KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – The New England Patriots are headed to their third straight Super Bowl, once more thanks to Tom Brady’s brilliance.
The five-time NFL champion guided the Patriots 75 yards after winning the overtime coin toss, and backup Rex Burkhead’s 2-yard TD lifted New England past Kansas City 37-31 for the AFC championship Sunday night.
The drive, during which New England had three third-down conversions, against an exhausted defense was reminiscent of when the Patriots beat Atlanta in the only Super Bowl to go to OT two years ago.
“Overtime, on the road against a great team,” Brady said. “They had no quit. Neither did we. We played our best football at the end. I don’t know, man, I’m tired. That was a hell of a game.”
New England (13-5) benefited from two critical replay reviews and made its ninth Super Bowl with Brady at quarterback and Bill Belichick as coach.
“This is crazy,” Brady said. “What a game.”
Awaiting them in Atlanta are the Los Angeles Rams, who won 26-23 in overtime in New Orleans for the NFC championship. The Rams last made the Super Bowl in 2002 while based in St. Louis, losing to the Patriots.
It’s the first time both conference title games went to OT. The last time both visitors won conference championship matches was 2012.
Several times, the Patriots appeared to have it won, only to see Kansas City (13-5) come back in spectacular fashion.
Brady, at 41 already the oldest quarterback to have played in a Super Bowl, drove New England 65 yards in 1:24 to Burkhead’s go-ahead 4-yard touchdown with 39 seconds left in regulation. That was enough, though, for his far younger counterpart, the 23-year-old Patrick Mahomes, to take the Chiefs 48 yards to Harrison Butker’s 39-yard field goal with 8 seconds left to force overtime.
It was a sizzling offensive showing in the fourth quarter after defense had been in charge most of the way. Indeed, the Chiefs were blanked in the opening half for the first time all season.
And they never saw the ball in overtime, which along with the two replay decisions might call into play NFL rules and officiating.
No matter to New England, which became the third franchise to reach three Super Bowls in a row. And Belichick now has 30 postseason victories, more than Bill Walsh and Don Shula combined. That Hall of Fame coaching duo also won five Super Bowls; Belichick shoots for No. 6 in two weeks.
RAMS 26, SAINTS 23
NEW ORLEANS – A big comeback. A blown call. And, finally, a booming kick that sent the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl.
After rallying from an early 13-0 deficit, the Rams stunned the New Orleans Saints with Greg Zuerlein’s 57-yard field goal in overtime for a 26-23 victory in the NFC championship game Sunday – an outcome that might not have been possible without an egregious mistake by the officials in the closing minutes of regulation.
Los Angeles cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman committed a blatant interference penalty with a helmet-to-helmet hit on Tommylee Lewis well before the pass arrived inside the 5, forcing the Saints to settle for Wil Lutz’s 31-yard field goal that made it 23-20 with 1:41 left in regulation.
“Came to the sideline, looked at the football gods and was like, ‘Thank you,'” Robey-Coleman said. “I got away with one tonight.”
After the no-call, Jared Goff had enough time to lead the Rams down the field for Zuerlein’s tying field goal, a 48-yarder with 15 seconds remaining.
New Orleans won the coin toss and got the ball first in overtime. But, with Dante Fowler Jr. in his face and striking his arm, Drew Brees fluttered up a pass that was picked off by John Johnson III, who was able to hang on to the interception while stumbling backward. Johnson hopped up and celebrated by doing with the “Choppa Style” dance popularized by New Orleans rapper Choppa, whose namesake song had become a Saints’ rallying cry and was even performed during the halftime show.
The Rams weren’t able to do much offensively, but it didn’t matter. Zuerlein booted through the winning field goal from just inside midfield with plenty of room to spare. The NFL said it the longest game-winning kick in playoff history.
“It’s unbelievable, man. I can’t put it into words,” said Goff, who at 24 became the youngest quarterback to win an NFC title. “The defense played the way they did to force it to overtime. The defense gets a pick and Greg makes a 57-yarder to win it. That was good from about 70. Unbelievable.”
The Superdome, which had been in uproar all afternoon, suddenly turned eerily silent. It was the first home playoff loss for the Saints with Brees and coach Sean Payton, who and been 6-0 in those games since their pairing began in 2006.
This one really hurt.
If the pass interference penalty had been called, the Saints could’ve run most of the time off the clock to set up a winning field goal from chip-shot range.
“Being that it happened right there in front of the person who would be the one to make the call, and everyone in the stands saw it, everyone watching at home on TV saw it, that makes it even more difficult to take,” Brees said. “Because of this, I’m sure there will be a lot of talk about reviewing penalties, perhaps game-changing penalties.”
The Rams (15-3) and their 32-year-old coach, Sean McVay, capped a remarkable rise since moving back to Los Angeles three years ago. The team will be appearing in its first Super Bowl since the 2001 season, when the “Greatest Show on Turf” was still in St. Louis.
The team hasn’t won an NFL title in Los Angeles since 1951, well before the Super Bowl era. The team moved to St. Louis in 1995, only to return to Southern California two decades later.
“Shoot, I don’t even know what day it is,” McVay said. “All I know is we’re NFC champs, baby!”
It was another bitter end for the Saints, who lost the previous season in the divisional round on the “Minnesota Miracle” – the Vikings’ long touchdown pass on the final play of the game.
This time, New Orleans (14-4) couldn’t hang on to the lead or overcome that officiating mistake.
Payton said he talked to the NFL office after the game and was told that Robey-Coleman should have been flagged.
“Not only was it interference, it was helmet to helmet,” the coach said. “”I don’t know if there was ever a more obvious pass interference.”
The Saints were on the verge of blowing out the Rams, scoring on their first three possessions and taking advantage of an interception when Todd Gurley let a pass slip through his hands.
Then a fake punt early in the second quarter gave Los Angeles its initial first down of the game. Sparked by that gutsy call, the Rams finally came to life offensively and drove into position for the first of four field goals by Zuerlein.