The New England Patriots are going back to the AFC Championship game for the fifth straight season after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs 27-20 at Gillette Stadium on Saturday.
On the first drive of the game Rob Gronkowski opened the scoring with a nine-yard touchdown reception, capping an 80-yard drive and giving New England an early edge they would never relinquish.
Tom Brady showed no lingering effects of an ankle injury in the victory, throwing a pair of touchdowns to Gronkowski while running for one more. Overall, the 38-year-old completed 25-of-40 passes for 302 yards and improved his postseason record to 22-8 with the win.
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Alex Smith threw for 246 yards in the loss for the Chiefs, who saw their 11-game winning streak come to an end.
Three Things We Learned:
Julian Edelman Shakes Off The Rust Quickly
The wide receiver was a little bit shaky in the early going in his first game action since Nov. 15, dropping multiple catchable passes from Brady. It did not take long for the 29-year-old to find his stride however, and he caught a game-high 10 receptions for 100 yards on the day. Edelman was also the most targeted player on the field (16) and appeared to be operating at close to full strength, playing 52 of 59 snaps. With the reliable receiver back in the fold, New England’s offense found its rhythm for the first time in weeks and improved to 10-0 this season with a healthy Edelman in the lineup.
Offensive Line Allows Brady to Shine
In his 30th career postseason game, Brady looked as sharp as ever. The performance was not only aided by a pair of his favorite targets in Edelman and Gronkowski, but also by the offensive line. The veteran quarterback was not sacked and was only hit once by a formidable Kansas City defensive front despite attempting 42 passes. Brady took advantage of the lack of pressure and navigated the pocket well on his turnover-free day, helping the Patriots score the most points by a Chiefs opponent since Week 4.
Patriots Defense Bends, But Doesn’t Break
Despite possessing the ball for nearly 38 minutes of game action and converting 12-of-20 third downs attempts, an undermanned Chiefs offense failed to do significant damage against New England for the majority of the afternoon. The Chiefs had to settle for a pair of field goals when reaching the red zone in the first half, and they turned the ball over in Patriots territory on the opening drive of the second half. Jeremy Maclin caught just two balls on the afternoon while limited by an ankle injury, leaving Smith without the receiving options to move the ball efficiently down the field against an effective Patriots secondary.