Sports

Five Ways the Patriots Could Have Lost the AFC Championship Game

But they weren’t going to lose, obviously.

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 20: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime during the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 20, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Patriots defeated the Chiefs 37-31. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
There is an alternate dimension where Tom Brady is frowning here.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Sunday’s AFC Championship game was either an exhilarating evening of football or a torturous spell of televised déjà vu, depending on where your loyalties lie. The New England Patriots beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 37-31, and they did it thanks to an extremely impressive and predictable Tom Brady touchdown drive in overtime. Patrick Mahomes was electric in leading the Chiefs on multiple comebacks, but he was denied a chance to touch the ball in the extra period as Brady’s ruthless march sent Kansas City tumbling out of the postseason. Try to act surprised, but the Patriots are going to their 2,000th Super Bowl in a row. This time, they will play the Los Angeles Rams.

Most NFL games come down to a couple important plays, but this contest was on a particularly sharp knife’s edge. New England scored a go-ahead touchdown with 39 seconds left in regulation, but Mahomes and the Chiefs manufactured a miracle push of their own to tie the game at 31 points apiece. Some viewers may have believed this to be a sign of a tidal change—the momentum swing that would transfer the powers of one dynasty to a new host. Those viewers should have known better. You can’t kill that which does not bleed, and the Patriots are a machine made from steel, carbon fiber, and cut-up hoodies.

Even though they were never going to lose this game, the Patriots gave us a few moments that made the naïve believe. Were it not for the dark laws of the netherworld that power their success, any one of these five plays could have sent Kansas City to the Super Bowl in the Patriots’ stead.

Dee Ford doesn’t line up offsides.

With one minute left in the fourth quarter and the Patriots down by 4 points, Tom Brady had his pass tipped and intercepted. It was game over! … until it wasn’t. The officials flagged Chiefs defensive end Dee Ford for lining up in the neutral zone and penalized Kansas City 5 yards. The drive continued, and the Patriots scored a go-ahead touchdown. Mahomes would lead a last-gasp drive of his own to send the game into overtime, but we already know what happens there.

Chris Hogan lets this ball slip just slightly.

Look at this foolishness. The ruling on the field stood after the Chiefs challenged the call on the field, and it remained yet another third-down conversion for Brady. Thanks to the adhesive crook of Hogan’s arm, the Patriots continued a late drive that gave them a 24-21 lead. Would they have been able to recover had they punted the ball back to Mahomes and the Chiefs? Who cares; it didn’t happen.

Matthew Slater calls “tails.”

The Patriots special teams captain called “heads” during the coin toss to determine possession in overtime. He got it right, New England got the ball, and they walked through the Chiefs’ defense and into the Super Bowl. Given that the teams combined to score 38 points in the fourth quarter (24 for Kansas City, 14 for New England), it was pretty likely that the winner would be whoever had the ball last.

Tony Romo predicts the Chiefs make this stop …

CBS’s color commentator isn’t just a lively presence in the booth—he’s a football Svengali who can predict plays before they happen. Romo was so impressive on Sunday that it went beyond clairvoyance. There was but one explanation for his gift: He wasn’t predicting anything, he was making the plays happen with his mind. This Sony Michel run on fourth down is proof, and it’s a shame for Kansas City that Romo didn’t conjure up something for the defense.

… or Romo predicts a third-down incompletion here.

Nope. A dart to Julian Edelman, just as Romo foretold.

There were some other moments—a phantom roughing the passer call here, a botched Chiefs coverage there—but none of them actually mattered. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick haven’t missed out on a Super Bowl since Moses threw for 5 touchdowns against them at Mount Sinai Arena. They’ll play the Rams in Super LIII on Feb. 3. But you didn’t need Tony Romo to tell you that.