The best playoff game of the 2018-19 NFL season was without a doubt the AFC Championship. The headlines wrote themselves.
Tom Brady, the ageless wonder, playing for a championship at age 41 against the wonder kid and eventual league MVP Patrick Mahomes. A team gunning for their sixth Super Bowl title in 18 years against a team who hadn’t been to the game, let alone won it, since 1969. A regular season rematch of a 43-40 shootout that was won on a last second field goal. The New England Patriots vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.
The game was hyped beyond belief and still delivered above everyone’s expectations.
Kansas City won the toss and elected to defer the ball until the second half. New England starts the game off on their own 20-yard line.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriot offense came into this game trying to win by time of possession. That calls for a big game from New England’s stable of backs, with Sony Michel and James White leading the way.
On their first drive, the Patriots ran the ball 10 times vs Brady’s five pass attempts. Michel and White, with the aid of Rex Burkhead, plowed the ball down the field on the Kansas City defense. Michel eventually punched through the goal-line from one yard out to take the early lead. New England’s opening drive left Kansas City with 6:55 to play in the first quarter.
Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs’ game plan was the same as it had been all year: Let Patrick Mahomes be Patrick Mahomes.
The first-year starter lead his team to a 31-13 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional Round, but did not throw a touchdown pass (or any left-handed passes). Mahomes’ magic was still missing during the first quarter of the AFC Championship.
3rd and 10 from the Kansas City 24-yard line.
Kansas City is in 12 personnel with Travis Kelce (#87) playing in the near slot at the top of the screen and Demetrius Harris (#84) lined up tight to the bottom of the screen. Bill Belichick responds by having six defensive backs on the field to matchup with Kansas City’s speed. Part of Belichick’s plan was to use Kyle Van Noy (#53) and Dont’a Hightower (#54) to rush Mahomes (#15). On this specific play, the linebackers are essential in a stunt. Hightower and Adam Butler (#70) slant to the right. As the Kansas City offensive line starts to wash the two Patriots down, Van Noy comes running through the void in the B-gap created by Butler and Hightower. The six New England defensive backs lock down the Chiefs receivers, and Van Noy tracks down Mahomes for a big sack to end Kansas City’s first drive.
New England pushes the Chiefs’ offense back to their own ten-yard line. Dustin Colquitt punts to the New England 45 and Julian Edelman runs out of bounds after an 11 yard return to the Kansas City 44-yard line.
The Patriots’ offense is set up with a short field but the plan remains the same: Try and grind this game out, and keep the ball away from Mahomes.
Tom Brady would find Cordarrelle Patterson for 15 yards and Edelman for five yards on a big third down, but the ground game remained consistent. New England was at the Kansas City five-yard line when the quarter ends.
Two Sony Michel runs have the Patriots beating on the door at the Kansas City one-yard line.
New England is in a 22-jumbo-personnel goal-line formation with Sony Michel (#26) and James Develin (#46) in the backfield. Tom Brady (#12) play fakes the ball to Michel and immediately sets and throws for a crossing Rob Gronkowski (#87). Gronk is blanketed by Anthony Hitchens (#53) but Reggie Ragland (#59) makes the play, dropping back into the end zone intercepting Brady. Ragland runs around before giving himself up in his own end zone for a touchback. A huge mistake by Brady gives Kansas City early momentum.
Mahomes was able to find Kelce for a 9-yard gain for his first completion of the game, but the Chiefs’ would fail to convert, going three and out.
New England was able to cross midfield on their next possession but would punt shortly after. Mahomes and the Chiefs take over at their own 15-yard line.
Mahomes was starting to heat up. A two-yard completion to Kelce and a 12-yard completion to Sammy Watkins set up a 44-yard bomb to Tyreek Hill. In three plays, Mahomes had the Chiefs to the New England 23-yard line.
Kansas City is in 11-personnel with Kelce split to the boundary. Damien Williams (#26) lines up to Mahomes’ right. Andy Reid dials up a pick play with Kelce and Williams that beats New England’s Cover 1. Williams takes off on a wheel route up the boundary sideline. Kelce sets a legal pick on Van Noy as he tries to keep up with Williams. Patrick Chung (#23) and Lawrence Guy (#93) are able to push the pocket and pressure Mahomes. Even though Mahomes is capable of making some inexplicable throws from any platform, he is not able to deliver an accurate ball to a wide open Williams in the end zone.
