Twenty Things You Probably Forgot About Patriots-Chiefs AFC Championship

The 2018 AFC title game was an all-timer


February 8

On a raucous, bitterly cold night at Arrowhead Stadium in January 2019, the last great Patriots team of the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era faced off against the future.

New England was vying for its third straight Super Bowl appearance and its NFL-record-tying sixth championship, all in an 18-year span. Its AFC Championship Game opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs, had the look of a budding dynasty, with a 23-year-old MVP quarterback in Patrick Mahomes who’d just thrown for 50 touchdowns in his first season as a starter.

The Chiefs were favored. The Patriots, feeling disrespected after a less-than-dominant regular season, were hungry.

The result: an all-time classic, with New England winning 37-31 in overtime to punch yet another Super Bowl ticket and delay the Chiefs’ coronation as the NFL’s next standard-setting franchise.

Looking back years later, here are 20 facts, stats and moments you might have forgotten about the 2018 AFC title game:

1. The game is remembered for its thrilling, point-a-minute finish, but the first half was a Patriots rout. New England led 14-0 at halftime. It was the only time Kansas City — which boasted the NFL’s highest-scoring offense and first-half offense in 2018 — was shut out in the opening half all season.

2. The Patriots’ halftime advantage would have been even larger had Brady not thrown a first-quarter interception from the Chiefs’ 1-yard line.

3. New England defended Chiefs All-Pro receiver Tyreek Hill by shadowing him with speedy slot cornerback Jonathan Jones (and occasionally backup Keion Crossen) while safety Devin McCourty provided help over the top. Hill dusted Crossen for a 42-yard gain in the second quarter, but that was the only pass he caught all game.

“You don’t like this D? You should love this defense,” McCourty chirped at Hill during the game, as captured by NFL Films cameras. “This is probably the best defense ever.”

4. The Chiefs’ other elite offensive weapon, Travis Kelce, initially gave the Patriots problems, but that stopped after an unplanned switch in coverage strategy.

After Kelce beat rookie cornerback J.C. Jackson for a third-quarter touchdown, New England switched No. 1 corner Stephon Gilmore onto the superstar tight end in key passing situations. Kelce was shut out after the switch — though he did later draw a defensive holding penalty on Jackson — finishing with just three catches for 23 yards.

Gilmore, a go-to guy for subtle postgame trash talk, said in the locker room that covering Kelce was “easier” and “not tough” because the tight end was “not really fast” and “likes to push off a lot.”

“I probably use my feet a lot more and beat him to the spot because he wants you to get physical with him,” said Gilmore, who’d go on to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year the following season. “I wouldn’t allow that.”

5. Despite modest contributions from Hill and Kelce, Mahomes threw for 230 yards after halftime, averaging 10.0 yards per attempt and leading five second-half scoring drives.

6. Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy finished with 10 tackles, two sacks, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble. No other New England defender had more than three tackles.

7. Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett caught Brady’s lone touchdown pass.

8. The Patriots-Chiefs matchup earlier in the 2018 season also was a barnburner, with New England winning 43-40 at Gillette Stadium on a last-second Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Hill’s receiving line in that game: seven catches, 142 yards, three touchdowns.

9. Officials spent close to five minutes reviewing whether Dustin Colquitt’s fourth-quarter punt made contact with Julian Edelman’s red-gloved hand. They ultimately determined that it did not — but it didn’t matter. Two plays later, Brady fired a pass that hit off Edelman’s hands and was intercepted by safety Daniel Sorensen. Kansas City scored on the ensuing possession to take its first lead of the game, 21-17.

10. Both teams benefited from dubious late-game officiating decisions. Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones was flagged for roughing the passer when his hand just barely grazed Brady’s facemask, turning what would have been a third-and-7 for the Patriots into a first down. Minutes later, an illegal Kansas City pick against Jackson went uncalled, freeing Sammy Watkins for a 38-yard gain that set up a go-ahead Chiefs touchdown.

11. Chris Hogan made an incredible one-handed catch that extended a fourth-quarter touchdown drive.

12. Rob Gronkowski quickly went from would-be goat to late-game hero in what proved to be his penultimate game in a Patriots uniform.

With 1:01 remaining and New England down four, a pass bounced off the tight end’s hands and straight to cornerback Charvarius Ward for what would have been a game-sealing interception. But Chiefs defensive end Dee Ford lined up offsides, giving the Patriots new life. One play later, on third-and-5, Gronkowski beat tight coverage from safety Eric Berry for a 25-yard pickup down to the Kansas City 4.

13. Sony Michel rushed for a game-high 113 yards and two touchdowns. The 2018 first-round pick never lived up to his draft slot and was traded before the end of his rookie contract, but he was great during this playoff run, scoring six of the Patriots’ 11 total touchdowns.

14. The Patriots converted three consecutive third-and-10s on the opening drive of overtime, with Brady connecting with Edelman for 20 yards, Edelman for 15 and Gronkowski for 15.

15. New England dialed up an overtime flea flicker, but Brady’s pass to Hogan in the end zone fell incomplete.

16. Rex Burkhead, who scored a 4-yard go-ahead touchdown in the final minute of regulation and a 2-yard game-winner in overtime, didn’t have a single rushing touchdown during the regular season and had been stuffed on multiple short-yardage opportunities earlier in the game.

17. After driving for a game-tying field goal in the final seconds of regulation and then never possessing the ball in the extra session, the Chiefs pushed for an NFL rule change that would guarantee each team an overtime series. Their proposal failed, but NFL did wind up implementing that change four years later, for postseason games only.

18. The teams combined for 44 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, including 10 in the final 39 seconds of regulation.

19. The victory snapped a streak of three straight losses in road AFC title games for the Patriots (2006 Colts, 2013 Broncos, 2015 Broncos), and Brady was uncharacteristically euphoric afterward. After Burkhead’s clinching score, the QB unleashed a torrent of celebratory F-bombs, both on the field and in the locker room.

“That was probably as excited as I’ve been in a long time,” Brady said in his postgame news conference. “… I’ve been swearing too much for the last 30 minutes, so I’m going to try to cut back a little bit.”

20. Before departing Arrowhead, Brady paid Mahomes a visit in the Chiefs’ locker room.

“The biggest thing Tom said to me was just to stay with the process and keep being who I am,” Mahomes later said. “That’s something that’s important. … That’s something that I’ll try to do for my entire career.”

Two weeks later, Brady won the last of his six Super Bowl titles with the Patriots, defeating the Los Angeles Rams in a 13-3 slugfest. Mahomes got his first the following year.

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Former NFL quarterback Tom Brady
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