One of the pivotal plays of the New England Patriots’ win in Super Bowl 49 against the Seattle Seahawks was never actually run in a practice session leading up to the game. Instead, the team installed it the night before the game by running it in a walkthrough setting at the team hotel’s ballroom. The play in question? No other than the game-winning touchdown pass from Tom Brady to wide receiver Julian Edelman.
Four year later, it looks like a similar scenario happened again. “We just put in eight new plays in the game plan this morning,” Brady told NBC’s Peter King after the Patriots’ thrilling 37-31 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. As King explained, New England’s staff announced at a meeting at 11:00 a.m. that a handful of new plays were being installed into the game plan.
Just like they did prior to Super Bowl 49, the team walked through the plays in question in one of their hotel ballrooms. While not all of the plays were actually called during the game that was kicked off just a few hours later, “four or five” of them were. The Patriots’ improvisational skills did not stop there, however, as King also noted that one of the team’s biggest plays of the day was not part of the actual play sheet for the day.
New England converted three third downs on its game-winning touchdown drive in overtime, and the final of which — a 15-yard pass from Brady to tight end Rob Gronkowski to convert a 3rd and 10 — was neither on the sheet nor run in practice during the week leading up to the game. “I don’t know when’s the last time we ran it,” one player inside the Patriots’ locker room told King after the game.
The play in question saw Gronkowski lined up one-on-one on the left side boundary and run a slant route for the completion and conversion:
Brady to Gronk, 15 yards on 3rd down! pic.twitter.com/QfP4Dbsq5c— #NobodyDied (@ftbeard_17) January 21, 2019
“Gronk almost broke out of it — great route by him,” Brady told King before praising Patriots offensive coordinator for coming up with the call despite the team not actually having prepared to run the play. But run it they did anyway, and it set up New England at the Kansas City 15-yard line. Three plays later, Rex Burkhead found the end zone to give the team the win in one of the wildest conference title games in recent memory.
And as the Patriots showed yesterday, entering the game with a sound plan is only one part of the winning recipe. A team also needs to execute and at times come up with new, unconventional ways. New England did all that against the AFC’s number one seed — and the final passing play of the day and the eight that were quickly installed ahead of the contest serve as a reminder of that.