KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tom Brady is still the best quarterback in the NFL, still the best with his season on the line.
To reach the Super Bowl, Brady, 41, had to get past young gunslinger Patrick Mahomes, 23, who put up MVP numbers in the regular season. But the postseason is Brady’s domain, and he ruled over it Sunday night in the AFC Championship Game.
Brady led the second-seeded Patriots to their third straight Super Bowl with a thrilling 37-31 overtime victory over the top-seeded Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
Rex Burkhead’s 2-yard touchdown run on the opening series of overtime sent the loud Chiefs fans home in stunned silence and ended a wild game that featured a fourth quarter in which 38 points were scored, including 17 in the last 2:03, and the lead changed hands four times.
“We’ve overcome a lot this year,” Brady said. “It was a great way to end it. That’s probably as excited as I’ve been in a long time.”
The Patriots will play in their fourth Super Bowl in five years — and ninth in 18 years in the Brady-Bill Belichick era — when they face the Rams on Feb. 3 in Atlanta.
Kansas City hosted the AFC title game for the first time and still is in search of its first Super Bowl appearance since January 1970.
Brady was terrific throughout, but especially on the final drive, refusing to give the Chiefs the ball. He completed three third-and-10 passes, two to Julian Edelman and one to Rob Gronkowski. The 15-yarder to Gronkowski put the ball at the 15 and Burkhead took it from there with runs of 10, 3 and 2 yards. It was his second rushing touchdown of the game.
“There’s no one I’d rather have in a two-minute drill than Tom Brady,” Edelman said. “He proved it again.”
Brady completed 30 of 46 passes for 348 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Sony Michel ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
Mahomes was 16-for-31 for 295 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. All three TD passes came in the second half as he led the Chiefs back from a 14-0 deficit. Running back Damien Williams caught two touchdown passes and ran for a score.
“This was a tough one,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “This one hurt.”
Kansas City came back strong in the second half and took its second fourth-quarter lead at 28-24 on Williams’ 2-yard run with 2:03 left. But that’s too much time for Brady, who led the Patriots on a go-ahead scoring drive with the help of a big break. He threw an interception that was negated because the Chiefs’ Dee Ford lined up in the neutral zone.
“I’ll take a peek at that and see what it looks like,” Reid said.
Two plays later, Burkhead’s 4-yard run with 39 seconds left gave New England a 31-28 lead.
Now it was Mahomes’ turn to pull off some late-game magic. With the ball at the Chiefs’ 31 and 32 seconds left, Mahomes passed for 21 yards to Spencer Ware and 27 yards to DeMarcus Robinson, putting the ball at the 21 with 16 seconds to go.
With no timeouts remaining, Mahomes threw the ball away on first down and Harrison Butker tied it with a 39-yard field goal with eight seconds left.
The Patriots received the ball in overtime and it was Brady’s time to shine. As usual, he did, leading a 13-play, 75-yard drive that lasted 4:52.
“It’s in his DNA, his clutch gene,” Edelman said. “He’s got it.”
With a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter, Belichick went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Chiefs’ 25 instead of kicking the field goal, and Burkhead was stopped by Daniel Sorenson.
The Chiefs were fired up but went three-and-out. On the ensuing punt, the ball appeared to hit Edelman and was picked up by Gehrig Dieter and run into the end zone. The ruling on the field was that Edelman called a fair catch so the ball couldn’t be advanced. After it was reviewed, the officials reversed the call and said Edelman never touched it, so it remained New England’s ball.
Two plays later, Brady threw a pass off Edelman’s arm that Sorenson intercepted and brought back to the Patriots’ 23. Two plays after that, the Chiefs took their first lead at 21-17 on Mahomes’ 23-yard touchdown pass to Williams.
The Patriots went ahead 24-21 on Michel’s 10-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1 with 3:32 remaining. The Patriots were helped by a questionable roughing-the-passer call early in the drive. They capitalized on their good fortune, as they usually do.
“It’s a great feeling,” Brady said. “This was just an incredible win.”