New England Patriots running back Sony Michel
Photo: 26
Photo: 26

Patriots back in Super Bowl because they were resilient on the road

During that opening touchdown drive, the Patriots established that time matters more than place. They hadn’t been great on the road in the playoffs, but this still is the Patriots era of NFL football. To change that, the Chiefs would have to rely on more than just playing at home. 

They couldn’t do it. The Chiefs took their first lead with 7:45 left, gave it back four minutes later, then went ahead again on Damien Williams’ 2-yard touchdown run with 2:03 to go. The Patriots responded with a go-ahead touchdown drive, the Chiefs forced overtime and then Tom Brady, New England’s timeless quarterback, took it from there.

The Patriots will play the Rams in the Super Bowl in Atlanta. They went on the road and beat the AFC’s No. 1 seed, 37-31. It was their fourth win in eight road playoff games with Brady and coach Bill Belichick. The duo will play in the Super Bowl for the ninth time, and are back in the big game for the third straight year.

» Read: AJC's complete coverage of the Super Bowl in Atlanta 

“That was a great way to end it,” Brady said. “That’s probably as excited as I’ve been in a long time.”

Surely the last time was when the Pats beat the Falcons in the Super Bowl two years ago, after you-know-what happened. The Patriots lost to the Eagles in the last one.  

The Pats get another Super Bowl shot because, true to their pedigree, they were resilient against the Chiefs even after it seemed calamity struck. 

The first Pats blunder happened when they led 17-14 with less than nine minutes to play. Julian Eldeman tried to field a punt and appeared to muff it. Officials awarded the Chiefs the ball at New England’s 26-yard line but, after a lengthy replay review, the call was reversed. 

Misfortune struck Edelman again two plays later. He deflected Brady’s pass and safety Daniel Sorensen intercepted it. Two plays after that Patrick Mahomes threw his third TD pass of the second half for a 21-17 Chiefs lead. 

“That was a bad play,” Edelman said. “I felt awful. But you’ve got to move on and look forward to when your number is called again.”

The Chiefs turned that turnover into a touchdown. The Pats didn’t give in. They answered with a 10-play TD drive that ended with rookie Sony Michel running for a 10-yard touchdown on fourth down.

Brady delivered in the big moments. His only major miscue was an interception in Kansas City’s end zone when the Pats had a chance to go up 14-0 in the first half. Brady made up for that with a quick-strike drive near the end of the first half that ended with his 29-yard TD pass to Phillip Dorsett.

But New England’s running backs did the grunt work. Michel, the former Georgia star, rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Rex Burkhead ran for the go-ahead score late in regulation and the winning TD in overtime.

“You play on the road, it’s going to be tough,” Brady said. “What travels is running the ball, playing tough. That’s good in any weather, any environment, any game.” 

Burkhead’s first TD, with 39 seconds left, looked to be the game winner. Brady had put them in position with a 25-yard strike to Rob Gronkowski, his long-time partner in play-making. 

The Chiefs tied it when Mahomes quickly completed passes for 21 and 27 yards to set up a field goal. The Pats got the ball first in overtime. They never gave it back. 

“On the sideline we said, ‘Let’s go down and end this now,” Gronkowski said. 

The winning TD drive went 75 yards. It’s pattern was similar to the one at the end of regulation: a 25-yard pass from Brady to Gronkowski, then a short TD run by Burkhead.

The Patriots held on in the end. They’d established they meant business at the beginning. The opening TD drive was methodical and efficient. It sent the message that the Pats meant business on the road.

Michel slithered through creases. Gronkowski rumbled for yards after the catch. Edelman, whose amazing catch was part of the Falcons’ Super Bowl nightmare, converted a third down that set up Michel’s touchdown run. 

The drive took the air out of Arrowhead. The Patriots converted three third downs. Michel had 31 yards with the four-yard score. Brady had two of his four completions go for first downs.

The Chiefs recovered after halftime. It wasn’t enough. The Patriots are just too much, home or away.

It was foolhardy to believe the Pats couldn’t win this game. Brady had claimed that no one gave the Pats a chance. 

It was, of course, a comical assertion. New England was a three-point underdog at Kansas City but even the most confident bettor thinks twice about picking against the Pats. 

The Chiefs were relying on their home field and their video-game offense. The Pats had Brady, Belichick and the knowledge that they’d won this game eight times before with this duo. The Chiefs haven’t been to the Super Bowl since their days in the American Football League. 

The remarkable thing about Brady’s playoff road record before Sunday wasn’t that he’d lost four and won three. It’s that that he’d only played seven such games. Over 17 seasons and 30 postseason games, the Patriots had ventured away from home only seven times and just twice since the 2006 postseason. 

That’s a byproduct of New England’s excellence. Home playoff games are the rewards for regular-season dominance. It also must be said that there’s a benefit to playing in the AFC East, where the three other franchises have been inept for so many years that the Patriots usually find little resistance in their division.

Once the Patriots get to the playoffs, they usually handle their business. They do it even when it seems as if they are finished. The Falcons know that. Now the Chiefs know it, too.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010. 
X