By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — At this point of the decades-long party that is known as the Patriots dynasty, you might think that this would all be old hat. You might think that all of the success, all of the wins, it all sort of becomes mundane.
That’s clearly not the case.
Not after what transpired on the football field in Kansas City on Sunday night. Not after the Patriots exchanged haymakers with the Chiefs in an AFC Championship Game for the ages.
And not after the Patriots showed the resolve and guts needed to win such a game on the road against a potent opponent.
And without surprise, it was Tom Brady driving the train when everything was on the line.
He did not do it alone, of course. A 65-minute game is not so simple.
But in overtime, in need of a touchdown to put an end to the back-and-forth, exhilarating but exhausting affair, the game was essentially won by three Patriots.
On the fourth play of overtime, the Patriots faced a third-and-10 at their own 35-yard line. On the road in a raucous environment, converting this play would be considered a low probability.
But not when you’re Tom Brady. And not when you’re the Patriots.
Brady patiently stood in the pocket and delivered a strike over the middle to Edelman. The receiver knew a big hit was coming, but he secured the catch and braced for impact. He even managed to roll off the hit and pick up an extra few yards for a gain of 20.
The Patriots had a new set of downs, and they were across midfield.
Three plays later, the Patriots again faced a third-and-10. Again, the decibel level within the stadium reached its highest point of the night. The home crowd just knew that if the Chiefs could get the ball back, Patrick Mahomes would do what he had done for the entirety of the fourth quarter.
But Brady probably knew that as well. With Edelman lined up wide to the right, Brady also likely knew that his favorite target was guaranteed to be open. Edelman motioned in toward the line, and after taking his first step, he was open. Brady hit him in stride over the middle for a gain of 15.
At that point, the Patriots were on the edge of field goal range. But on a frigid night, no kick could be considered a sure thing. So when the Patriots faced yet another third-and-10, the situation remained tenuous for New England.
This time, Brady gave Edelman a break. This time, Brady looked toward Gronkowski, not long ago considered the most unstoppable force in football, a man who’s been criticized for not being the same this year.
Some of that may be true, but in short bursts, Rob Gronkowski is still Rob Gronkowski.
The hulking tight end showed that by running a one-step slant route, covered by Eric Berry man-to-man on the outside. The two multiple-time All-Pros squared off, but Gronkowski’s first step was too much. He created enough separation haul in a perfectly placed pass in front of the safety by Brady — a 41-year-old who knows a thing or two about being doubted and written off this year as being too old or not quite as good anymore.
Gronkowski came down with the ball inside his giant hands, and the Patriots all of a sudden were on the doorstep.
“We’re always comfortable when we know we have to drive down the field,” Gronkowski said after the 37-31 win. “Yes, we’ve never won every game when it came down to those situations. But you’re always comfortable with Tom, going down on those drives. He’s always prepared, he’s always ready for these moments, and that’s why he’s the greatest quarterback. Just hands down.”
From there, Rex Burkhead ran for 10 yards, setting up a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line. The Patriots — who dominated in the run game all night long — stayed with Burkhead on the next two runs. The running back toppled over the goal line, sending the Patriots into delirium.
They’ve made it to Super Bowls before. They’ve made it to Super Bowls in dramatic fashion before.
But they’ve never made it to Super Bowls like this.
“I mean, you saw me, I ran off,” defensive captain Devin McCourty, who’s witnessed countless Brady comebacks, said about his reaction to winning the coin toss. “As soon as I saw it was heads, I’m like, ‘I saw this before. I know what happens at the end of this one.’ Any time we go to overtime and we get the ball, I’m not really worried about anything. I’m going to get comfy.”
It was no surprise that it was Brady, yet again, remaining composed in such a moment. Likewise, it was no surprise that proven playoff performers like Edelman and Gronkowski were the ones who delivered on such critical snaps. Their numbers overall were huge — Gronkowski caught six passes for 79 yards, while Edelman caught seven for 96 yards — but the timing of some of those plays were what made this a championship performance.
They’re now off to their fourth Super Bowl in the past five years, and their ninth Super Bowl since 2001. No other franchise in the 53-year history of the Super Bowl has more than eight appearances in the league’s ultimate game. Ever. From 1966-2018, no team has enjoyed as much success as the Patriots have over the past 18 years.
We shouldn’t be surprised. We should never be surprised. Not at this point.
Nevertheless, after what took place Sunday night in Kansas City? You can’t help but marvel at what Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the New England Patriots continue to do on a yearly basis.