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2019 AFC Championship Game: The Patriots’ third down offense comes to life at just the right time

New England was near unstoppable on third down against the Chiefs.

AFC Championship - New England Patriots v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

One of the biggest reasons for the New England Patriots’ 37-31 win in the AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs was the team’s ability to control the clock. The conference’s second seed started the contest by focusing on running the football and putting itself in favorable down-and-distance situations. The game’s opening series was already a perfect illustration of that.

On their way to taking a 7-0 lead, the Patriots covered 80 yards in 15 plays while simultaneously milking 8:05 off the clock. They were able to do all of that thanks to a balanced attack that focused on the ground game but was equally efficient through the air, and by converting all three of their third down attempts. New England kept the drive alive through a 3rd and 4, a 3rd and 1, and a 3rd and 7.

The first two plays were converted by running back James White, who gained five and two yards, respectively. The third play was picked up thanks to a 14-yard completion from quarterback Tom Brady to wide receiver Julian Edelman. The three plays were the first in a series of big conversions for a New England third down offense that came to life at just the right time. All in all, the Patriots went 13 of 19 against Kansas City’s defense.

New England’s success rate of 68.4 is the team’s best this season and only the seventh time all year that the offense picked up more than half of its third down attempts. “Everyone was stepping up and making plays in big time situations,” said wide receiver Chris Hogan, who himself had a big one-handed catch to convert a 3rd and 8 in the fourth quarter, after the game. “We needed them today and we got them.”

Whether it was Hogan or the aforementioned James White and Julian Edelman, the Patriots received contributions from its entire cast of skill position players — and of course also from its quarterback. On the day, Tom Brady attempted 11 passes on third downs, completing 9 of them for a combined 119 yards and nine conversions. While of his incompletions was intercepted, Brady was still impressively productive on third down.

This rang especially true in crunch time: in the fourth quarter and in overtime, Brady completed all five of his attempts on third down, gaining a combined 88 yards and moving the sticks each time — despite an average 8.6 yards needed for the conversion. The 41-year old, as expected, deflected the praise onto his receivers when asked about the Patriots’ success when it came to keeping drives alive.

“I think the route running and the catching were incredible. They were making the toughest catches in the middle of the field. Julian got hammered on the one — maybe there were two of them. [Chris Hogan] made an incredible catch in the fourth quarter there,” said Brady about the Patriots’ group of pass catchers. Converting third downs proved to be one of the themes of the day for New England from start to finish.

“Our mentality was that we needed to punch this thing in the whole time. The third down conversions, continually doing that, and spreading the ball around really helped with that,” said running back Rex Burkhead when describing the team’s game-winning drive — one that included three separate third down plays, each getting picked up by the offense. Ultimately, this ability to keep driving was what separated the Patriots from the Chiefs yesterday.

With a superior defense coming up next week, the Patriots will need to build on their recent success on third downs.

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