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NFL Playoffs League - FFL: Offseason | NFL: Offseason

Hurdles cleared, Patriots head to 3rd straight Super Bowl

Mon Jan 21 7:22pm ET
By KYLE HIGHTOWER
AP Sports Writer

Players: Tom Brady, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Josh Gordon, Brandin Cooks, Sony Michel

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.''

Player Notes
Charles Clay Feb 19 12:20pm ET

The Arizona Cardinals are signing free-agent tight end Charles Clay to a one-year deal worth up to $3.25 million on Tuesday, according to a source. The deal includes a $350,000 signing bonus. Clay was an afterthought in Buffalo's offense the last couple years and had only 21 catches for 184 yards and no scores in 13 games last season. He's unlikely to produce much more in Arizona with Ricky Seals-Jones and veteran Jermaine Gresham also in the fold with a young quarterback still learning the speed of the NFL. Clay won't even be worth drafting in most fantasy leagues.

From RotoBaller

Calais Campbell Feb 19 11:50am ET

The Jacksonville Jaguars exercised the 2019 options for defensive end Calais Campbell, defensive end Lerentee McCray and safety Cody Davis. Campbell has been a Pro Bowl selection the last two years with the Jaguars and has accumulated 25 sacks in that time frame. He'll enter his 12th season in 2019 and had a franchise-record 14.5 sacks in 2017. He became the first player in team history to have back-to-back double-digit sacks when he registered 10.5 quarterback takedowns last season. Campbell is a four-time Pro Bowler and is certainly an IDP force.

From RotoBaller

Austin Seferian-Jenkins Feb 19 11:50am ET

The Jacksonville Jaguars declined the 2019 option for tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins on Tuesday, making him a free agent. He started the first five games of the season and caught 11 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown before missing the final 11 games with a core muscle injury. His best year came in 2017 with the Jets when he had 50 catches for 357 yards and three touchdowns. Between injuries and off-field issues, teams are unlikely to be knocking the door down to sign ASF this offseason.

From RotoBaller

Aaron Rodgers Feb 19 3:03am ET

Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will not be asked to run a dramatically different offense than the one he has operated for most of his career, according to offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. 'When you take a guy like Aaron Rodgers, who is a very good football player, I mean, he's kind of one of those guys where you can kind of pretty much do a lot of everything. I think a lot of it is going to carry over. I think some of the language will be different but it's going to be a lot of the same premises for him,' Hackett told PackersNews.com.

Fantasy Spin: Rodgers is unlikely to be the overall QB1 in drafts this summer following the emergence of Patrick Mahomes, but he'll come off the board shortly thereafter as the QB2 or QB3. It will also be interesting to see how receptive the 35-year-old will be to the schemes of new head coach Matt LaFleur and Hackett, although it's hard to imagine he'll drop off considering how vanilla Mike McCarthy had become with his play-calling in recent years.

Le'Veon Bell Feb 19 12:43am ET

Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell is unlikely to receive a franchise or transition tag from the team, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.

C.J. Mosley Feb 19 12:33am ET

Impending free-agent LB C.J. Mosley and the Baltimore Ravens are reportedly optimistic they will agree to a long-term contract before the March 5 deadline for franchise tags, according to ESPN's Jamison Hensley.

Odell Beckham Jr. Feb 18 11:13pm ET

New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. is believed to be a trade target for the San Francisco 49ers this offseason, according to ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio.

Fantasy Spin: It is not known if Beckham will be available this offseason, but the 49ers likely will look to add a No. 1 receiver during the offseason. Beckham will be a No. 1 fantasy receiver no matter where he plays in 2019.

Earl Thomas Feb 18 11:03pm ET

Seattle Seahawks impending free-agent FS Earl Thomas may not be an option for the Dallas Cowboys if he is looking for a lucrative contract this offseason because the team will need to sign DE DeMarcus Lawrence, QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Amari Cooper and CB Byron Jones to long-term contracts over the next year or so, in the opinion of SI.com's Albert Breer.

