By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Someone’s got to say it, folks. And I’m willing to be that someone.
Sunday’s win over the Chiefs was the Patriots’ most impressive playoff victory since Super Bowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams.
Now before you chuck that tomato and vociferously boo in my general direction, please, hear me out.
When you hear such a statement, your mind probably goes directly to two different games: the divisional round win over the Ravens in 2014, and Super Bowl LI against the Falcons.
I did state at the time (and I still stand by it) that the win over the Ravens was the greatest playoff game in Gillette Stadium history. That game was dynamite. It was bananas. The Patriots rallied from 14-0. Then they rallied from 28-14. Then they had to rally once more, from 31-28. They pulled out all the stops. They ran some trick formations. Julian Edelman chucked a bomb to Danny Amendola, finally justifying the six years of announcers beating you over the head with the fact that he was a college QB. Tom Brady dropped a deep ball into the bread basket of a streaking Brandon LaFell at the front pylon for the go-ahead TD, but even that wasn’t enough. The Patriots still had to stop the Ravens one more time; Duron Harmon picked off Joe Flacco in the end zone.
That game was phenomenal. But what can get overlooked is that the 2014 Ravens weren’t very good! They went 10-6 overall, but 1-6 against teams better than .500. They weren’t very good! The Patriots just weren’t playing well that night. Their comeback was amazing. But the quality of opponent has to factor in to the impressiveness factor. And the Ravens don’t have it.
Now, if you want to argue that the 28-3 comeback over the Falcons in Super Bowl LI was more impressive than this win over the Chiefs, then … I’m not going to stop you. That thing was incredible. Still can’t believe it, actually. Though, on the impressiveness scale, there is something to be said about not falling behind by 25 points to begin with.
But on the Chiefs win, consider this:
–The Chiefs led the NFL in scoring with 35.3 points per game. They also ranked first in yards, with 425.6 per game.
–The Chiefs were 8-1 at home on the year. Chiefs fans have set the record for being the loudest crowd ever in the past. (The Patriots went 3-5 on the road during the season.)
–The Chiefs start the MVP of the league at quarterback.
–It was very, very cold outside, and the Patriots’ quarterback is 41 years old. (That’s a factor, no?!)
–The Patriots committed two turnovers and allowed the Chiefs to score 24 points in the fourth quarter … but still won.
Ultimately, these things are always up for debate, and we’ve only discussed three games. You could easily add The Snow Bowl, the ’01 AFC title game in Pittsburgh (shoutout Drew Bledsoe), the two Peyton Manning smotherings, the ’03 Ice Bowl vs. the Titans, Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Panthers, the ’06 Chargers miracle/McCree brain fart, the Cundiff shank, Super Bowl XLIX vs. the Seahawks, and the ’17 AFC title game vs. the Jags to the conversation.
And though this is a personal measure, I still expected the Patriots to beat the Ravens in ’14. I expected the Patriots to beat the Falcons. I only expected the Patriots to have a chance to beat the Chiefs last weekend. The fact that they pulled it off was mightily impressive.
With that in mind, before we all dive headfirst into SUPER BOWL ALL THE TIME 24/7 SUPER BOWL SUPER BOWL SUPER BOWWWWLLLL mode, I did want to shine a light on some plays that are at risk of being forgotten from Sunday’s instant classic. While many plays will be remembered forever, a game that saw 137 offensive snaps and 68 points on the board is bound to have some critical plays lost to the sands of time. Let’s fight against that.
Here are The 10 Forgotten Plays from the Patriots’ 37-31 overtime win over the Chiefs in the 2018 AFC Championship Game. The undisputed* most impressive Patriots playoff since Feb. 3, 2002.
1. Malcom Brown Run Stuff
Second quarter, 12:54
To be fair, run stuffs don’t often put booties in the seats. They don’t sell many magazines. But they do win football games.
The situation for this one: The Chiefs, trailing 7-0, had just picked off Tom Brady in the end zone. A deadened crowd was awakened. The Chiefs had life. But they’d need to convert a third-and-1 a their own 29 if they wanted to turn that interception into anything worthwhile.
Malcom Brown lined up on left guard Cameron Erving, held his ground, and while engaged with Erving, took a peek into the backfield and knew when and where to fill the gap. He dropped his shoulder into Damien Williams, held him up at the line, and eventually (with some help from his friends) brought the running back to the turf. No gain. It was a real man’s effort.
The Chiefs had to punt. The Patriots couldn’t get back those points that Brady threw away, but that three-and-out killed any Chiefs momentum from getting going.
2. Mahomes’ Wide-Open Miss
Second quarter, 4:42
A lot of people around the country are lamenting the fact that Patrick Mahomes didn’t get to touch the ball in overtime. He did, however, have an opportunity to touch the football late in the second quarter, when Williams sprung himself wide open up the right sideline on a wheel route.
