By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It really speaks to the Patriots’ ability to play a heart-stopping, lump-in-your-throat, on-the-verge-of-heart attack style of football that after all these years, all those wins and all those Super Bowls, they still manage to leave fans gasping for air, for hours at a time.
That was surely the case Sunday night, when the Patriots and Chiefs engaged in an AFC title game for the ages. Despite the best efforts of Clete Blakeman and the officiating crew to ruin the evening for all involved (plenty more on that circus later), this one ended up being an all-time classic.
And for a team that has played so many ridiculously entertaining, thoroughly heart-pounding football games in January and February over the past 18 years, this one ranks right up there among the very best.
“This was the best game I think I have ever seen in my life,” Christian Fauria said on Patriots Fifth Quarter after the overtime win for New England. “And I’ve been a part of a lot of them from high school to college, I mean, you name it. The tension, the anxiety that existed throughout this game, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime — you could cut it with a knife, it was so thick. Unbelievable.”
Fauria played 13 seasons in the NFL, winning Super Bowls with the Patriots in ’03 and ’04. Having witnessed the Super Bowl LI comeback vs. Atlanta, and the stunning Super Bowl XLIX win vs. Seattle, his commentary on Sunday night’s AFC title game speaks volumes.
Obviously, we can’t sit here and say the game was “the best,” because such rankings are difficult enough to do when we’re not just hours removed from the end of the most recent entry. But we can all agree that in terms of excitement, doubt, anxiety, and exhilaration, it doesn’t really get any better than that one.
As a result, there are A LOT of leftover thoughts that we’ve got to run through. So let’s get to all of them, from the Patriots’ 37-31 win over the Chiefs.
–You knew from the first snap that Sony PlayStation Michel would be filling his belly on this night. I mean, goodness gracious:
That was the gulf through which Michel trotted on the first offensive play of the game. It was a sign of things to come.
Here’s a look at the hole he ran through for the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter, which came on a fourth-and-1:
Michel now has 242 yards and five touchdowns on 53 carries in his first two playoff games.
He already is tied for 30th on the all-time postseason rushing touchdowns list with five. He’s played in two games.
–Credit, too, to James White, for randomly becoming a power back on two third-down runs on the opening drive. On a third-and-4, he took a little sweep right and dropped his shoulder into linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who led the team in tackles this season. White powered through for the first. On a third-and-1 three plays later, White took an inside handoff, put his head down, and gained two yards.
When we marvel at the Patriots’ feats — nine Super Bowls in 18 years, namely — we tend to look at the big picture. But it’s the little plays like those ones that really define this run for the Patriots. Clutch players doing their job — whatever that job may be — in big moments. More than that, it’s the adaptability that stands out. White took third-down handoffs on just 16.8 percent of plays this year, but on Sunday night, he ran it three times on the Patriots’ first five third downs. He converted them all.
–If you’re a football analyst, and if you spoke this year about Tom Brady not having the arm strength, you need to sit out a few plays. That’s whether you used “noodle arm” or “overcooked fettuccine.” There were some things in Brady’s game this year that weren’t perfect. But arm strength? Not an issue.
Not much gets overlooked with Brady, but consider that he’s 41 years old and he just delivered a dynamite performance on a frigid night in a deafening stadium. He’s backing up his claim from years ago when he said he had all the answers to the test. His pre-snap work was deadly, and — outside of the end zone blunder in the second quarter — his throws were on point.
He wasn’t much of a deep ball thrower (though the TD pass to Dorsett was pretty good), but watch how perfect his pass to Rob Gronkowski on a third-and-10 in overtime was:
That is perfection.
–I feel like the defense probably won’t get much love after allowing 31 points in the second half. Fair enough. But that doesn’t erase what they did in the first half, when they were lights out. It was a comprehensive effort, too. Kyle Van Noy had a huge third-down sack. Elandon Roberts was in the backfield making a tackle for a loss. Malcom Brown came up with a run stuff on a third-and-1. Trey Flowers came up with a third-down sack for a 14-yard loss that took K.C. out of field goal range.
The Chiefs were shut out in a half for the first time since 2016.
Granted, that was aided by Patrick Mahomes completely airmailing a wide-open Damien Williams for a touchdown. But that’s why you play the game.
–Last week, I wrote that Julian Edelman deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. My argument was based on the fact that Kurt Warner is in there for essentially being good in a few playoff runs. Edelman may now be known as the most prolific postseason receiver of all time.
I did receive some guff from some small-minded non-thinkers after my exquisite article lit the world on fire, but now I seem to be surrounded by many like-minded geniuses.
Putting that aside, Edelman’s individual performances in these games is getting out of hand.
In his last 10 playoff games, dating back to the 2014 postseason, Edelman is averaging eight catches and 102 yards per game. He’s also averaging 12 yards per punt return.
Edelman currently ranks:
—Second all time in playoff receptions with 105. Jerry Rice is the leader with 151. Nobody else has more than 93.
—Fourth all time in playoff receiving yards with 1,271. If he records 19 receiving yards in Super Bowl LIII, he’ll move into third place, behind only Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice. If he picks up 45 yards, he’ll pass Irvin and move into second place.