New England’s defense gets away with one on first down and stuffed a Williams run on second down. On third down, the New England defense was able to bring Mahomes down again. The Chiefs lose 14 yards on the sack, pushing them out of field goal range. A Colquitt punt has the Patriots starting from their own ten-yard line.
Four Michel runs move the Patriots up to their own 27-yard line. Brady would then look to White to move the offense down the field. A screen to White would gain 30 yards, followed by a nine-yard sweep.
New England is set up with 2nd and 1 from the Kansas City 29-yard line.
The Patriots are in 11-personnel with Phillip Dorsett (#15) and Edelman (#11) to the boundary. Edelman motions down to the slot with Dorsett before the snap. Dorsett runs an out-and-up route and Brady pumps when Dorsett cuts out, causing Steven Nelson (#20) to lose a step on Dorsett. It’s not a great route from Dorsett, but Brady is able to deliver a beautiful ball for Dorsett to come back to.
New England has been able to keep Mahomes off the field with their efficient offense and stubborn defense. Kansas City is in an early 14-0 hole.
The Chiefs are given one chance before the half ends to put up some points.
Kansas City is in 11-personnel and New England continues to match with six defensive backs. Van Noy is on the boundary side of the formation between 1-tech Guy and Adrian Clayborn, (#94) who is playing the wide 9-tech. Van Noy and Guy slant to the right, and Clayborn comes around to the A-gap. Van Noy is able to split the guard and tackle and finds himself in pursuit of Mahomes once again. Van Noy chops down on Mahomes, knocking the ball loose just as the quarterback begins to throw. The ball takes a fortunate bounce towards Mahomes who falls on the ball back at the Kansas City 27-yard line.
The clock runs out and Kansas City is lucky to go into the locker room only down 14.
Kansas City starts the second half with the ball at their own 26-yard line. The Chiefs face an early third down from their own 34-yard line.
Kansas City is in 12-personnel with Hill (#10) in the slot and Watkins (#14) split wide to the field. The Chiefs are running a mesh concept with Hill and Harris running crossing patterns underneath. Watkins is running a dig route over the top of the concept. New England is in man coverage and Belichick has chosen to double cover Hill with Jonathan Jones across from Hill (#31) and Devin McCourty (#32) playing safety in the middle of the field. Mahomes sits back in the pocket and nothing is open. He rolls out to his right and Watkins makes an excellent adjustment, breaking up field to the space left by McCourty. Mahomes launches a rocket to Watkins for a 54-yard completion to the New England 12-yard line.
On the next play, Mahomes hits Kelce on a slant route for the touchdown, and the Chiefs are finally on the board.
Both teams would trade punts before the Patriots get the ball back with another short field and 7:38 left in the quarter.
New England only gained eight yards but took 3:36 off the clock, capping the drive off with a Stephen Gostkowski field goal from 47 yards out.
Kansas City begins their next drive from their own 15-yard line. At this point of the game, the Chiefs offensive machine was beginning to roll on all cylinders. Mahomes had led his team across midfield to the Patriots’ 47-yard line for a first and ten.
Kansas City is in 12-personnel, and the Patriots now match with only five defensive backs on the field. Mahomes motions Williams across to the field side and Van Noy follows in man coverage. Mahomes collects the snap and hits Williams in stride on a swing route. Van Noy has to maneuver through traffic and is unable to guard his man, who takes off down the sideline. Eventually McCourty is able to bring Williams down, but not until after a gain of 33-yards to the New England 14-yard line.
New England cornerback J.C. Jackson commits defensive pass interference in the end zone on the first play of the quarter, moving the Chiefs to the New England one-yard line. On the following play, Williams punches through the goal line for a touchdown. The Chiefs have closed the New England lead down to three.
The ensuing Patriots drive was successful moving across the field to the Kansas City 25-yard line, where they faced a fourth and one. Belichick would elect to go for it, but Burkhead is stopped at the line of scrimmage. Another big stand by the Kansas City defense gives Mahomes a chance to take the lead.
Kansas City would fail to move the ball and were forced to punt from their own 27-yard line.
