In a battle of old versus new, experience versus youth, past versus future, Patriots versus Chiefs, old reliable won out.
With a 37-31 overtime win over Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots -- the greatest superpower the AFC has ever known -- are going back to the Super Bowl for a third straight season, where they'll seek their third championship in five years. You can stream the game right here on CBSSports.com.
Their reign isn't over quite yet. Even in a so-called down season, the Patriots are the best the AFC has to offer. And only a fool would bet against them in the Super Bowl, where they'll face the Rams, another young team that threatens the Patriots' stranglehold over the NFL.
They just survived arguably the toughest test of their reign. The Chiefs pushed the Patriots to the brink, but the Patriots found a way to overcome their strongest would-be usurper yet. After an uneventful, methodical (by design, from the Patriots' perspective) first half, the game awakened in the second half. Before halftime, only 14 points were scored -- all by the Patriots. After halftime, 54 points were scored.
But the first half mattered. It mattered because it's when the Patriots built themselves a 14-point lead, a cushion against the unstoppable machine known as Mahomes. They needed every point to hold off Mahomes in the end. It's what got them into overtime.
Fittingly, to gain an early lead over the high-flying Chiefs, the Patriots turned back the clock. While the rest of the league -- with the Chiefs at the forefront of the revolution -- has adopted exotic passing attacks that has moved the NFL into an era of peak passing football, the Patriots zagged by adopting a run-heavy offense that has turned Rob Gronkowski, the most explosive tight end in NFL history, into a blocker and Brady into a handoffer, check-downer, and third-down passer.
Their method of attack worked. The Patriots came out with the perfect game-plan and executed it just as perfectly. They played keep-away from the Chiefs with a run-heavy approach -- mainly with rookie Sony Michel, who rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns -- that milked the clock, dumped the ball off with James White (49 receiving yards), converted key third downs (13 of 19), and ran some more clock (43:59 to 20:53 in time of possession).
They started the game with a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that took more than half of the first quarter. At the end of the first quarter, the Patriots had outgained the Chiefs 119 to minus-11. They ended the first half with an eight-play, 90-yard drive that both reached the end zone and left no time for the Chiefs to score any points of their own. At halftime, the Patriots led 14-0, owned a 245 to 32 advantage in yards, and a 12-plus minute advantage in time of possession. Mahomes was a measly 4 of 8 for 65 yards and one missed touchdown. The Chiefs had run 16 total plays. The Patriots had picked up 16 first downs.
The game was unfolding exactly how Belichick had foreseen. He'd drawn up the perfect plan. And his players were executing it perfectly.
Typical Belichick. pic.twitter.com/pc5dJJUUre— Sean Wagner-McGough (@seanjwagner) January 21, 2019
But it doesn't matter how good a coach or a game-plan is, because at some point, Mahomes will break through. There's slowing him down, but there's no entirely stopping him. Sure enough, he came out firing in the second half.
On the Chiefs' first series of the third quarter, they faced an early third-and-2 from their own 34-yard line. Two plays later, the Chiefs breached the end zone after Mahomes went deep to Sammy Watkins for a 54-yard gain and hit Travis Kelce over the middle for a 12-yard touchdown.
This just isn't fair pic.twitter.com/xGsXuxnymW— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 21, 2019
Chiefs came out of halftime firing 👀 pic.twitter.com/aBJi6wZRte— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 21, 2019
The Patriots continued to bother him in the pocket, though, and added a field goal to take another two-score lead. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Patriots led 17-7, but Mahomes was in the process of mounting a dangerous drive in a way that only Mahomes is capable of pulling off.
Mahomes hanging in the pocket like a champ 🙌 @PatrickMahomes5pic.twitter.com/bwMIMiUnLn— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 21, 2019
Plays like these are why we love football 🙌 pic.twitter.com/CIswLS4JAh— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 21, 2019
The drive ended with Mahomes bringing the Chiefs to within three points in vintage Mahomes fashion: outside the pocket with an accurate laser that both led Damien Williams away from the trailing linebacker and kept him in bounds. With 14:51 remaining, the Patriots led only 17-14.
BIG TIME TD drive by the Chiefs to get back in it pic.twitter.com/4fWV449tnw— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) January 21, 2019
The teams exchanged stops. And then it happened. The moment of controversy that seemingly mars every playoff game. Trying to field a bouncing punt, Julian Edelman let the ball deflect off his hand. The Chiefs recovered the muffed punt, but an automatic review followed. Edelman claimed he never touched the ball.
You be the judge. It's nearly impossible to tell.