—First in postseason punt return yards with 441. He has more than 100 punt return yards than any player in playoff history.
The man is just prolific.
–It’s not just volume stats, either. Edelman’s ability to perform in the clutch is just remarkable. Though he did not have a major goof — just like Brady — by letting a ball clank off his hands for an easy interception, he more than made up for it with a pair of catches on third-and-10 in overtime.
In fact, of Edelman’s seven catches, six of them went for first downs. Four of those came on third downs.
He’s got a signature play — the miracle catch from Super Bowl LI. He’s got a couple of rings. He caught a game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIX. And he’s about to head back to another.
(Put him in the Hall!)
(Or take Kurt Warner out!)
(Either way, fine with me. Just looking for some logical consistency.)
–So the end of that game was crazy, but don’t let it distract you from the fact that Jimmy White made one of the best catches in the history of sports.
What in the world, Jimmy?
That’s one way to convert a third-and-7, I suppose.
–I just don’t know what laboratory Belichick uses to create these guys. James White, Rob Gronkowski, and Julian Edelman are simply as clutch as can be. Things like that are always about opportunity, but that trio in particular seems to seize their opportunity more than most players would or could.
Add in Rex Burkhead having the smarts to lunge for a first down on a third-and-1, and then scoring two touchdowns at the end of the game. Add in Stephen Gostkowski confidently kicking a 47-yard field goal in less-than-ideal conditions. Add in the rookie, Michel, going over 100 yards with multiple touchdowns for the second straight postseason week. Add in Chris Hogan making dazzling catches all over the field. Add in Phillip Dorsett hauling in a 29-yard touchdown pass while getting clobbered by a defensive back. Add in an offensive line appearing to not be affected in the least by the record-setting potential crowd noise.
The team just exudes clutch. There are some folks who watch sports and don’t believe such a thing exists. Those people should start watching more Patriots games.
–OK, time to rant and rave about the officiating. I know both fan bases will cry foul for certain calls/non-calls, as if Clete Blakeman and his supposed “all-star crew” worked to conspire against one team.
I’m here to say that’s poppycock. These guys weren’t biased. They just stunk.
Let’s count the ways.
Roughing the passer penalty on Chris Jones for maybe lightly grazing Tom Brady’s facemask in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game? Completely and utterly bogus.
Not calling pass interference when Steven Nelson hopped on Phillip Dorsett’s back for a piggyback ride in the end zone?
Later calling pass interference in the end zone on J.C. Jackson on an uncatchable pass that forced Travis Kelce to spin and reach back? On a play when Kelce was the one who pushed off, no less?
Ignoring the fact that Rob Gronkowski was held all the way up the field all night?
And then suddenly calling defensive holding on a play where the receiver might have slipped, thus negating a game-winning turnover forced by the Patriots’ defense.
Stopping the game multiple times for long periods of time, including late in the fourth to essentially give the Chiefs a free timeout to get their offense in order, just so that the game clock could be confirmed to be correct.
Calling Phillip Dorsett for offensive pass interference on a play where the defender grabbed him and never let go, only to later completely ignore a blatant case of pass interference when Chris Conley delivered a dropped shoulder into the sternum of J.C. Jackson to spring Sammy Watkins for a 38-yard gain — thus putting K.C. on the 2-yard line when they should have been at the 50-yard line?
That is simply unacceptable.
The officiating in this game was garbage. Pure and simple. Sopping wet, soggy garbage.
Put it all together, and after the NFC Championship Game was completely ruined by one of the worst moments in officiating history, the NFL had an awful, awful day in terms of rule enforcement.
Now, the TV ratings will be astronomical for both games, and the revenue won’t be impacted. Folks are getting rich off this. So there won’t be much in the way of change or improvement. We’re essentially yelling into a void here. But as football viewers, we deserve better than that. We watched one of the best games in NFL history, and yet the men in stripes almost ruined it.
We deserve better, obviously, but the guys on the field who are literally giving their bodies to this game? They really deserve better.
–Anyway, any and all frustration from watching the referee and his crew muck up a good game can be soothed by watching a fullback show off some slick, sweet hands.
Oh yeah, Jimmy D. That’s the stuff right there.
–Complaint department: After scoring to go up 14-0 late in the second quarter, the Patriots elected to kick off like a bunch of whackadoodles. Gostkowski kicked a low roller, and it was returned easily for 17 yards. The Chiefs had the ball a their own 42 with 21 seconds left o the clock before halftime. This was a gift.
Stop doing that. Don’t do it. Kick it deep. Stop doing silly things on kickoffs.
–That is but a minor complaint in an otherwise thrilling game. That one was well worth the price of admission. Fortunately, we all have a buffer week to kind of chill out and recover, before the Super Bowl hype really starts next Monday.
And you just know that given the way this team tends to play the game of football, another painful, exhausting football game awaits on Feb. 3 in Atlanta. Might as well stock up on your blood pressure medication now. The Patriots know nothing except playing mind-melting football games in January and February.