Jimmy Garoppolo Feb 18 11:00pm ET

The San Francisco Giants gave the sense that they'd be interested in trading for New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. as the season ended, and that sense still persists halfway into February. They've had real interest in OBJ for almost a year, but the question is whether the Giants would actually consider trading him after signing him to a big extension last fall. San Fran holds the second and 36th overall picks of this year's draft. The Niners are looking to bolster their receiving corps after Marquise Goodwin failed to live up to expectations as the No. 1 wideout in 2018. The Steelers' Antonio Brown could be a target, too, but he comes with a lot of baggage and the 49ers might prefer Beckham. OBJ is younger and has just as much talent as Brown, and a move to the bay area with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and head coach Kyle Shanahan would make Beckham even more appealing as an elite WR1.

From RotoBaller

Ezekiel Ansah Feb 18 10:13pm ET

Detroit Lions impending free-agent DE Ziggy Ansah could re-sign with the Lions depending on how he is physically this offseason, according to general manager Bob Quinn.

LeGarrette Blount Feb 18 10:03pm ET

Detroit Lions impending free-agent TE Levine Toilolo, TE Luke Willson, RB LeGarrette Blount and DT Ricky Jean-Francois are all expected to hit the free-agent market this offseason.

Romeo Okwara Feb 18 10:03pm ET

Detroit Lions restricted free-agent DE Romeo Okwara is expected to receive a tender offer this offseason.

Derrius Guice Feb 18 9:33pm ET

Washington Redskins RB Derrius Guice (knee) is able to sprint in a straight line but is still not able to do any lateral movements at full speed yet. He also wants to build the strength in his legs over the next few months.

Fantasy Spin: Guice was the team's starting running back last season but missed most of the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He may have to share playing time with Adrian Peterson in 2019 if Peterson re-signs with the team. Guice can be a No. 2 or No. 3 fantasy back if he receives most of the playing time.

Robbie Gould Feb 18 8:13pm ET

San Francisco 49ers impending free-agent PK Robbie Gould said he is looking to sign at least a three-year contract this offseason.

Frank Gore Feb 18 8:13pm ET

Miami Dolphins running backs coach Eric Studesville said he is not sure if impending free-agent RB Frank Gore will receive a contract offer from the Dolphins this offseason.

Fantasy Spin: Gore had a solid season in 2018 with 722 yards but failed to record a rushing touchdown. It is not known if he will be able to find a starting job this offseason but would be a good No. 2 running back for a team. He will have some fantasy value in standard leagues if he finds a good situation.

Kalen Ballage Feb 18 7:53pm ET

Miami Dolphins RB Kalen Ballage was impressive during his rookie season but still has room to grow, according to running backs coach Eric Studesville. 'He's a big, physical body,' Studesville said. 'He can run. He's athletic. He's got a lot of growth to do as far as seeing and recognizing things. His work ethic is tremendous. He's got speed for a big man.'

Fantasy Spin: Ballage rushed for 191 yards and one touchdown in limited playing time this past season but could be a contender for the starting running back job in 2019. He has a chance to be a No. 3 or No. 4 fantasy running back depending on his role.

Stephen Gostkowski Feb 18 7:33pm ET

New England Patriots impending free-agent PK Stephen Gostkowski will be a candidate for the franchise tag if the two sides are not able to agree to a long-term extension over the next few weeks.

Trey Flowers Feb 18 7:23pm ET

New England Patriots impending free-agent OT Trent Brown and DE Trey Flowers likely will not be candidates for the franchise tag because it is believed the team probably would think the franchise tag salaries would be too high for the players, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Mike Reiss.

David Irving Feb 18 6:13pm ET

Dallas Cowboys impending free-agent DT David Irving is not expected to be retained, according to a source.

Calais Campbell Feb 18 5:23pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars DE Calais Campbell had his $12 million option for 2019 exercised Monday, Feb. 18. Options for LB Lerentee McCray and FS Cody Davis were also picked up. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins did not have his optioned picked up.