Colquitt (#2) punts the ball high and short landing at the New England 41-yard line before it starts bouncing towards Edelman, who initially called for a fair catch. Edelman is forced to react to the ball and it grazes by him. Kansas City recovers the dead ball after the muff at the 26-yard line … or so it seems. This one was headed upstairs for replay review. After multiple angles from every direction, the refs determine Edelman in fact did not touch the football. One of the closest calls of the year goes in New England’s favor, giving them possession at their own 28-yard line.
In basketball it’s a known truth that “ball don’t lie”. The same applies to football from time to time. Two plays later, New England is facing 2nd and 8 from their own 30-yard line.
New England is in 11-personnel with Edelman and Chris Hogan (#15) split tight at the bottom of the screen. The concept is double-dig; Edelman is running a dig underneath breaking at 8 yards and Hogan is running a deeper dig breaking his route at 15 yards. Brady sees a small window and fits a pass through to Edelman. Brady’s throw has a little bit of extra mustard on it and it bounces off of Edelman’s hands into the arms of Daniel Sorensen (#49). Sorensen takes the ball back and returns it to the New England 23-yard line.
2nd and 10 from the New England 23-yard line.
Kansas City is in an 11-personnel formation, while New England sticks with five defensive backs. Mahomes gets the snap, play fakes to Williams and begins rolling to his right. Kelce is lined up to the field but cuts towards the boundary on the snap. It looks like Kansas City is setting up for the tight end shovel pass that has given so many defenses problems. The New England defense flows heavily with Kelce but Mahomes turns around and lofts a pass to Williams who has a wall set up on a screen. Williams runs 23 yards untouched into the end zone. Kansas City takes their first lead of the game, 21-17.
New England regains possession with 7:45 left on the clock at their own 25-yard line. The urgency has been heightened as we draw closer to crowning a conference champion. Brady and the Patriots offense begin to work through the air. New England is at the Kansas City ten-yard line facing another fourth and one. Belichick elects to go for it once more.
The Patriots are in 21-personnel with Michel and James Develin in the backfield. Rob Gronkowski motions across to the boundary. The play is a lead off-tackle through the C-gap, a play Sony Michel had success with early and often in 2018. Right tackle Marcus Cannon (#61) is able to block two Chiefs defenders, and Develin kicks out the safety. Michel has a clear lane into the end zone and the Patriots take back the lead 24-21.
Patrick Mahomes runs back onto the field with 3:26 left in regulation. The Chiefs are successful moving downfield late in the fourth quarter due to some huge New England penalties. J.C. Jackson would get penalized again in a big spot, wiping out a fumble recovery for the Patriots. Jackson would be penalized again later in the drive for defensive pass interference, moving the Chiefs up to the New England 40-yard line.
Two plays later, the Chiefs are facing 2nd and 10 from the New England 40-yard line.
The Chiefs are in 11-personnel, Watkins is playing in the outside slot to the field. On the snap, the entire offensive line and Mahomes shift towards the field. Andy Reid dials up another pick play with Chris Conley (#17) breaking inside towards Jackson (#27). Conley sets a successful albeit illegal pick knocking Jackson down 4 yards down field. The pick goes uncalled and Mahomes hits Watkins in stride off a fade route. Watkins is able to get his team to the 2-yard line.
One play later, Damien Williams is able to punch through the goal-line in another short yardage situation. Kansas City reclaims the lead 28-24.
A great Patterson return sets the Patriots up at their own 35-yard line. On the ensuing drive, Brady would hit Edelman and Hogan for two quick first downs, moving the Patriots quickly into Kansas City territory. New England is facing 3rd and 10 from the Kansas City 34-yard line.
The Patriots come out in an 11-personnel formation with Gronkowski lined up tight to the field. Gronk chip blocks Justin Houston (#50) before running out to the flat. Brady sees no one open down field and elects to check the ball down to Gronk. It’s not the best ball from Brady as it’s high and on a rope. Gronk is unable to secure the catch and deflects the ball into the air for Charvarius Ward (#35) to pick off. An unbelievable break for the Chiefs until … the officials come in with a penalty on Kansas City. Dee Ford (#55) had lined up offsides at the top of the screen. An insane momentum swing in a matter of seconds.
New England retains possession and gains five yards to the Kansas City 29-yard line.
