Amid the never-ending siren song of Gillette Stadium’s “fog horn,” the 2015 Chiefs found themselves smashed upon the rocks that is Tom Brady’s drive for a fifth Super Bowl ring.
Brady and his New England Patriots will be playing in their fifth straight AFC Championship Game next Sunday. This will be 10 AFC title game appearances for New England since Brady became New England’s quarterback of choice in the 2001 season (Drew Bledsoe’s cameo in the 2001 AFC title game not withstanding).
With Saturday’s 27-20 loss, the Chiefs became the latest milepost in New England’s dynastic rampage through the AFC.
“It’s great to move on to the AFC Championship Game,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “It’s a real credit to the players.”
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New England’s current success was spawned in part amid the carnage of that 41-14 loss to the Chiefs in Week 4 of the 2014 season at Arrowhead.
That Monday night game in Kansas City served as the starting gun for the Patriots’ Super Bowl dash last season. The first 10 games of the 2015 season in New England served as an Old Testament tour of wrath and vengeance throughout the NFL.
Saturday’s game closed that circle, at least as far as one Patriot was concerned.
“No question that was in the back of our minds this week,” New England receiver Danny Amendola said. “It’s our goal to start fast and keep that momentum through the game. We wanted to set the tone early.”
The narrative — born out of all that was Deflategate — was that Brady was going to demolish any and all obstacles in his path en route to a fifth Super Bowl trophy.
It remained unchallenged until New England’s ugly loss in Denver in Week 11.
The “Game of Thrones” tour across NFL land slipped into winter mode with four losses in the team’s final six games.
Injuries piled up on losses which piled upon injuries.
All of sudden, the invincible Brady and his diabolical coach Bill Belichick were vulnerable.
The Chiefs were, in the eyes of many even here in New England, the right team at the right time to end New England’s reign as Super Bowl champions.
Then the Chiefs decided to give Brady the ball to start the game.
Any concerns about the Patriots’ offense, which had only averaged 23.6 points in its past six games, were flushed away during New England’s opening possession.
Brady had 11 snaps and threw the ball 11 times. Consecutive completions to Julian Edelman, back after missing nine weeks with a broken foot, on third and 10, Edelman again, and Amendola, set the Patriots’ offensive boulder in motion.
“It was good to get off to a fast start. We talked about that. We didn’t want to play this team from behind,” Brady said.
By the time the Chiefs got the ball, 4:37 had elapsed and they were trailing 7-0.
Inside a delirious Gillette Stadium.
During the playoffs.
Against Tom Brady.
You know, the guy with the supermodel wife. The guy who beat the NFL in court. The guy who eats “lentil buckwheat meatballs” and treats himself with the occasional scoop of avocado ice cream. The guy with four Super Bowl rings and three Super Bowl MVP awards.
The guy who may even be the greatest quarterback of all time. Brady can sling it. Saturday marked the ninth time he has thrown for more than 300 yards in a playoff game. His the all-time NFL leader in postseason passing yards (7,647) and completions (711). He’s played in a record-tying (with Adam Vinatieri) 30 postseason games and has won 22 of them.
It was a year ago Tuesday that Deflategate first became a four-letter word throughout New England. Brady’s public and private life has been scrutinized in excruciating detail ever since. Right down to his destroyed cell phone, his personal emails, and the past of his body coach.
Brady has been battered and beaten all season. But he hasn’t flinched since he stumbled through his first major post-Deflategate news conference last Jan. 22.
Saturday, he began a stare-down with the Chiefs on the game’s first snap. It continued as he rumbled for 10 yards and a near touchdown on the penultimate play of a crushing 98-yard, 11-play scoring drive in the second quarter that consumed 11:37 of playing time. (He scored on the next play to give New England a 14-3 lead.)
“The Chiefs hung in there,” Brady said. “They’re a very mentally tough team. They play hard until the end.”
Still, Brady ended the game by taking a knee.
He never blinked. After all, he was hardly pressured all day.
Brady had it all on Saturday, including the presence of his sons Benjamin and Jack at his locker after the win. If ever a man radiated genuine happiness and joy after winning an AFC Divisional Playoff game, this was it.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s hard to do,” Brady said. “You’ve got to grind throughout the year. There are only four teams playing next week and we’re one of them. And that means a lot.”
A man on top of the world.
At least until next week.
Bill Speros, @RealOBF