One of the main day-after talking points of the Patriots’ thrilling 37-31 overtime victory over the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game Sunday is CBS color analyst Tony Romo’s uncanny knack for telling us what was going to happen right before it did.
The acclaim is deserved and then some. Romo’s enthusiasm and insight enhanced a game that was already extraordinary. I’m not sure even John “I Don’t Agree With What The Patriots Are Doing Right Here’’ Madden did that.
But while I was among those who marveled at Romo’s prescience and recognition of the Patriots’ intentions, Sunday’s victory – which sent Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to their ninth Super Bowl as a tandem and third in a row — wasn’t so much about what was to come.
It was about what the Patriots had already done, through two decades of dominance, and how familiar so many of Sunday’s plot twists felt. So much of what happened felt like it was lifted directly from a Patriots postseason thriller past. Granted, there’s a lot of history to draw from – the Patriots must have their own vault of comebacks and thrillers at NFL Films headquarters by now – and some of it will inevitably repeat itself. But man, was there ever déjà vu all over the place, not just in the Brady-does-it-again outcome.
Now, some of the flashbacks did not stir positive memories. Brady’s inexcusable end zone interception to linebacker Reggie Ragland on the Patriots’ second possession surely made some Patriots fans grateful that Ragland does not run like vintage Champ Bailey, whose goal line pick and 100-yard return for the Broncos in a 2005 divisional round game was crucial in delivering Brady’s first postseason loss after he started his career with 10 straight wins.
And when Chiefs end Dee Ford took a hard left turn around Trent Brown and closed in on Brady’s blind side in overtime, well, go ahead and admit it. You briefly were jolted by the memory of the Eagles’ Brandon Graham drilling Brady to force a fumble and effectively end Super Bowl LII.
This one wasn’t reminiscent of something from one of Brady’s 38 previous playoff games, but when Rex Burkhead failed to convert a fourth and 1 with just under 10 minutes left, the dubiousness of the play call (Burkhead? Why him?) might have lingered like the infamous Kevin Faulk fourth-and-2 during a 2009 regular-season loss to the Colts.
Of course, the Patriots overcame that failed play, and Burkhead soon emerged as one of the stars of the game, scoring a go-ahead touchdown in regulation and a winner in overtime – which surely must have jostled the beautiful and hardly dormant memory of James White rushing in for the OT winner in Super Bowl LI against the Falcons.
Most of the flashbacks were like that one – exceedingly pleasant, a reminder of one moment of brilliance or another along the way.
There was Julian Edelman making plays all over the field, just like on the winning drive in Super Bowl LI, and there was Edelman involved in a mesmerizing replay. Two years ago, there was his how-did-it-not-touch-the-ground catch against the Falcons. Sunday, there was the how-did-it-not-touch-him nearly botched punt return in which replay led to an overturned call. Edelman is always involved in all of it, isn’t he?
The most welcome ghost of championships past arrived when the Patriots won the coin flip in overtime, then marched down the field for the winning score without allowing the opposition to even touch the football.
Brady is now 3-0 in postseason overtime – there was this one, and the victorious final scene of the comeback against the Falcons, and the one that started it all, the Snow Bowl victory in the divisional round against the Raiders in the 2001 season. If Brady gets the ball first in overtime, the opposing offense might as well start taking off its tape and pads, because all that’s left to determine is the details of how it was won.
I should acknowledge that my own viewing decision Sunday probably enhanced my appreciation for Patriots’ history even as they were making more of it. I’m not sure why – I can assure you it absolutely was not because I thought the end was coming for the Patriots and wanted to reminisce about how it all began – but I spent early Sunday watching the full broadcasts of the Snow Bowl and the first Super Bowl victory on YouTube.
Even though Brady and Adam Vinatieri are still going strong all these years later, those games feel ancient when you watch them now. Several of the players are in the Hall of Fame, many more are coaches, and even more have moved into broadcasting. Some have thrived, some have endured tragedy, and some names are forgotten – I had no idea someone named Riddick Parker was a starter for the Patriots in the Snow Bowl.
Yet what we witnessed Sunday – a moment some expected to be the beginning of the end of the Patriots’ unmatched dynasty, if not the end itself – looked an awful lot like how all of this began. The Patriots, because of their accomplishments and savvy, can never be true underdogs as they were 17 years ago, but there was a decidedly 2001 feel to the victory. The Patriots shut down an offense for the ages in the Chiefs, just as they did the Greatest Show on Turf Rams in the first Super Bowl win. The Chiefs, just like the Rams, eventually found their bearings, and came back, only to succumb to Brady’s virtuosity under pressure.
It was magical and familiar at once. Sunday, the Patriots were like a band with a couple of volumes of greatest hits that still knows how to craft a beautiful new song. The lesson, all these years after it began, remains the same: So long as Brady, the greatest football frontman ever, is still around to command the stage, the band will play on and on and on.