Mon Jan 21 7:22pm ET
By KYLE HIGHTOWER
AP Sports Writer
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) makes a catch against Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Daniel Sorensen (49) during the first half of the AFC Championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
New England Patriots running back Sony Michel (26) runs to the end zone for a touchdown during the second half of the AFC Championship NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates during the trophy presentation after the AFC Championship NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick holds the AFC Championship trophy as he talks with Jim Nantz after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs the AFC Championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Tom Brady smiled his way through the week leading up to Sunday's AFC championship game, mostly brushing aside questions about being an underdog for one of the few times during the Patriots' unprecedented run of titles.
But when Rex Burkhead crossed the goal line for a 2-yard touchdown to give New England a 37-31 overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs, Brady let joy alter his usual coy demeanor.
He ripped off his helmet and leapt wildly in the air as his teammates rushed the field around him. The Patriots were heading back to another Super Bowl.
It will mark their third straight appearance for the Patriots and ninth overall for Brady, who again will be chasing a record sixth ring.
A victory over the NFC champion Los Angeles Rams would also put an emphatic stamp on what may have been the Patriots' toughest road to a Super Bowl since Brady and Bill Belichick earned their first ring together in 2001.
''The odds were stacked against us. It hasn't been that way in a while and it certainly was this year,'' Brady said.
The obstacles that Brady referred to occurred both on and off the field for this latest incarnation of the Patriots.
The offseason saw the departure of several key players from last year's team that came up short in a Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia. Receiver Brandin Cooks was traded to the Rams and cornerback Malcolm Butler, running back Dion Lewis, receiver Danny Amendola, and offensive linemen Nate Solder and Cam Fleming all left in free agency.
Then came news that stalwart receiver Julian Edelman would be suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the league's policy on performance enhancers.
It helped contribute to a surprise 1-2 start and the first - albeit small - signs of age for the 41-year-old Brady.
New England took a chance and traded for receiver Josh Gordon after Cleveland decided it was time to part ways with him. His arrival helped calm things and contributed to six consecutive victories.
But questions returned after a lopsided Week 10 loss at Tennessee that exposed vulnerabilities on both sides of the ball. The Patriots won their next two, but then suffered a fluky last-second loss at Miami.
That was followed by a loss at Pittsburgh and the abrupt loss of Gordon when he was suspended indefinitely by the NFL for violating an agreement that allowed him to play after multiple drug suspensions.
Still, despite facing the prospect of not having their usual home-field advantage in the postseason, the Patriots rediscovered their run game and offensive efficiency during wins over the Bills and Jets to close the regular season.
Brady threw for four touchdowns and had his highest quarterback rating of the season in the 38-3 victory over the Jets. It set the stage for a vintage performance by Brady in their divisional-round playoff win over the Chargers. And on Sunday against Kansas City, he had 348 yards passing despite throwing two interceptions.
He also got support from a resurgent defense and revamped rushing attack on offense. The latter has gotten back-to-back 100-yard rushing games from rookie Sony Michel, who set a rookie NFL playoff record with five touchdowns in his first two postseason games.
Also making huge contributions in the fourth quarter and OT against the Chiefs were both Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Gronk's regular season was mostly underwhelming as he dealt with nagging injuries, but he was surehanded at the perfect time against Kansas City, catching six passes for 79 yards. Edelman had seven catches for 96 yards as both came through with huge third-down catches late in the game.
Gronk said he took his cues from Brady.
''You're always comfortable with Tom going down on drives,'' said Gronkowski, who is the first tight end with 1,000 postseason receiving yards. ''He's always ready for these moments. And that's why he's the best quarterback - hands down.
''It was one of the sweeter victories definitely of my career.''
The Patriots will have a chance to top it in two weeks in Atlanta.
Safety Devin McCourty said it's a position they always thought they'd be in.
''We're not worried about stats. We're not worried about Pro Bowls, All-Pros,'' he said. ''When we come back in April each year, it's about getting to this game no matter what it takes.
''This year was a tough one. We battled some things. We've been questioned and doubted by a lot of people. But I think the great thing is we trust in what we believe. Our faith never wavered inside the locker room.''
The Dallas Cowboys declined the option on wide receiver Terrance Williams for the 2019 season on Monday, making him an unrestricted free agent in March, according to sources. Williams, 29, played in just three games in 2018 due to injury and a suspension and had two catches for 18 yards. He was never much of a contributor in Dallas' offense and hasn't scored a touchdown since 2016. Even if Williams latches on with another team, he's unlikely to be on the fantasy radar.
The San Francisco 49ers are expected to use the franchise tag on kicker Robbie Gould if they are unable to work out a multi-year contract extension. San Fran hasn't used the tag since 2012 with safety Dashon Goldson. The franchise tag for a kicker is expected to be around $5 million for one season. In the last two years with the Niners, Gould has made 72 of 75 field-goal tries and ranks as the second most accurate kicker in NFL history (87.745 percent) in his 14 years. Levi's Stadium isn't the easiest place to kick due to frequent wind, but Gould has plenty of experience kicking in bad conditions from his days in Chicago. With San Francisco's offense expected to improve with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and running back Jerick McKinnon back healthy, Gould could be a fantasy sleeper at the position.