WAIT...WHAT?! 😱 pic.twitter.com/gNxvoaF1IF— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 21, 2019
DID IT TOUCH HIM!?!?!? pic.twitter.com/fTjKU1FRiy— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) January 21, 2019
The officials overturned the call on the field despite the lack of evidence available. It didn't matter, though. Two plays later, Brady targeted Edelman over the middle. This time, the ball definitely did deflect off Edelman's hands. Daniel Sorensen picked it off. The Chiefs got the takeaway deep in Patriots' territory after all.
⛏ OUR BALL pic.twitter.com/Hjv8jP6vaD— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 21, 2019
And they had a four-point lead thanks to a perfectly timed screen via Andy Reid, who for all of his faults in late-game clock management remains the league's best play-caller and offensive schemer. If not for Belichick, he'd probably have his Super Bowl already.
The Chiefs take the lead! pic.twitter.com/rOrYQtohf6— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) January 21, 2019
Now, they just needed to hold off Brady in a situation countless teams have succumbed to over the past 20 or so years. Sure enough, Brady delivered. After spending pretty much the entire game handing the ball off, Brady hit Chris Hogan, who made an unreal catch that withstood a challenge, for a key first down.
IT'S A CATCH 😱 pic.twitter.com/CaVaSSPN8E— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 21, 2019
With under four minutes to play, the Patriots faced a fourth-and-inches from the 10-yard line. Brady checked into a handoff to Michel. Michel ran through a gaping hole. The Patriots led by three.
On fourth and inches... @flyguy2stackz scores his second TD!@Patriots have the lead!!! #NFLPlayoffs— NFL (@NFL) January 21, 2019
📺: #NEvsKC on CBS pic.twitter.com/7K28JFcaQx
The stage was set for Mahomes to begin writing his own playoff history.
An illegal contact penalty gave the Chiefs a first down. A pass-interference penalty brought the ball to the Patriots 40-yard line. One play later, Jonathan Jones dropped an interception in the end zone. On the next play, Reid drew up a perfect (and legal) pick play for Watkins for 38 yards. One play later, the Chiefs re-took the lead via Williams.
Here comes @sammywatkins and those @Chiefs 👀 pic.twitter.com/EwAjf5SYrx— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 21, 2019
Damien Williams strikes again! ⚡️ #LetsRollpic.twitter.com/K6geBPft6m— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 21, 2019
The only problem? They left Brady with too much time.
He quickly took them into Chiefs territory, which is where the Chiefs foolishly decided to give Brady extra chances. With under a minute left, Brady was picked off after his pass went through Gronk's hands, but Dee Ford got flagged for offsides, which negated what likely would've been a game-ending pick. On the next play, Gronk redeemed himself, coming down with Brady's jump ball at the 4-yard line for 25 yards. Rex Burkhead pounded the ball into the end zone with 39 seconds left to give the Patriots a three-point lead.
Could Mahomes engineer more magic in 39 seconds?
TURN THAT TV BACK ON THIS GAME AIN'T OVER pic.twitter.com/UUzh6RZW2F— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 21, 2019
I REPEAT THIS GAME IS NOT OVER pic.twitter.com/iYXiGIc2hc— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 21, 2019
Harrison Butker didn't choke. He sent the game to overtime at 31-31.
Nobody knew it at the time, but the coin toss would come to decide the game. The Patriots won the toss, got the ball first, and denied Mahomes a chance to go win the game. Brady made sure Mahomes never got the chance to touch the ball, leading the Patriots on a 13-play, 75-yard walk-off drive that ended with a Rex Burkhead run from in close.
The game began with an unending Patriots series that culminated with a bruising touchdown. The game concluded with an unending Patriots series that culminated with a bruising touchdown.
The @Patriots are headed to Super Bowl LIII 🏆 pic.twitter.com/YpK3MWwdtV— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 21, 2019
The Patriots are going back to the Super Bowl, where Brady and Belichick will chase their sixth championship together against the team (new city, same nickname) they began their historic run against way back in February 2002. It could be the perfect way for them to bookend their dynasty, which has to be (right?) coming to an end sometime soon due to the unfortunate and unbeatable process of aging.
PATS ARE HEADED BACK TO THE SUPER BOWL pic.twitter.com/kQUvva3PHZ— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 21, 2019
Going to the Super Bowl never gets old pic.twitter.com/WsmnL53dVS— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 21, 2019
This @SuperBowl Sunday will be 17 years to the day since these teams met in Super Bowl XXXVI (Patriots def. Rams 20-17).— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) January 21, 2019
Tom Brady & Jared Goff represent the largest age gap between opposing starting QBs in Super Bowl history - age difference is 17 years, 72 days (on game day).
The Patriots provided plenty of moments along the way to doubt them this season and the Chiefs certainly spent the entire regular season looking like the new class of the conference, but Sunday was a stark reminder that come winter, the Patriots are a damn-near inevitability. The Chiefs might have the better of the two offenses, they might be more talented, they might have the better quarterback right now, and they might have a brighter long-term outlook, but they're not the Patriots -- and probably never will be. We might not see a dynasty quite like this one ever again. For as great and as sexy and as unstoppable this Chiefs team was, they couldn't overcome the NFL's version of a final boss, the unbreakable monster everyone knows is waiting for them if they journey deep enough into January, but can never seem to slay.
