The 2018 New England Patriots are no strangers to playing in close games. Just think back to their game against the Chicago Bears that came down to a Hail Mary stopped one yard short of the end zone. Or the one against the Miami Dolphins that was decided on an improbable final play that literally is described as a miracle. Or their first meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs that ended 43-40 in New England’s favor on a last-second field goal.
However, they all pale in comparison to what transpired at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium yesterday. New England went on the road, jumped to a 14-0 halftime lead only to watch the Chiefs come back before the two teams combined to score 31 points in the final eight minutes of regulation. In the end, it was the conference’s second-seeded Patriots that pulled out the victory with a touchdown drive to open overtime.
It was a thriller — one that saw memorable performances on both sides and all three phases. “These are memories that will last a lifetime,” quarterback Tom Brady said during his press conference after the game. The 41-year old, who will appear in his ninth Super Bowl in two weeks, was a key figure in the Patriots’ upset win and kept going blow-for-blow with the league’s best offense in the final minutes of the game.
“I said it a few weeks ago, I am blessed to find something that I love to do that I love to work at,” Brady continued, visibly excited about his team’s thrilling 37-31 win. “That has probably been the biggest blessing in my life. I love working hard at trying to make improvements. Every year, we start at a different place. I love the grind of it, being in the moment. This was an incredible win. I will remember this one for the rest of my life.”
Brady was not the only player to step in front of the press yesterday to talk about the Patriots’ 13th win of the season. “We knew if we kept fighting that we were going to put up a battle,” said tight end Rob Gronkowski after what might very well have been his most impressive performance of the season. “We were giving all we had. I’m pretty sure everyone on the team gave it all we had today.”
“That’s all we can ask for, and in the end, the results came out great,” the 29-year old, who caught six passes for a combined 79 yards including two huge third down conversions in quarters four and five, continued. “We were battling the whole game — first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter and overtime. We were preparing all year for situations like this — conditioning levels — and it all pays off and shows with a victory like this.”
The game itself certainly was an emotional one for both teams involved — a back-and-forth contest that will live in championship annals for quite a long time. The stage itself was perfectly set for a high-stakes drama: playing in front of an energetic crowd that saw the first ever AFC title game being played at Arrowhead Stadium, with two teams at the peak of their powers going at each other in crunch time.
“I think we all were pretty emotional, coming into a rough environment, mostly everyone thinking we weren’t going to win this football game,” running back James White said following the game, establishing himself as the latest Patriot to feed off the team’s underdog mentality. “We took it as a challenge, knew it was going to be a tough four-quarter football game, against a good football team that we beat and it took everything we had.”
“It feels great. All of the hard work we’ve put in, this whole year. We get to play one more. It was a great game. The Chiefs are a great team,” added fellow running back Rex Burkhead, who scored two touchdowns during the game, including the walk-off score five minutes into overtime. Burkhead was not the only Patriot to praise Kansas City after the game. “This is the best team in the AFC that we played tonight. We knew that things were going to go back and forth,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said.
In the end, however, the better team was the one from New England — one that was able to silence the Chiefs’ home crowd. “When you have 70,000 people cheering against you, it is pretty sweet when you win on the road,” said Brady. “It is a hard thing to do in the NFL. It is certainly a hard thing to do against the first-ranked team in the conference who has been playing well all year and certainly playing well at home.”
“We knew it was going to take a lot. It obviously took into overtime. It took some great plays and great conversions,” the future Hall of Famer continued. Brady, of course, has some experience when it comes to playing tight postseason games: he became the first quarterback in league history yesterday to lead his team to three separate overtime victories in the playoffs.
Knowing this, it is no surprise that the team had plenty of confidence entering the extra 15 minutes. “Never a doubt,” said defensive edge Trey Flowers when asked about his thoughts on the overtime period after yesterday’s game. “Tom Brady did some great things. You knew that once we got the ball it was game over. I mean I was ready to go out if I had to. But, he put it away for us. It’s just a blessing.”
“You saw me, I ran off as soon as I saw it was heads. I saw heads and I know what happens at the end of this one,” added defensive team captain Devin McCourty. Both he and Flowers were proven right: Brady and the Patriots offense marched 75 yards in 13 plays — three of which third down conversions — to give New England one final touchdown, and a ticket to Super Bowl 53 in two weeks.