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Patriots execute perfect game-plan to take down upstart Chiefs: Play keepaway and trust in Tom Brady

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Where to start Sunday night? Well, there was that last eight minutes in the AFC Championship Game when the lead changed hands four times. There were four touchdowns, three booth reviews, a couple of challenges and, finally, overtime.

There was a frost-bitten home crowd that had waited almost half a century for a Super Bowl berth. The Kansas City fans cheered a likely NFL MVP at quarterback.

But some things never change.

The broken record known as the New England Patriots just kept playing the same old tune. The needle remains stuck in the groove, repeating something about another Super Bowl.

Sunday’s 37-31 win makes it three trips to the Super Bowls in a row, as well as four out of the last five for the Patriots. Seventeen years and a day after this dynasty began in the Tuck Rule Game, the Patriots are going to their ninth Super Bowl under Bill Belichick, trying to win their sixth championship.

And just when you thought the greatest of all time (Tom Brady) was going to fall to the greatest of recent times (Patrick Mahomes), a 41-year old father of two proved he isn’t ready to give up the throne just yet.

“I don’t even know how to begin how to describe No. 12,” New England receiver Chris Hogan said after the Pats’ 37-31 overtime win. “Every single year, they’re trying to find a reason but there is none. The guy shows up and prepares like no one I’ve ever seen before.”

At the end of perhaps the most exciting Sunday of conference championship games in history, we were left wondering: Doesn’t it always end this way? Brady, with the football in his hands, with the game on the line?

It more than just seems like it; it’s pretty much reality. Twice in the final 3:32 of regulation, Brady drove his team to scores that gave the Pats the lead, the last with 39 seconds left in regulation.

There was an almost inevitable overtime drive equally highlighting how gassed the Chiefs defense was and how grandiose Brady’s game still is.

“It’s probably harder to watch than it is to play because I know what we’re doing,” Brady said. “I know what we still have ahead of us.”

Sunday’s result makes Brady 73-1 when leading by at least two touchdowns at halftime. The only loss was that 2006 AFC Championship Game to the Colts. Since then, he’s won 52 such games in a row.

Why should Sunday have been any different? Mostly, because Mahomes tried like hell to grab that baton away from the old man.

The presumptive NFL MVP led the Chiefs to 24 of their 31 points in the fourth quarter. In that final 15 minutes, he threw for 110 yards and two touchdowns.

But in overtime, he and the Chiefs never saw the ball. The Pats won the toss, drove 75 yards in 13 plays and that was it. Game over, season over for the Chiefs who – based on the latest mode of crushing playoff defeat – may have to wait another half-century for a Super Bowl shot. It’s 49 years and counting.

Kansas City trailed 14-0, 17-7, 24-21 and 31-28 before succumbing. The Chiefs defense – clearly dragging in overtime – had little in the way of resistance as the Patriots drove methodically into history.

New England ran it only four times during the 13-play overtime drive. Brady ran the possession like it was a two-minute drill. NFL postseason overtime rules state the game is over if the first team to take possession scores a touchdown.

Yeah, in many ways an epic game was decided by a coin flip.

“It’s just how the coin tosses, I guess you’d say,” Mahomes said.

The only advantage Mahomes had on Brady at the end Sunday was the 18 fewer years he has been on Earth. Someday Brady is going to wear down. Sunday wasn’t the day.

“In those big-time moments that’s who I want behind center,” Hogan said of Brady.

All the signs were there, though: Tight end Rob Gronkowski hadn’t been himself. In road playoff games, Brady and coach Bill Belichick were 3-4 all-time (20-3 at home). This wasn’t a classic Patriots squad. They were 3-5 on the road this season. They took the field Sunday as an underdog for the first time in 69 games.

Brady started the week saying “everybody thinks we suck.” Whether it was a off-hand remark or intentional motivational ploy, we’ll never know.

But the joke was on us.

When Brady took over at his own 25 in overtime, it was obvious the Kansas City defense was tired. Brady and Belichick aligned for a perfect game-plan: the best way to beat the great Mahomes is to keep him on the bench. The Pats held the ball for almost 44 minutes. The Patriots ran 94 plays (gaining 524 yards). To show how dangerous Mahomes and that offense is, Kansas City scored 31 points only on 47 snaps.

New England survived an epic fourth quarter of its own. In consecutive possessions, the Pats first turned it over on downs at the Kansas City 25. That was followed by a Brady interception, the ball slipping through the fingers of Julian Edelman.

But in the final 3:32 of the fourth quarter, Brady completed eight of 10 for 99 yards, leading two touchdown drives.

He was just getting started. The Patriots followed.

“It showed up today on the football field, but it’s bigger than football,” Pats receiver Matthew Slater said. “It always has been.”



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