It was one of the most important plays of the Patriots’ season, and New England hadn’t practiced it all week.
With the AFC Championship Game in overtime, Tom Brady and the Patriots faced a crucial third-and-10 from the Kansas City Chiefs’ 30-yard line. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels saw a hole in the Chiefs’ coverage and called in a slant to Rob Gronkowski, a play that hadn’t been part of New England’s game plan.
“Gronk almost broke out of it — great route by him,” Brady told NBC’s Peter King after New England’s 37-31 win. “Almost a touchdown. Great call by Josh. You know, Josh, what he’s formulated for us is huge. He puts in endless hours just to find little scheme things for us. Like those plays we put in this morning. You know, the continuity here has been so important. Dante Scarnecchia, on the offensive line; Ivan Fears, with the running backs; Josh, making it all work. And then coach Belichick finds guys he likes — Gronk, Julian — and he says, ‘All right, you’re going to be here a while.'”
Wait, “this morning”?
That’s right. According to Brady, the Patriots put in eight new plays during Sunday morning’s walkthrough at the hotel. They ran four or five of them during the game.
After a fade to Gronkowski late in the fourth quarter, Chiefs safety Eric Berry was cheating for the Patriots to go back to it on that third-and-10 in overtime. That’s when McDaniels called for the slant and Brady hit Gronkowski for 15 yards down to Kansas City’s 15-yard line.
Three plays later, running back Rex Burkhead plowed in from 2 yards out to send the Patriots to their third consecutive Super Bowl and a date with the Los Angeles Rams.
Brady and the Patriots converted three crucial third-and-10s on the lone drive in overtime. Two came on passes to Julian Edelman, and the final came on the slant to Gronk, a play the now-three-time defending AFC Champions had little intention of running when the game kicked off.