New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. was sought after by the New England Patriots ahead of the last season's trade deadline, according to NBC's Chris Simms, who reported New England was the team 'most aggressively pursuing' Beckham at that point of time.
Fantasy Spin: The Patriots obviously settled on Josh Gordon, but his status is such that Beckham could easily be a target of theirs again in 2019. While Gordon may be able to return again at some point in 2019, New England knows it can't count on him for any length of time. The Patriots' biggest need may be an outside receiver, and the prospect of playing the next two to three years with Tom Brady could be too tantalizing for the team to pass up if they are willing to pay the price to get Beckham.
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen was "OK" after being involved in a minor car accident in Los Angeles on Saturday, and no injuries were reported. In one of the worst offenses in football in his rookie year, Rosen looked pretty bad in his 14 games played. He completed 55.2 percent of his passes for 2,278 yards, 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. His terrible offensive line didn't make it easier on him, and he dealt with a lack of weapons around him. Arizona should look to bolster their playmakers around him this season, but Rosen probably won't improve drastically overnight. Until further notice he'll be a weak QB2 with upside.
Houston Texans impending free-agent LB Jadeveon Clowney is unlikely to receive a long-term deal, in the opinion of MMQB's Peter King, because he's not the worker bee that some others are on defense. He's likely to receive the franchise tag.
Indianapolis Colts impending free-agent WR Dontrelle Inman could be a fit for the Minnesota Vikings, according to Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com, and Barnwell believes Inman's size would add a different element to Minnesota's passing attack.
Green Bay Packers impending free-agent DL Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle) could receive another 'prove-it deal' to remain with the team, according to Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com.
Free-agent wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was involved in a car crash near downtown Denver early Saturday, according to Denver police. Thomas' vehicle rolled over after he lost control. He and a male passenger suffered minor injuries and were taken to the hospital, while a female passenger sustained possible serious injuries that weren't life-threatening. The cause of the crash is being investigated, but it doesn't appear that drugs or alcohol played a role. Thomas was released by the Texans last Tuesday after his season ended prematurely due to a torn left Achilles. The 31-year-old had 59 catches for 677 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games with the Broncos and Texans in 2018. He's in danger of missing the start of the regular season and won't have a hot free-agent market for his services. As of now, it's looking like Thomas won't be one to draft in standard-sized leagues in 2019.
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski remains non-committal about his playing future, but he has shown up to Gillette Stadium multiple times over the last couple of weeks. Gronk might just be receiving treatment for his thigh, but ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss views it as the tight end being in a good place with how the season ended. Gronkowski will be 30 if he plays in 2019, and he remains a big injury risk that looked much slower in 2018. He'd still be a TE1 if he returns for another season, but Gronk is no longer elite at a very weak position.
Washington Redskins senior vice president of football operations Doug Williams said QB Alex Smith (leg) hopefully will be able to play at some point in 2019.
Fantasy Spin: Smith suffered a serious leg injury and there is still not definite timetable for his return. The Redskins likely will add at least one more quarterback this season, but owners in all fantasy leagues probably should avoid the Redskins quarterback situation next season.
San Francisco 49ers restricted free-agent RB Raheem Mostert likely will receive a tender offer this offseason and could even receive a multi-year extension from the team.
San Francisco 49ers impending free-agent Alfred Morris is not expected to re-sign with the 49ers this offseason.
Buffalo Bills WR Zay Jones has the ability to be a slot receiver and played the position during his college career, in the opinion of BuffaloBills.com's Chris Brown.
Fantasy Spin: Jones is coming off a decent season with 652 yards and seven touchdowns. He likely will be a top-three receiver for the Bills next season and could be a late-round option in fantasy leagues.
New England Patriots impending free-agent TE Dwayne Allen could re-sign with the Patriots this offseason, but he would likely have to accept a pay cut, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Mike Reiss. Several people in the Patriots organization like Allen's professional approach, and he has been around Gillette Stadium over the last few weeks.
New York Jets impending free-agent CB Buster Skrine appears unlikely to re-sign with the Jets this offseason since the team has CB Parry Nickerson ready to replace him at cornerback, in the opinion of the New York Post's Brian Costello.
New York Jets impending free-agent DT Steve McLendon appears unlikely to re-sign with the Jets this offseason, in the opinion of the New York Post's Brian Costello.
Los Angeles Rams impending free-agent DE Dante Fowler, DT Ndamukong Suh and S Lamarcus Joyner likely will not receive the franchise tag this offseason, in the opinion of ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio.
San Francisco 49ers impending free-agent PK Robbie Gould could be an option for the franchise tag this offseason, in the opinion of ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio.
Buffalo Bills impending free-agent DT Jordan Phillips said he is having contract talks with the Bills.
New Orleans Saints impending free-agent RB Mark Ingram likely will not receive the franchise tag this offseason, in the opinion of ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio.
Fantasy Spin: The Saints likely will go with Alvin Kamara as their main running back next season and probably will be a No. 1 running back in most fantasy leagues. Ingram should receive interest from several teams during free agency and could be a No. 2 fantasy back depending on his situation.