The 2019 AFC Championship Game between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs was an instant classic, a back-and-forth between the conference’s two best games with a Super Bowl on the line. But which plays swayed the outcome the most and helped the Patriots, who entered the game with a 43.0% chance of winning, come away victoriously? There were plenty of them, as the win probability chart shows:
Let’s take a closer look at the changes in win probability to find out which plays were the pivotal ones (percentages via NumberFire).
Best Patriots plays
Q4: 1-4-KC 4 (:42) R.Burkhead left tackle for 4 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Win probability: +32.36%
The game’s biggest play when it comes to changing the win probability in one team’s favor, was Rex Burkhead’s go-ahead touchdown run with only 42 seconds left in regulation. New England already had a 59.93% chance of winning at that point, but improved it even further due to the 4-yard rush. As it did all game long, the Patriots’ blocking was outstanding while Burkhead hit the hole with plenty of burst to put his team up 31-28.
Q4: 4-1-KC 10 (3:35) S.Michel up the middle for 10 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Win probability: +25.91%
After already failing to pick up a new set of downs on an earlier fourth down attempt, the Patriots would not be denied on this one — and more: Sony Michel burst through the line and carried the football 10 yards to the end zone to give New England a 24-21 lead. The play itself is probably the best example of the Patriots’ dominance in the trenches that day: tight end Rob Gronkowski, fullback James Develin, and the entire offensive line cleared a wide path for Michel in a high-pressure situation.
Q4: 3-5-KC 29 (:54) T.Brady pass deep left to R.Gronkowski to KC 4 for 25 yards.
Win probability: +24.76%
The play leading up to Rex Burkhead’s go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter also had a profound impact on the win probability: while New England had only a 35.18% chance to win prior to the 25-yard completion form Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski, the number jumped to 59.93% — it would not go below 50% again, indicating that the Patriots were statistical favorites from that point on.
OT: 3-10-KC 45 (12:51) T.Brady pass short middle to J.Edelman to KC 30 for 15 yards.
Win probability: +17.94%
The Patriots faced three 3rd and 10 situations in overtime, and they converted all of them. When it comes to win probability, none was bigger than the second: the 15-yard completion from Brady to Julian Edelman on a crossing pattern moved the sticks and put New England in field goal range. And while a kick would not have won the game at that point, it would have still put enormous pressure on the Chiefs offense. Luckily for the Patriots, it did not come to that.
OT: 3-10-KC 30 (11:57) T.Brady pass short left to R.Gronkowski to KC 15 for 15 yards.
Win probability: +14.25%
The final third down and passing play of the game again saw Tom Brady connect with Rob Gronkowski. The veteran tight end ran a slant to get separation against safety Eric Berry, and Brady hit him in stride for a 15-yard gain. Three plays later, the Patriots were in the end zone — which was almost a foregone conclusion at that point, at least when it comes to the percentages: while Brady-to-Gronkowski added 14.25%, Rex Burkhead’s game-winning run on 2nd and goal from the 2-yard line added “only” 10.70%.
Worst Patriots plays
Q4: 2-8-NE 30 (8:06) T.Brady pass deep left intended for J.Edelman INTERCEPTED by D.Sorensen at NE 47. D.Sorensen to NE 23 for 24 yards.
Win probability: -31.18%
After the Patriots dominated the first half to take a 14-0 lead into the locker room, the Chiefs crept back into the game in quarters three and four — and made their biggest play midway through the final period of regulation: safety Daniel Sorensen was able to intercept a pass that went through Julian Edelman’s fingers to set up his team on the edge of New England’s red zone. Two plays later, Kansas City had its first lead of the day.
Q4: 2-10-NE 40 (2:54) P.Mahomes pass short left to S.Watkins to NE 2 for 38 yards.
Win probability: -25.48%
Sony Michel’s touchdown run put the Patriots up on top again, but Kansas City fought back — with a 38-yard pass from Patrick Mahomes to Sammy Watkins as the team’s biggest offensive play from a win probability perspective. The play set up the Chiefs near the Patriots’ goal line and only one play later, the conference’s number one seed was up again by a score of 28-24.
Q4: 2-10-NE 23 (7:52) P.Mahomes pass short left to Dam. Williams for 23 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Win probability: -19.07%
Following Daniel Sorensen’s aforementioned interception, it did not take long for the Chiefs to capitalize. After an incompletion on first down, Patrick Mahomes threw a short pass to running back Damien Williams in the left-side flat and the running back was off to the races: he carried the football 23 yards to the end zone, giving his team a 75.37% chance to win at that point.
Q4: 2-10-KC 37 (3:07) P.Mahomes pass incomplete deep right to S.Watkins. PENALTY on NE-J.Jackson, Defensive Pass Interference, 23 yards, enforced at KC 37.
Win probability: -17.55%
The Chiefs were able to stay in the game in the fourth quarter due to some timely big plays — and one of which was caused by a penalty: Patriots rookie cornerback J.C. Jackson was flagged for pass interference against wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Instead of setting up a 3rd and 10 on Kansas City’s side of the field, the home team was given a fresh set of downs at the Patriots’ 40.
Q4: 1-10-NE 48 (:23) P.Mahomes pass deep left to D.Robinson to NE 21 for 27 yards.
Win probability: -14.47%
With the Chiefs in need of at least a game-tying field goal, Patrick Mahomes connected with Demarcus Robinson for a 27-yard gain to bring the team in kicker Harrison Butker’s range. Robinson was able to make the the catch over the aforementioned J.C. Jackson, but even if it fell incomplete it wouldn’t have mattered: the Patriots’ Trey Flowers was flagged for jumping offside, giving Kansas City a free play.