KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After over three hours of rag-dolling the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive line all over Arrowhead Stadium, the New England Patriots’ offensive line took a moment together to decompress in the visitor’s locker room.
Left tackle Trent Brown, left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews, right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Marcus Cannon all huddled together in their corner of the locker room to laugh and unpack what they had just accomplished as they donned AFC Championship hats and T-shirts after the Patriots’ 37-31 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. They took time passing around the Lamar Hunt Trophy in the house Hunt built as they celebrated making Super Bowl LIII. For four of them, it’s their third Super Bowl appearance in as many years.
The Patriots’ offensive line was the unofficial MVP of the AFC Championship Game even if they couldn’t hear as nearly 77,000 fans screamed from the Arrowhead Stadium stands. So, they stuck to basics and blocked the man in front of them. It worked.
They didn’t allow a sack. They let up just one quarterback hit and seven hurries on 46 dropbacks. They opened up holes for 176 rushing yards on 48 carries with four rushing touchdowns. They were all on the field for the entire game and were just as effective on snap No. 97 — when running back Rex Burkhead plowed forward to score the game-winning touchdown in overtime — as they were on the first drive.
And they were effective despite running the same plays against the same Chiefs defensive looks. There wasn’t much deception when the Patriots were running the ball, but they were effective anyway.
“Those hogs, they blocked their tails off tonight,” wide receiver Julian Edelman said Sunday night. “We live and die through them.”
The Patriots’ offensive line is playing as well now as any unit has performed through head coach Bill Belichick’s 19 seasons in New England with their ability to create space in the running game and protect Brady. Brady only was pressured on 13 percent of his dropbacks Sunday, and the Chiefs’ pass rush is no joke. Edge rushers Dee Ford and Justin Houston and defensive tackle Chris Jones terrorized Indianapolis Colts blockers in the divisional round of the playoffs last week. On Sunday, those three players combined for just five hurries.
Brady only has been pressured on 14 percent of dropbacks in two playoff games. That’s far and away the lowest pressure percentage any offensive line has let up in the postseason this year.
“Talk about the most selfless group on this team,” wide receiver Matthew Slater said Sunday. “They don’t get the praise and the commercials and the advertisements. These guys just come in and put their head down and do a tough job, a thankless job. But our team is nowhere without them. And today, we essentially put the game in their hands.
“You saw we wanted to come out and run the ball. They didn’t get a lot of pressure at all on Tom today. And those guys just battled. They battled today. At the end of the game, I saw Marcus down on a knee, Trent on a knee. They were exhausted, but they gave everything they had, and we wouldn’t be going to the Super Bowl if it wasn’t for them.”
The Patriots’ offensive line also has improved as the season has gone along. They were good at the beginning of the season. Now they’re excellent.
“Certainly. We have tremendous leadership on that group,” Slater said. “Every one of those guys is a leader in their own way. They become more and more comfortable playing with one another. They gained a lot of confidence with us continuing to run the ball. They enjoy physically being able to take over games. That’s what we were able to do today, and that was big for us. You’ve got to tip the hat to them. Absolutely.”
The actual line was a little bit more modest in its assessment of their performance.
“It was good enough to get the win,” Andrews said. “That’s all that matters. When we had to be good, we were good. Didn’t do anything to hurt ourselves, penalties, things like that. We ran the ball well, for the most part, just proud of the guys.”
The Patriots will have to continue it in two weeks when they take on Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Between Brady’s ability to get the ball out quickly and the line’s propensity to neutralize elite pass rushers, it might be the least of the Patriots’ worries.