The Chiefs might be the future of the league. But the Patriots aren't done writing their history quite yet.
They're still the Patriots.
Brady is still the GOAT
Brady didn't do much in the first half. He handed the ball off to Michel. He hit White on underneath passes. And he made the one deep throw that was required of him just before halftime to give the Patriots a 14-0 lead.
Brady. Dorsett. Perfection.@dorsett_4 | #NEvsKC | #EverythingWeGot pic.twitter.com/fldSeQFRfz— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 21, 2019
But he wasn't perfect in that first half. On the Patriots' second series, when they were on the cusp of blowing the game wide open with an early 14-0 lead, Brady made the kind of mistake he's never made in his career: He threw an interception from the 1-yard line.
Chiefs D with the huge takeaway at the goal line 👀 @reggieraglandpic.twitter.com/6ROJDgAhPe— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 21, 2019
Tom Brady just threw an interception at the opponent's 1-yard line.— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) January 21, 2019
That's *never* happened before. He had thrown 2 INTs at his opponent's 2-yard line.
But here's the thing: Eventually, after Mahomes brought the Chiefs back from that 14-point deficit to turn the game into a shootout, Brady managed to keep pace with Mahomes. While the Patriots continued to rely on their ground game, which totaled 176 yards and four touchdowns, Brady came up with big throw after big throw.
On that game-winning series in overtime, Brady converted three third-and-10s with downfield completions -- a 20-yarder to Edelman, a 15-yarder to Edelman, and a 15-yarder to Gronk.
Romo knows exactly what's going to happen every time 🔊 pic.twitter.com/8A8Sv5uZUM— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 21, 2019
Brady slinging darts in OT 🎯 pic.twitter.com/WgpzYFzI49— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 21, 2019
OH MY GRONKNESS. @RobGronkowski | #NEvsKC | #EverythingWeGotpic.twitter.com/KE5fsbhDPb— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 21, 2019
He finished 30 of 46 for 348 yards, one touchdown, two picks, and a 77.1 passer rating. But nobody will remember this performance for his passer rating. They'll remember it for his performance in the final minutes against the quarterback who might just eventually threaten his status as the greatest quarterback of all time.
That's a debate for another time. For now, Brady remains king.
Mahomes overcomes pressure
On that note, do not blame Mahomes for the result.
While he -- along with the rest of the offense -- struggled in the first half, Mahomes dealt with pressure from the Patriots' defensive front all game long and battled back to delivery an iconic second half that should only supplement his MVP case. When it was all over, he finished 16 of 31 for 295 yards, three touchdowns, no picks, and a 117.0 passer rating. It's not his fault the Chiefs lost the coin toss and never touched the ball in overtime.
Most of his jaw-dropping highlights are above. Here's one more:
Ho hum another no look pass pic.twitter.com/j5feIELsUz— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) January 21, 2019
And, sure, it's worth noting he missed an easy touchdown in the first half. But the fact remains he's still the best quarterback on the planet at this very moment. He rebounded after a rough first half for an incredible second half that should go down in Kansas City lore. He dealt with pressure all night -- not just the pressure of the moment, but pressure from the Patriots' front-seven, which sacked him four times.
👀 @KVN_03#EverythingWeGot | #NEvsKC pic.twitter.com/BOygrShRhu— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 21, 2019
Neither of the Chiefs' losses to the Patriots are on him. Unlike Brady, he's working with no margin for error. The Chiefs defense is terrible. He can't afford to make mistakes because his defense usually isn't good enough to bail him out. Brady can make mistakes. He's aided by the greatest coach of all time in Belichick.
Mahomes, in his second ever playoff start, outplayed Brady. That might not seem like much when the sun rises in Kansas City on Monday, but it does matter. Imagine how good Mahomes might be a year or two from now. Imagine how unstoppable he'll be when Brady and Belichick are no longer around to devise ways to overcome his brilliance.
The present still belongs to Brady and Belichick. The next few years might remains theirs. But Mahomes and the Chiefs still have the brightest long-term future. They'll just have to wait a little while longer to claim the throne that appears to be theirs for the taking -- after Brady and Belichick walk away on their own terms.
In two weeks, the Patriots will face the Rams in Super Bowl LIII, which you can stream right here on CBSSports.com. The Chiefs, meanwhile, head into the offseason knowing they need to provide Mahomes with a better defense if they're ever going to blow up the Death Star and defeat the NFL's version of the Galactic Empire.
Feel free to relive the game with our live blog below.