It was an easy TD for the quarterback who threw 50 TDs during the year. Alas, Mahomes — who was pressured a bit and threw off his back foot — overthrew his wide-open receiver.
It was eerily similar to Mahomes being too juiced up early on in his appearance in Foxboro earlier in the season, when he missed a wide-open Kareem Hunt for an easy touchdown:
Making matters worse, after missing Williams, Mahomes took a 14-yard sack, thus pushing Kansas City out of field goal range and preventing them from putting any points on the board before halftime. That was one major misfire.
3. Nobody Tackles James White
Second quarter, :50
There were a number of defensive breakdowns in this game, but this one may have been the most inexplicable. It came after Andy Reid and Bill Belichick played a game of chicken with regard to timeout usage. Eventually, Reid flinched and called timeout when the Patriots faced a third-and-4 at their own 27. Brady threw to James White to pick up five yards on that play to get a new set of downs, and then he simply dumped a pass to White on the next play.
Nobody on the Chiefs felt like tackling him.
White caught the ball at his own 27-yard line and without ever having to hit top speed, he meandered his way all the way to the Chiefs’ 38-yard line. The end of the run was particularly embarrassing for the K.C. defense.
White picked up nine yards on a sweep left on the next play, before Brady hit Phillip Dorsett for a touchdown to double the lead to 14-0. The Patriots weren’t even dead-set on scoring before halftime, but once Reid called that timeout, and once the Chiefs failed to contain White on a simple screen, Brady just walked in the open door and took what was given to him.
4. Tyreek Hill’s Punt Return From Hell
Third quarter, 10:30
Tyreek Hill is the fastest player ever, according to the men tasked with covering him on a snap-to-snap basis. He’s a lethal threat on offense, and he’s always a possibility to spring a return for a score on special teams.
But in this one, he had as bad a punt return as anyone could possibly have. He caught Ryan Allen’s punt at his own 18-yard line. Had he simply made a fair catch, he’d be all right. But Hill tried to make something happen, and he kept running backward … and backward … and backward toward his own goal line. At first, Matthew Slater broke him down against the sideline. Jonathan Jones looked like a basketball player on defense the way he prevented Hill from breaking back to the field. Albert McClellan had to deal with a Frank Zombo diving block from behind at the legs, but still got hands on Hill, as Ramon Humber came over the top with the tackle. Hill was eventually swallowed up back at his own 7-yard line.
Adding insult to injury, the Chiefs took an illegal blocking penalty, as Hill’s blockers scrambled to try to save him.
So instead of starting at the 18-yard line, the Chiefs began their drive at their own 4. They made it out to the 16-yard line … but then moved backward … and eventually had to punt from their own 8-yard line.
Edelman returned that punt easily to the Chiefs’ 37-yard line. Shortly thereafter, Stephen Gostkowski tacked on a 47-yard field goal.
5. Burkhead Stuffed
Fourth quarter, 9:38
With the ball at the Chiefs’ 25-yard line, Belichick could have elected to kick another field goal. But he clearly didn’t think three points would be enough, so he trusted the run game to do what it had been doing all postseason long: bowl over the opponent and get the necessary yardage.
But defensive tackle Allen Bailey got a strong push on right tackle Marcus Cannon, which prevented Burkhead from hitting the line at full speed. Daniel Sorensen whipped around the edge and wrapped up Burkhead before he could leap toward the line, and the Chiefs came up with a massive stop.
The Chiefs did go three-and-out, but then they punted, and Julian Edelman almost touched the bouncing punt, but didn’t, and then a long review ensued, and then Edelman dropped a pass that went for an interception, and then the Chiefs scored a touchdown to take the lead. That whirlwind sequence helped to erase the memory of this fourth-down stop, which was nevertheless a massive moment in the game.
6. Damien Williams TD
Fourth quarter, 7:45
So maybe a touchdown play isn’t exactly “forgotten,” but considering the frenzy of scoring in the fourth quarter of this game (38 combined points), this one deserves a second look.
And it deserves that second look because this play design was just magnificent. It was just a work of art from the trio of Andy Reid, Eric Bieniemy and Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes rolls right, and three receivers run streaks to that side of the field. Meanwhile three linemen break out left, and Mahomes throws back across the field to Williams, who could have moonwalked into the end zone from 27 yards out. The only Patriots player who had a prayer of stopping him was Trey Flowers, but he couldn’t get there in time.
This was the No. 1 ranked offense in the NFL for a reason. That was pretty.
7. Sony’s Fourth Down Conversion
Fourth quarter, 3:35
Again, this was a scoring play, so it certainly won’t be wholly forgotten. But it’s worth spotlighting not just because it was a fourth-down conversion, and not just because Michel scored, but because … the Patriots made this look eeeeeasy.
