The New England Patriots are back in the Super Bowl, thank to their thrilling 37-31 victory in the AFC Championship Game. The contest started as a rather one-sided affair in the Patriots’ favor, but picked up steam in the second half as the Kansas City Chiefs fought back and turned the game into a back-and-forth contest that was not decided until the first drive of overtime. Let’s take a look at some of the players that stood out during the contest, for better or worse.
Winner: TE Rob Gronkowski
When the lights were brightest, Rob Gronkowski stepped up to deliver another vintage “Gronk” performance: the 29-year old, who served mostly as a blocker recently, finished the game with six catches for 79 yards — his best receiving numbers since week 14 — and was instrumental in the Patriots’ victory. Not only did he again stand out as a de facto sixth offensive lineman, he also made one of the game’s biggest plays when he hauled in a 25-yard catch on 3rd and 5 late in the fourth quarter.
Winner: CB Jonathan Jones
Even though he has fallen out of favor over the second half of the season, the coaching staff trusted Jonathan Jones to cover the Chiefs’ best wide receiver for most of the night. The speedy Jones — together with Devin McCourty and some creative scheming — was able to limit the speedy Tyreek Hill to just one 42-yard catch on the day. It was one of the worst performances of the season for the All-Pro wideout, and a very good performance by the Patriots’ slot cornerback.
Winner: LB Kyle Van Noy
Kyle Van Noy has been a playmaker all season long for New England’s defense and he was at his best against the Chiefs. The 27-year old consistently put the pressure on likely league MVP Patrick Mahomes and finished with 2.0 sacks for a combined -29 yards, while also registering an additional quarterback hit, a forced fumble and team-high 10 tackles. An outstanding day for Van Noy.
Loser: CB J.C. Jackson
Let’s start with the positives: J.C. Jackson played an integral part in helping shut down the NFL’s best tight end of the season, Travis Kelce. However, he also had a rough fourth quarter as he struggled with penalties: the undrafted rookie was flagged for pass interference twice and for holding one time in the final 15 minutes and thus helped a Kansas City offense that is dangerous as it is even without getting aided by penalties.
Winner: The coaching staff
New England came out with the perfect plan to limit the Chiefs on both sides of the football — and that testament to the work Bill Belichick and the rest of the coaching and scouting staff have done this week. The Patriots tried to control the tempo on offense by sticking to the running game while simultaneously being physical at the point of attack on defense. While Kansas City’s individual talent shone through multiple times, the Patriots were still able to keep the might team in check.
Winner: QB Tom Brady
His final numbers are not spectacular — 30 pass completions on 46 attempts for 348 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions — but make no mistake, Tom Brady was at his best on Sunday. With the exception of his first pick, he consistently made the right decisions at the line of scrimmage and twice in the final 7:45 led his team back from a four-point deficit. Oh, and he also led the game-winning drive in overtime. Brady’s performance was more than his final numbers might suggest.
Winner: WR Chris Hogan
With the Patriots opting to go run-first, Chris Hogan had a quiet day early on and did not register a catch until the third quarter. However, he delivered a solid performance and finished the day with five catches for 45 yards — none of them bigger than his one-handed, 11-yard catch on 3rd and 8 midway through the fourth period. The grab, which was upheld on review, kept a drive alive at a time New England was down 24-21. Five plays later, the Patriots were up on top again.
Winner: RB Sony Michel
Appearing in just his second playoff game, Sony Michel had another very good outing. The first-round rookie carried the football 29 times for a combined 113 yards and two touchdowns and was a huge part of the game plan: the team trusted him to generate yardage against a vulnerable run defense and he delivered. Michel and the Patriots’ ground game have dominated in the two postseason contests so far.
Winner: The blockers
Michel’s performance would not have been possible without the blocking up front — and that includes not just the offensive line but the tight ends and fullback James Develin as well. The Patriots ran for 177 yards on 47 non-kneel down carries (3.8 yards per run) and four scores on the day, as the line up front also dominated in pass protection: despite going against the NFL’s fiercest pass rush, Tom Brady was not sacked and hit just once.
Loser: The kickoff coverage
The Chiefs do not only have the NFL’s best offense and most productive pass rush, they also feature a talented return game — and the Patriots were not always able to limit it the way it should have. On the day, Kansas City’s kickoff returners ran the football back five times for a total of 116 yards (23.2 per play) as New England was inconsistent when it came to setting the defense up with good field position after kickoffs.
Winner: DE Trey Flowers
Playing in what might be his second-to-last game in a Patriots uniform, Trey Flowers again showed why the Patriots need to make him their priority this upcoming free agency period. The 25-year old registered a massive 14-yard sack that pushed Kansas City out of field goal range in the second quarter, had two more hits on Patrick Mahomes and set the edge well in the running game. It was another all-around good performance by Flowers.
Winner: RB James White
While James White’s nickname is “Sweet Feet” it might as well be “Money” because that is what he continues to be for the Patriots in the biggest situations. White touched the football 10 times on Sunday — six runs for 23 yards and four catches for 49 — and made the most out of every single one of them, especially when it came to keeping drives alive: he converted five third downs on the day.
Winner: LB Ramon Humber
When thinking about the biggest plays of the day, Ramon Humber’s lone tackle of the day does not immediately come to mind. However, it was as still momentum-swinging: after the Chiefs scored their first touchdown to make it a 14-7 game, the Patriots offense was forced to punt. Enter Humber, who tackled returnman Tyreek Hill for a loss of 11-yards and was able to sway the field position battle a little more in the Patriots’ favor while delivering a positive play for a team in need of one at that time.
Winner: WR Julian Edelman
Even though Julian Edelman made two plays he likely would want back — his near-touch on a punt that almost cost the Patriots a possession and him allowing a football to go through his hands for an interception — he played an overall good game. The veteran finished with a team-high seven catches for 96 yards and was at his best when the team needed him to: he converted four third downs, with two of which coming on the game-winning drive in overtime.
Welcome to the Pats Pulpit Live Postgame Show: AFC Championship Edition The Patriots win a wild one and are headed to Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta!Posted by Pats Pulpit: For New England Patriots News on Sunday, January 20, 2019