrated his potential dominance. He got inside Berry with a quick release and shoulder turn, making it impossible to maneuver around his 6-6, 265-pound frame. Brady hit him in the chest for the first (again: on third and 10), bringing the mood at Arrowhead lower than the frozen turf.
And his blocking? Goodness. Check out the big fella on Michel’s second TD, where he blocks Houston to the point where the linebacker gives up. Watch Gronk during Burkhead’s game winner and tell me 285-pound linebacker Breeland Speaks has a chance to get past him in time to make a stop. Such a great all-around tight end.
Really nice compilation of highlight catches by Gronk and Edelman here.
Oh, Edelman? Well, then.
Jules Of Denial: He didn’t touch the punt, okay? Crazy day for Edelman, who had some iffy plays (near-muffed punt, tipped pass for INT) but overall helped bring home the trophy with seven receptions for 96 yards, four of those coming on third-down conversions. Edelman managed to get open in the clutch, though Brady deserves credit for fitting the football into windows about the size of a coffee can. Such an important guy to have on the team, and, as CBS Sports Boston’s Rich Hurley has advocated, a Hall of Fame candidate due to his second-to-one postseason stats (most playoff receptions behind Jerry Rice).
Overlooked Play: Returner Cordarrelle Patterson brought the ball back 38 yards to set up New England’s leading TD at the end of the fourth.
Oy, Van Noy: Time for some defense. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy headed a plucky, resilient D that did the unthinkable, shutting out Kansas City at home for the first half. We all knew the final score wouldn’t be 14-0, but the fact that New England had that cushion made their falling behind less injurious. Van Noy helped stalemate the Chiefs with 10 total tackles, two sacks (including a strip-sack to end the half), and a tackle for loss. With batterymates Dont’a Hightower (two stops) and Elandon Roberts (three) each notching a tackle for loss, Van Noy led a linebacker crew that helped hold the Chiefs to 41 yards rushing on the day.
Yes, the game turned into a shootout so wild it made John Wick nervous. Still, the Pats wouldn’t have stood a chance without the effectiveness of Van Noy.
That strip sack could qualify as an overlooked play. Speaking of which…
Overlooked Play: D-lineman Trey Flowers’ sack with under four minutes left in the second quarter took the Chiefs out of field goal range and helped keep them off the scoreboard. It was only 7-0 at the time.
Crossen Receivers Off The List: KC receiver/human electron Tyreek HIll is so fast and scary that if you named a horror movie after him, I would never see it. Like, I’d hide my eyes during the preview. At his college pro day, the West Alabama alum ran a 4.29 40-yard dash, which is only slightly slower than red light in a prism. Patriots cornerbacks Jonathan Jones and Keith Crossen each ran a 4.33. Coach Bill Belichick decided to match speed on speed, putting the young corners up against Hill with safety help on top. The result? One reception out of three targets, for 42 yards. On a guy who scored 12 TDs this season while averaging over five receptions and 92 yards per game, not bad at all. Good, even.
Also worth a mention or two: Stephon Gilmore, New England’s Pro Bowl corner, who covered receiver Sammy Watkins and got switched to Travis Kelce late and helped limit the tight end to three catches for 23 yards.
Welcome To Mahomes: Wanna know how amazing Mahomes was? While the Patriots limited him to a 52 percent completion rate (16 of 31) and held his best receivers (Hill and Kelce) to paltry outputs, he still led his team to two fourth-quarter TDs to take leads, plus a field goal to tie it at the end of regulation. Mahomes passed for 295 yards and three touchdowns, seeming to get a handle on New England’s defense late for a second-half scoring barrage. If he can maintain this level of play for 10 more years, we have to have a Hall of Famer on our hands, right?
Mahome’s quest for a Super Bowl berth, much like Coach Andy Reid’s consideration of calling a timeout to give his defense a rest, came up short on Sunday. For Mahomes, this game wraps up the first chapter of a compelling saga that will take years to write.