New England stays in 11-personnel but spreads the field. Gronkowski is lined up wide to the boundary with Eric Berry (#29) guarding him in man coverage. Brady recognizes one of his favorite targets in a one-on-one situation. Gronk muscles past Berry off the line and Brady throws a high ball towards the sideline. Gronk adjusts and barrels down to the Kansas City 4-yard line. New England is in position to take the lead with seconds remaining in regulation.
The next play, Burkhead pushes into the end zone for six. After the ensuing kickoff, Mahomes only has 39 seconds left to keep his team’s season alive.
On first down Mahomes extends the play and throws a beautiful ball to Spencer Ware to gain 21 yards. Kansas City calls their final timeout at the New England 48-yard line.
Kansas City is in 11-personnel, New England brings the sixth defensive back on to the field. New England is playing Cover 1 with the high safety double covering Hill again. Hill is lined up wide to the field, Demarcus Robinson (#11) is lined up in the slot to the boundary. Mahomes gets Trey Flowers (#90) to jump offsides. Hill runs a deep post, drawing the double coverage down field. Robinson runs a crossing route away from Jackson but deep enough to run under Hill’s route. Mahomes faces pressure but throws the ball up towards Robinson anyway because of the offsides call. Robinson is able to make a play at the catch-point and the Chiefs move down the field to the New England 21-yard line in two plays.
Mahomes would try to take a final shot towards the end zone. New England wasn’t going to let the Chiefs have a chance to steal the game from them, and Mahomes is forced to throw the ball out the back of the end zone.
Kansas City sends Harrison Butker onto the field to attempt the biggest kick of his life. Belichick attempts to freeze Butker with a timeout, but Butker has ice running through his veins and nails the 39-yard kick.
New England wins the overtime toss and elects to receive the ball. Kansas City’s defense would need to dig deep to stop one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
The Patriots start from their own 25-yard line.
Tom Brady finds Hogan for a gain of 10 and a fresh set of down. Two plays and zero yards later, its 3rd and 10 from the New England 35-yard line.
New England is in 11-personnel, Edelman motions from a wide split down to the slot at the top of the screen. Chiefs’ cornerback Kendall Fuller (#23) gets mixed up by the motion and lets Edelman run down the seam unguarded. It’s an easy find for Brady and the Patriots convert third down for 20 yards.
Now to the Kansas City 45-yard line, Brady throws two incompletions on first and second down. The Patriots face another third and long.
Still in 11-personnel, the Patriots have Julian Edelman lined up wide to bottom of the screen this time. Brady motions Edelman into the slot again and Ward follows in man coverage. Edelman is able to get a small pick from Dorsett, cuts under Dorsett’s route, and is wide open running up the seam again. Brady delivers another accurate ball and the Patriots convert on third and long again in overtime.
Brady has the Patriots to the Kansas City 30-yard line. The Patriots start this series off just like the last, two incompletions from Brady, and it’s 3rd and 10 once more.
The Patriots stick with 11-personnel and split Gronkowski wide to the boundary. Berry is lined up across from Gronk again. After getting burned by Edelman on the previous two third downs, Kansas City uses Sorensen to double cover Edelman. Sorensen is playing the boundary safety and is responsible for Edelman running across the field or up the seam. Gronkowski runs past Berry on a slant route and Brady fits a pass in behind Sorensen for Gronk to convert on third down.
The Patriots move to the Kansas City 15-yard line. Next, Burkhead carries the ball for ten yards, followed by a three-yard run.
Second and goal from the Kansas City two-yard line.
The Patriots are in their jumbo-22-personnel goal-line formation once again. Develin is joined in the backfield by Burkhead (#34). Another off-tackle lead to the C-gap, this time to the left. Trent Brown (#77) gets a great push and collapses the right side of Kansas City’s defensive line. Develin brings the boom on the kickout, and Burkhead is able to fall into the end zone. The Patriots win and are advancing to the Super Bowl.
MVP of the Game
Although they had to abandon their ball control offense once the game tightened up in the fourth quarter, the New England running backs ran this game as a group. Michel, White, Burkhead, and Develin combined for 258 yards from scrimmage on 56 touches, for four touchdowns. But the single most valuable player was Tom Brady. Brady was able to bounce back from two interceptions and lead his team down the field multiple times to pull out the victory. The big throws in the fourth quarter and overtime were why the Patriots were once again crowned as AFC Champions.
Re-live this game and watch the highlights here.