Fourth-and-1 at the Chiefs’ 10-yard line. Patriots trailing by four. Again, Belichick didn’t want the field goal. He knew they’d need more. The Patriots loaded up on the right side, with Develin shaded that way in an offset I-formation, and Rob Gronkowski motioning to that side pre-snap. Julian Edelman was tight to the formation on the right side too.
Tony Romo yelled out that the Patriots would be running it to the right, but the Chiefs couldn’t hear him. The interior of the line dealt with three defenders centered around the football (preventing Brady from sneaking), while Develin cleared out the outside edge of the running lane. Gronkowski easily took care of Justin Houston on the edge. Marcus Cannon, who was actually a half-tick late in getting off the snap, stepped up to block Sorensen, and that block prevented Frank Zombo from getting to Michel.
Michel easily picked up the yard to gain, and then continued on untouched to the end zone.
It was a symphony of blocking, in a critical moment of an AFC title game. What a year for Dante Scarnecchia.
8. Defensive Holding On J.C. Jackson
Fourth quarter, 3:21
While the Dee Ford offside penalty/negated interception has become a widely discussed play, this one has gone overlooked. It was just as significant, and the penalty call was much more questionable than the black-and-white infraction of lining up in the neutral zone.
This one came on a play where Travis Kelce caught a short pass over the middle and was promptly stripped on an aggressive tackle by Stephon Gilmore. Dont’a Hightower scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the 20-yard line. With a three-point lead, with possession of the ball at the 20, and with K.C. having just two timeouts, the Patriots were in prime position to ice the game away — either with another touchdown drive, or at the very least by draining serious clock and kicking a field goal.
Alas, a flag was thrown on the play for defensive holding. Now, Jackson did have his arms on receiver Sammy Watkins, but it’s not at all obvious that Watkins’ falling to the turf was the result of Jackson’s hands touching the receiver’s shoulders. In any event, replays showed numerous instances of Eric Berry waterskiing on Rob Gronkowski throughout the night. The boundaries were set throughout the night on what would be allowed in the secondary in terms of contact. And outside of completely botching an offensive pass interference penalty on Phillip Dorsett, the officials were generally letting minor action go without a flag. But not on this play, and in a huge moment.
For as much as the Dee Ford play has been scrutinized, and for as much as the Edelman non-touch on the punt return has somehow become controversial, this penalty call has been overshadowed.
9. Missed OPI On Chris Conley
Fourth quarter, 2:55
We’re not using this post as a sounding board to go off at bad officiating (that’s already been done), but the significance of this missed call cannot be overstated.
Chris Conley very clearly and obviously ran three yards before launching himself into J.C. Jackson, setting an illegal pick and springing Sammy Watkins free. Watkins made the easy reception and ran all the way down to the 2-yard line, where Devin McCourty tripped him up.
This is, as much as a defender having a hand in the neutral zone at the snap, a clear and obvious infraction. It was certainly a much greater infraction than what Dorsett was flagged for, when a defender grabbed him and never let go.
Yet, no flag was thrown.
Here’s why that’s significant, instead of a second-and-20 at the 50-yard line, the Chiefs had a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line. That’s a 48-yard swing by an official missing a blatant infraction.
The Chiefs, obviously, scored on the next play to take a four-point lead. The story of this game cannot be told without mention of this missed call.
10. Gronk Still Gronk
Fourth quarter, :54
Whether or not this is Rob Gronkowski’s final season in the NFL remains to be seen. But if this is the way he’s going out, it can’t get much better.
The tight end has been absolutely dominant as a blocker in recent weeks, but in this game he finally showed that he can still be an impactful receiver.
His quarterback also showed that he’s not so bad himself. This was just perfect.
That is what the football experts call a BIG TIME PLAY.
Burkhead ran in from the 4-yard line on the next snap to give the Patriots a three-point lead. In an ideal world, the Patriots might have taken some more time to score that touchdown, but the offense was in no mood to mess around, given the stakes.
Mahomes of course then led the Chiefs on a speedy scoring drive to send the game to overtime.
11. The Final Third-And-10
What? You thought it’d just be a top 10 list? This puppy went to overtime, so we get one more.
And while we all marveled at the Patriots’ ability to convert three separate third-and-10’s in overtime, we really ought to shine a brighter light on that final third-and-10. The first two were good, but Edelman was wide open. Granted, Edelman had to withstand a massive hit from Sorensen to hang on to the first one, but the Patriots made those ones look too easy.
The final one, though? That was a thing of beauty.
Gronkowski was once again covered by Eric Berry on the outside. Sorensen was helping at safety, but he was (understandably) mostly focused on Edelman. With Gronkowski running a simple slant on the outside, he used his big body to somewhat box out Berry. That gave Brady a very small window to fit in a bullet to the giant mitts of Gronkowski.
Brady uncorked the perfect pass.
A massive play in a massive moment by two of the greatest of all time at their respective positions. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Burkhead then ran for 10 yards, and then three yards, and then finally two yards for the winning score. The rest is history.