The Art Of Romo: CBS did great work in this game, with color commentator Tony Romo killing it throughout, especially in overtime. On numerous occasions Romo predicted the play, as when Gronk split out wide and – depending on whether or not the safety dropped (he did) – Romo said Brady would look to the big tight end (slant pass for a first down). Even on the game’s final play, Romo mentioned the possibility of a play-action pass but, no, “you run it here.” Some other Romo notes worth a mention:
• A solid observation after New England’s defensive holding penalty during Kansas City’s first possession: that the Patriots were willing to give up penalties to prevent big plays.
• After Brady’s interception in the end zone, Romo said that when you sell that play-action out of a tight formation, you really can’t see those linebackers. Makes sense of what looks like a senseless play from the bleachers.
• On Watkins’ catch and run down to the two-yard line: “Well, this is a pick play, and I’m telling you right here, there is no call on it… You see right there, (Chris) Conley runs right into the defender (JC Jackson) guarding Watkins… No penalty. Huge play.”
• Romo called the first third-and-10 conversion to Edelman, noting, “Gotta block the front. Gronk’s not outside. You gotta chip with him (Cordarrelle Patterson), chip with him (White), and throw it to Edelman over the middle of the field.” (Edelman for 20.) On the second third-and-10 conversion: “Once again, Edelman in the middle of the field.”
• Romo also made the call on Gronk’s 25-yard conversion, asking viewers to “keep an eye on the top of the screen.” Impressive, on-time analysis, and fun to listen to as he read the formation and talked his way through the potential plays. I would have thoroughly enjoyed this game if I hadn’t spent it with my heart trying to escape through my throat.
• Nice combo with Nantz before the final play, with Nantz referring to the exhausted defense and asking Romo, “Would you take a timeout, maybe, just on Kansas City’s side, just to…?” Romo responded, “Exactly, Jim. That’s a great call.” Reid held onto his timeouts, Burkhead held onto the ball, Pats win.
Not saying calling time there would have won the game for the Chiefs. Just noting that it couldn’t have hurt.
Great graphic by CBS (among the many informative ones) near the end of the first half: White had six touches and six first downs.
And now, a couple of nitpicks. CBS said the first third down conversion in OT was 3rd and 9, but the NFL now says 3rd and 10. Burkhead gained about a half-yard on first down, which was estimated differently by both parties, I assume. The next one’s just a personal thing, but when Nantz said in the second quarter that a) the Chiefs hadn’t been past their own 30, and b) Hill had zero catches, we all knew both would happen on that drive. And I’m not even superstitious.
Replays I Would Like To See: Never got a good look at the Kelce fumble because it didn’t matter due to New England penalties, but would have liked to see how they got the ball out of his hands. Also, on the much-discussed roughing-the-passer call that benefited the Patriots at 7:05 of the fourth quarter, Edelman fought through a lot of contact on the pass attempt. Not sure if it should have been called pass interference or not, because the replay focused on Brady getting his facemask wiped, not downfield. Similarly, Dorsett protested on a first-and-10 incompletion with 1:15 left in regulation. Might have been a hold, but again, the cameras focused on Brady’s movement in the pocket.
That’s it. Strong day from CBS overall. Looking forward to what they’ve got cooking for the big game.
Who’s Got Room For PI? I always find it interesting when a network promotes shows on its game broadcasts, as CBS did for “Magnum, P.I.” Often, these shows need a boost, which makes me wonder: what other shows have gotten special attention from CBS over the years?
Note: Apparently, it worked. “Magnum, P.I.” came on after the AFC Championship and garnered its highest ratings of the season.
Fun story here from John Madden about how Pat Summerall would read CBS promos. “Murder … She Wrote!”
It’s Just The Same Old Show On My Radio: But he had to go. Listened to Boston sports radio for two minutes, enough time to hear the hosts refute that the Eagles lined up in an illegal formation before their fourth-down conversion last year. Fun. The next caller noted he had a friend who worked in the FBI who said Rams (and former Patriots) cornerback Aqib Talib is a gun-runner for NFL players. Awesome. Had to turn it off. Gathered myself. Went back to listen, just in time to hear a clip of Bob Socci’s radio call for Edelman’s non-muffed punt.
