FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — One down and one to go before it’s Tom Brady-Peyton Manning 17.
The Patriots’ future Hall of Fame quarterback held up his end of his date with destiny with another signature performance in a 27-20 win over the Chiefs on Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
Brady went 28-for-42 for 302 yards and two touchdowns, both to Rob Gronkowski, who has been battling knee and back ailments in recent weeks.
Brady scored the other Patriots touchdown on a 1-yard sneak in the second quarter, one play after he was ruled out of bounds just before knocking over the pylon on a scramble.
Kansas City’s Alex Smith was 29-for-50 for 246 yards and one TD, a 10-yard to Albert Smith to get within 21-13 with 2:12 left in the third quarter.
Stephen Gostkowski hit a pair of field goals in the fourth quarter to make it 27-13 before the Chiefs clawed back to 27-20 on a 16-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Charcandrick West’s 1-yard touchdown run with 1:13 left in the game.
If Peyton Manning’s Broncos beat the Steelers in Sunday’s divisional-round playoff game in Denver, then the two will face each other for the 17th time in their careers in next Sunday’s AFC Championship Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
This will be Brady’s 10th appearance in an AFC Championship Game, as he looks to help the Patriots defend the Super Bowl championship they won last year over the Seattle Seahawks. Manning retook the starting job from Brock Osweiler and leads Denver against an injury-ravaged Steelers team that will be without All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, who suffered a concussion in last week’s wild-card win over the Bengals. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a shoulder injury in that game, and is expected to play against the Broncos, but his effectiveness remains in question.
The Patriots ended the regular season in decidedly unimpressive fashion after winning their first 10 games. They finished 2-4 down the stretch and lost a chance for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But against the Chiefs, they looked more like the team that blazed through the early and middle parts of the season with impunity.
It was Brady’s ninth career 300-yard postseason game, tying Manning for the most in NFL history.
This was the Patriots’ first playoff game at Gillette Stadium since last year’s AFC title game, when the Patriots were accused of purposely using deflated footballs for the first half of their 45-7 win over the Colts. The NFL suspended Brady the first four games of the 2015 regular season, but Brady had the suspension lifted by a federal judge less than a week before New England’s regular-season opener. The NFL has since appealed the ruling to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Legal arguments are scheduled for early March.
The Chiefs came into the game on an 11-game winning streak dating to the seventh game of the regular season. After a 1-5 start, they won their final 10 games to reach the playoffs, and dominated the Texans, 30-0, last weekend in Houston.
The Chiefs actually had a good game plan to deal with the Patriots, and did almost everything possible to at least keep things close. But an inability to finish drives with touchdowns, and a critical fumble in the third quarter proved their undoing.
The Patriots went into halftime with a 14-6 lead on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Gronkowski in the first quarter and a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Brady, whose touchdown capped a brilliantly executed 98-yard drive. Brady started the drive with a 12-yard pass over the middle to Julian Edelman, who returned from a foot injury that kept him out the final seven games of the regular season. Edelman made 10 catches for 100 yards and Gronkowski had seven receptions for 83 yards.
Brady then hit rookie Keshawn Martin on a 42-yard pass to the Chiefs’ 49. After Brady got to the Chiefs’ 11, he scrambled around left end before being knocked out of bounds at the 1. The Patriots’ challenged the play, thinking it was a touchdown, but replay upheld the call. Brady then bulled his way into the end zone on the next play.
The Chiefs made it a one-score game with 16 seconds left in the half as kicker Cairo Santos nailed his second field goal, a 32-yarder after the Chiefs couldn’t get past the New England 14.
The Chiefs were driving for a score that could have tied the game, but running back Knile Davis lost a fumble after catching a pass over the middle at the Patriots’ 31. The fumble was forced by Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, who last Sunday morning had gone to a local police station to be helped after he was disoriented. The Boston Globe reported Wednesday that Jones was experiencing side effects of synthetic marijuana, but the Patriots declined to confirm the story.
The Patriots converted the turnover into Brady’s second touchdown pass to Gronkowski, this one a 16-yard pass in the left corner of the end zone. Gronkowski appeared to fool Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who made a move toward the line of scrimmage but then saw Gronkowski race past him to get open for the score.
Kansas City did get to within a score with a nice drive later in the third quarter to make it 21-13. Alex Smith finished off the drive with a 10-yard pass to wide receiver Albert Smith in the right corner of the end zone.
But the resourceful Patriots answered that score with two consecutive field-goal drives to make it 27-13 with 10:20 left in the fourth quarter.
Kansas City wasn’t through yet. Smith led a 16-play, 80-yard drive that ended with West’s 1-yard touchdown run on a pitch around right end to make it 27-20 with 1:13 remaining. The Chiefs certainly didn’t show much urgency on the drive, and finally saw their hopes for an upset fizzle when Gronkowski caught the ensuing onside kick to seal the win for New England.
The Chiefs outgained the Patriots 378 yards to 340 and ran 83 offensive plays to only 56 for the Patriots, who rushed only 14 times for 38 yards.