Heads they win: Belichick and Brady add to glorious legacy
The best move made on Sunday by the New England Patriots may have been calling heads.
The visiting Patriots won the coin toss to begin overtime, then marched 75 yards in 13 plays for Rex Burkhead's two-yard rushing touchdown, which kept the Kansas City Chiefs' offence from having a chance as New England prevailed 37-31.
Quarterback Tom Brady, coupled with coach Bill Belichick, executed a ninth AFC title for New England, and the pair will have a chance at their sixth Super Bowl title. The Patriots are the third team in history - joining the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills - to reach three consecutive Super Bowls.
Brady passed for 348 yards, going 30 of 46 with one touchdown, and overcame two interceptions.
"Happy we won the (overtime) toss,'' Brady said. "We got it and we took it down the field and scored. What a game.''
Indeed, it was. The teams combined for a whopping 38 fourth-quarter points, including 24 by the host Chiefs as they forged a 31-31 tie at the end of regulation while seeking an improbable comeback after trailing 14-0 at half-time.
First-year starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes passed for 295 yards, going 16 of 31, but the withered Kansas City defence could not give him an opportunity in overtime.
Taking possession with 32 seconds left in regulation, Mahomes completed passes of 21 yards to Spencer Ware and 27 yards to Demarcus Robinson to set up Harrison Butker for a 39-yard field goal with eight seconds left to forge a 31-31 tie to force overtime.
Then the Patriots won the overtime coin flip, and Brady consulted with offensive co-ordinator Josh McDaniels.
"I looked at Josh and said, 'You got any touchdown plays still on that call sheet? He said, 'Yes, we do,'" Brady recounted.
New England converted three third downs in overtime on completions of 20, 15 and 15 yards, the first two to Julian Edelman and the third to Rob Gronkowski. For the game, the Patriots were 13 of 19 on third down and amassed 524 yards and 36 first downs.
"These guys just competed and competed,'' Belichick said. "We said 60 minutes, but what did it take? Seventy?''
Before Mahomes' late drive, Brady actually appeared to have won the game with one of his patented late-game drives.
He got a break when an interception was wiped away because Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford lined up in the neutral zone and was ruled offsides. A 25-yard strike to Gronkowski on the next play set up a four-yard touchdown rush by Burkhead with 39 seconds left in regulation for a 31-28 lead.
Burkhead finished with 12 carries for 41 yards and two scores, while rookie Sony Michel added 113 yards on 29 carries, including two touchdowns. Edelman led the New England receivers with 96 yards on seven grabs.
Sammy Watkins caught four passes for 114 yards to lead the Chiefs' receivers. Running back Damien Williams scored three touchdowns, two off receptions and one off a rush, as he added 96 yards from scrimmage.
"It was back and forth and we had opportunities,'' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "We'll figure out a way to take advantage of those down the road. You're sitting here thinking it was a pretty good year, but it's going to hurt here for a little bit.''
Unlike the Rams v Saints game there were no obvious missed calls, however, the Patriots did benefit after a video replay reversed a call that Edelman had touched a punt before a Chiefs recovery which would have given Reid's men crucial fourth-quarter momentum. A debatable personal foul was also awarded to Brady late on, however, while such calls may have helped, it was ultimately the brilliance of Brady and Belichick which decided matters.
Their glorious legacy just added another chapter.