FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — One down and one to go before it’s Tom Brady-Peyton Manning 17.
The Patriots’ quarterback held up his end of the date with destiny with another signature performance in a 27-20 win over the Chiefs on Saturday at Gillette Stadium. And if Peyton Manning’s Broncos beat the Steelers in Sunday’s AFC divisional-round playoff game in Denver, the two future Hall of Fame passers will face each other for the 17th time in their remarkable careers in next Sunday’s AFC Championship Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
This will be Brady’s 10th appearance in an AFC Championship Game — and his fifth straight conference title game — as the Patriots attempt to defend the Super Bowl championship they won by beating the Seahawks last February. If Pittsburgh upsets the Broncos, Brady will face the injury-riddled Steelers at Gillette Stadium.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s hard to do,” Brady said of playing in a 10th AFC title game.
“You’ve got to grind throughout the year. There’s only four teams playing next weekend, and we’re one of them. That game means a lot. We have to get healthier and put together our best game of the year.”
Brady was 28-for-42 for 302 yards and threw two touchdown passes, both to All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. Brady also enjoyed the return of wide receiver Julian Edelman, who returned after a seven-game absence because of a broken foot and had 10 catches for 100 yards.
Despite the win, Brady saw plenty of room for improvement.
“I thought we did a better job today than we’ve been doing, but I think we can still do a lot better,” said Brady, whose Patriots went 2-4 in their final six regular-season games after a 10-0 start. “I think we had plenty of plays we left on the field, things we can definitely do better. We can be sharper next week. We’re going to need it. Whoever we play, they’re going to be a great team.”
Any preference for another showdown against his rival?
“We’re not rooting too hard,” said Brady, who is 11-5 against Manning. “Whatever happens happens. Whether we play here or whether we play , we’re going to have to play really well. That’s what it comes down to. They’re two great football teams. We’ve played both already, and it’s going to take our best effort to beat them.”
The Patriots beat the Steelers, 28-21, in the regular-season opener at home and lost to the Broncos, 30-24, in overtime Nov. 29 in Denver. Brock Osweiler was the quarterback in that game, but he has since been replaced by Manning.
The win over the Chiefs was New England’s first playoff game at Gillette Stadium since last year’s AFC title game, when the Patriots were accused of purposely using deflated footballs in the first half of their 45-7 win over the Colts. The NFL suspended Brady for the first four games of the 2015 regular season, but Brady had the suspension lifted by a federal judge less than a week before New England’s regular-season opener. The NFL has since appealed the ruling to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Legal arguments are scheduled for early March.
The Chiefs entered the game on an 11-game winning streak dating to the seventh game of the regular season. After a 1-5 start, they won their final 10 games to reach the playoffs and dominated the Texans, 30-0, last weekend.
The Patriots went into halftime with a 14-6 lead on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Gronkowski in the first quarter and Brady’s quarterback sneak from a yard out.
The Chiefs were driving for a third-quarter touchdown that could have tied the score, but running back Knile Davis lost a fumble after catching a pass over the middle at the Patriots’ 31.
The Patriots converted the turnover into Brady’s second touchdown pass to Gronkowski, this one a 16- yarder in the left corner of the end zone to make it 21-6.
Kansas City made it a one-possession game at 21-13 with a nice touchdown drive later in the third quarter, but the Patriots added two field goals before Kansas City scored its final touchdown with 1:13 remaining. The Patriots recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal the win.