Let’s focus on that last one. You have access to hours – hours! – of audio. Brady completed 30 passes. The team notched four sacks, stonewalled the Chiefs on two third-and-short runs, gained three dozen first downs, and scored five touchdowns, the final three of which got them leads in the fourth quarter and overtime. Seems like plenty to pore through, there, before broadcasting a play that turned into an immediate non-factor when KC got an interception.
Put it this way: had the Chiefs won, I can’t see a Kansas City radio station broadcasting audio clips of Van Noy’s sack. I bet they would actually try to enjoy themselves. And if you’re thinking, “The Patriots aren’t perfect!” I completely agree. It’s just that, on the day after one of the most scintillating AFC Championship games ever, maybe dwell on the positive before looking at the negative. We’ve got two whole weeks for criticism. Consider taking one day off?
Never A Muff: We’re the kids in America, and we’re a little tired of pundits neglecting to show the one angle of Edelman’s alleged snafu that clearly shows his thumbs avoiding contact with the football. I’m talking to you, “Good Morning Football” on the NFL Network. Please don’t give us the “I still think he touched it” line. You know what else should have been a tell? The fact that Edelman didn’t flinch when the ball rolled past him. You’re telling me a guy who gets more hyped up than a raccoon scavenging coffee grounds could just stand there like nothing happened? Not likely.
It’s amazing to watch people come up with all sorts of reasons why the Patriots shouldn’t have won the game. Mike Wilbon became apoplectic on ESPN, calling the roughing-the-passer call a joke but neglecting to mention any of the calls that didn’t go New England’s way. (Jerry Thornton of Barstool Sports noted that The Patriots Broke Mike Wilbon.)
Hey, I get it. I remember getting sick of the Cowboys during their 1990s run. They won three Super Bowls in four years and had a six-year streak of winning records. Six years in a row over .500, and we just wanted them to go away. Now imagine that feeling multiplied by three, and you can see why everyone hates New England.
Some commercials of note…
I’m Down With It: If you’re going to advertise for a vehicle during a football game, you’ve got to get noticed. Give credit to Ford for their “Eastbound and Down” ad, featuring the theme from Smoky and the Bandit. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, then that proves how much this commercial is geared toward older folks like me. Had that song in my head all day, and I didn’t mind at all.
It’s Pronounced Different Up Heah: Using the 1980s classic song “Cars” by Gary Numan, Walmart introduces us to its curbside pickup by showing myriad movie vehicles arriving in the parking lot, from the Ghostbusters van to the Batmobile. A really fun ad with a simple premise. More of these, please.
Verb, That’s What’s Happening: I’m not sure I get the NFL playoff hype ad “We Ready.” Do NFL fans forget the playoffs are on? Why spend valuable ad time you could sell to some unimaginative car or beer company on consumers who are already using (watching) your product? From now on, NFL, highlights will do. Thanks for listening. I know you value my opinion. (Leaves room, head held high.)
Netflix Note Of The Week: Watched Close with the intriguing Noomi Rapace, who – whether in the Swedish Girl movies, Prometheus, or Whatever Happened To Monday? – always portrays someone getting terribly injured or mistreated in some way. No one does visceral pain like Rapace. She shows a strong commitment to not-the-most-original material here (hello, Taken and Jason Bourne), adding to her action-star status in her role as a bodyguard for a spoiled heiress. If you find yourself getting bored scrolling through the Netflix list, this one’s worth a watch.
Up until I was in my 30s, New England had played in two Super Bowls, losing both. Now, they head to Atlanta for their ninth appearance, vying for their sixth win. These are heady times, Patriots fans. Let’s not overlook them.
Chris Warner was at the Patriots/Bengals game in 1985 and is still amazed no one got electrocuted. He’s on Twitter @cwarn89.