O’Sullivan: Top 12 most-thrilling moments from a wild AFC Championship

  • New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, left, hands off the championship trophy to quarterback Tom Brady after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Charlie Riedel

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates with middle linebacker Kyle Van Noy (53) after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in AFC Championship NFL football game in overtime, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

  • New England Patriots running back Rex Burkhead (34) dives to the end zone for a touchdown to win the AFC Championship NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates with wide receiver Chris Hogan after the AFC Championship NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Charlie Riedel

  • New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) makes a catch against Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller (23) during the second half of the AFC Championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Charlie Riedel

  • New England Patriots running back Sony Michel (26) runs to the end zone for a touchdown during the second half of the AFC Championship NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

Monitor staff
Published: 1/21/2019 7:42:14 PM

Here we are again. Grinning in foolish delight while trying to wrap our heads around the latest miracle thriller authored by Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

Having ample experience with last-minute, joy-filled New England football victories (not-humble brag) does make it easier to process Sunday’s 37-31 AFC Championship overtime win in Kansas City, but it’s still not easy.  There’s less initial shock that Brady & Co. accomplished the impossible, but there’s still plenty of, “Wait, which amazing 3-and-10 conversion was that?” and “Did the one-handed catch upheld by replay happen in the last drive, or the next-to-last drive?” and “Were there really 31 points in the first 52 minutes of regulation and also 31 points in the last eight?” conversations happening today.

My former Concord Monitor colleague Chad Finn acknowledged how difficult the comprehending process is in his Monday column on Boston.com. Undaunted, Finn tried to help with the big-picture sorting of the wild affair at Arrowhead Stadium: “You want context? On this? Now? Fine. It’s the fifth-most incredible victory of the Brady/Belichick era, behind the Super Bowl wins over the Rams, Seahawks, and Falcons, and the Snow Bowl.”

That feels like the right spot on the big-picture list of Brady masterpieces, and putting it there helps corral some of the still-celebrating Patriots thoughts that have been bouncing around my head since Sunday like all-night partiers. In an effort to fully clean up from Sunday night’s bash and figure out exactly how Brady pulled the latest rabbit out of his helmet, I decided to make another list. So, in chronological game-time order, here are the top 12 most-thrilling moments from Sunday’s game, the moments that will keep us smiling until the Pats take on the Rams in Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3. If you’re wondering why I picked 12 as the number, you’re probably not a New England fan.

12. Sony Michel’s 1-yard touchdown run to finish a 15-play, 80-yard game-opening drive. The run itself was unremarkable, but what it represented was amazing. At eight minutes and five seconds, it was the longest playoff drive of Brady’s career and took up more than half the first quarter. That kept Patrick Mahomes and the league-leading Kansas City offense on the bench, a key part of New England’s winning formula.

11. Trey Flowers’s 14-yard sack of Mahomes. Having Brady and the offense holding on to the ball so long helped, but let’s credit the defense for keeping the Chiefs off the scoreboard in the first half, their only scoreless half of the season. The key play came from Flowers, who dropped Mahomes on a third-and-9 from the New England 22 with 3:57 left in the first half. That play killed a promising drive, pushed Kansas City to the Patriots 36 and out of field goal range, and led to…

10. Philip Dorsett’s 29-yard touchdown catch with :33 left in the second quarter. It was Dorsett’s only reception of the game, but it capped a 90-yard drive that took just 2:41 and was vintage New England. Instead of giving up a score late in the first half, the Patriots score themselves to take a 14-0 lead into the locker room.

9. Julian Edelman’s muffed not-muffed punt. This didn’t impact the final outcome because Brady threw an interception that led to a Kansas City touchdown just two plays later, but it still deserves to be on the most-incredible list. It felt like some kind of magic act that the ball didn’t hit Edelman, but the replays seemed conclusive. Plus, if Edelman had touched the ball, he would have gone after it like the wild animal that was clinging to his face.

8. Chris Hogan’s one-handed, third-down spear. Trailing for the first time all game, the Patriots faced a third-and-8 from their own 45 with 6:25 on the clock. Hogan snared a pass from Brady that was ruled an 11-yard catch on the field, even though the ball moved in his grasp and touched the ground. The Chiefs challenged, but the call on the field was upheld. It’s probably at this time, with the crowd sounding blood thirsty, that referee Clete Blakeman and his crew started looking for a secret tunnel out of Arrowhead.

7. Michel’s 10-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1. Rex Burkhead had been stuffed on a fourth-and-1 just minutes earlier, but this time Michel found a huge lane on the right edge as fullback James Develin flattened Eric Berry and Rob Gronkowski kicked out Justin Houston. Those are two of Kansas City’s best defenders, and the play was a symbol of New England’s physical dominance that was personified by Develin, began with the first drive and ended with the last one.

6. The pick play that led to a Kansas City touchdown and a smashed New England tablet. The Chiefs answered that score with a 65-yard drive highlighted by a 38-yard catch from Sammy Watkins, who was wide open after Chris Conley ran over J.C. Jackson, the Patriots cornerback had three penalties in the fourth quarter and was on his back while Watkins ran down the sidelines. The play led to Belichick slamming his tablet on the ground and then throwing it behind the bench, and a 2-yard touchdown run from Damien Williams which could have been the game-winning score if it wasn’t for…

5. Dee Ford’s offsides penalty. This will be the play that haunts Kansas City fans in the dark hours of the morning. The flag went up as soon as the ball was snapped, but the play went on, and Brady threw a ball that sailed high, bounced off Gronkowski’s hands and wound up in the grasp of Charvarius Ward. But the penalty on Ford nullified what would have probably been a game-clinching pick and the Patriots took full advantage by scoring on a 4-yard run from Burkhead to take a 31-28 lead until…

4. Mahomes sets up the game-tying field goal in nine seconds. The Chiefs had just :32 to work with when they got the ball back, which somehow proved to be plenty of time for Mahomes, the heir apparent to Brady’s miracle-comeback throne. Mahomes completed two passes for a combined 48 yards during the first two plays of the drive, which took a mere nine seconds. Two plays later, Harrison Butker kicked a 48-yard field goal. This is a positive memory for Patriots fans only in hindsight, but recognizing Mahomes’s ability emphasizes the true quality of this win.

3. Matthew Slater calls heads. The overtime coin flip may have been the biggest play of the game. If the Chiefs had won it, it’s hard to imagine Mahomes not leading the game-winning drive. Instead, Slater called heads, the coin landed on heads, and then Slater leaned into Blakeman’s microphone and said so all could hear, “We want the ball.”

2. The 20-yard pass to Edelman on third-and-10. The Patriots faced three third-and-10s on the only drive of overtime, and Brady converted them all, but the first one was the most remarkable. Edelman was double covered, but somehow Brady found a window and somehow Edelman held on for the catch. If that doesn’t happen, the Patriots are probably punting and some sports writer in Kansas City is probably writing this column.

1. Burkhead’s 2-yard touchdown run. After the final third-and-10 conversion of the drive, the Patriots had the ball on the Kansas City 15. Burkhead then ran for 10, three and two yards, finishing the game like the Patriots started it – running the rock down the Chiefs’ throat. Just like Michel’s game-opening touchdown, the run itself was unremarkable, but when you put it in context – an overtime game-winner on the road to send New England to a third-straight Super Bowl – it becomes incredible, just like so many other moments in this latest incredible Patriots game.




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