18 seasons later, and here they are again. Representing the AFC in the Super Bowl for the fourth time in the past five years, the New England Patriots dynasty continues to go on a never before seen run in the history of sports. Despite all of the speculation and criticism heard this year with critics saying quarterback Tom Brady is too old, Head Coach Bill Belichick doesn’t have the leadership abilities in the locker room anymore, star tight end Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski has lost a step, wide receiver Julian Edelman hasn’t looked the same since coming back from an ACL tear that sidelined him all of 2017, and even allegations of an apparent “rift” between Brady, Belichick and owner Robert Kraft, the New England Patriots are heading back to their third consecutive Super Bowl.
Brady and the Patriots’ offense have flashed their brilliance yet again in two masterful performances against the Los Angeles Chargers in the Divisional round, and against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game. Leading up to the conference championships, many experts wrote off New England, saying there was no way they can take it on the road and defeat one of the most explosive offenses the league has ever seen, in the Chiefs, at Arrowhead Stadium, one of the most hostile environments for an opposing team in professional sports.
Sunday, Jan. 20, was the first AFC Championship ever played in Kansas City and the Chiefs’ fan base certainly showed up to support their team. For New England going into the game, the analytics were not in their favor. They had been unstoppable at Gillette Stadium, finishing 9-0 at home (including playoffs) but they were never quite able to find their footing on the road, going 3-5 outside of Gillette in the regular season. Belichick, arguably the leagues’ top game planner, did what he does best: prepared his players for everything the Chiefs could throw at them. New England was able to manage the clock and keep Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his offense off the field for a good amount of the game.
The game featured two vintage championship drives led by Brady. The first came just after the two minute warning, with the Patriots trailing 28-24. The Patriots converted multiple third-and-long situations, which led to the drive being capped off with running back Rex Burkhead punching the ball in for the score, something we would see again later. In overtime, the Patriots won the coin toss and elected to receive the ball. New England marched down the field and once again, Burkhead capped it off with a touchdown that would send the Patriots to their ninth Super Bowl appearance under Belichick and Brady, and 11th overall as a franchise; which is good for the current mark of the most appearances in NFL history. The Patriots dynasty began in the 2001 season against the then St. Louis Rams. It was the first of Brady and Belichick’s Super Bowl victories, as they look forward to another matchup against the same team that features superstar talent on both sides of the ball.
The Patriots’ offensive line that has been nothing short of outstanding this season, will face the task of taking on Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, and five time All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Leading the star studded group is defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who led the Denver Broncos defense in 2015. That same defense that carried a slumping offense, orchestrated by an aged quarterback in Peyton Manning, to a 2016 Super Bowl 50 victory, a run that included the AFC championship game against the Patriots which the Broncos won 20-18. Phillips went into the game with a magnificent plan to put a lot of pressure on Brady, which resulted in the Patriots having a lot of difficulties moving the ball or finding any spark on offense.
In order for the Patriots to come out of Super Bowl 53 victorious, they will need the bruisers in the trenches to play as they have all postseason and keep the pocket clean for Brady to work his magic. Another ring for Brady and Belichick would further solidify their greatest of all time status, breaking their own records for championships at their respective positions. The greats will look to add to their Hall of Fame resumes, along with ending Boston’s three month championship drought and break the hearts of anyone that isn’t a Boston sports fan.