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.''
Arizona Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson will return to shadowing the top opposing wide receivers in 2019, according to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
Free-agent RB Mike Gillislee (Saints) worked out for the Detroit Lions Thursday, Feb. 14.
Miami Dolphins WR Danny Amendola could fill the slot receiver role for the Detroit Lions in 2019 because of his connection to head coach Matt Patricia, in the opinion of Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com.
Denver Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles') said he is no longer wearing a walking boot but still has a 'slight limp' when walking around.
Fantasy Spin: After suffering an Achilles' injury late in the year, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Sanders miss time in 2019. He showed last year that he can be a WR2 as the top option in Denver's passing attack, but fantasy owners will need to be patient as he returns to form.
Arizona Cardinals WR Chad Williams caught 37 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2018 and had two catches or less in all but two games.
Minnesota Vikings WR Laquon Treadwell averaged 5.7 yards per target last year, the fourth-worst mark among receivers with at least 50 targets, and Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com expects Treadwell's fifth-year option to be declined.
Fantasy Spin: The former first-round pick has been a bust, and he didn't show any signs of righting the ship despite a bigger role in 2018. Even in dynasty formats, it may be time to give up on Treadwell.
Philadelphia Eagles impending free-agent WR Golden Tate and Washington Redskins impending free-agent WR Jamison Crowder are options to fill the need the Green Bay Packers have at slot receiver, according to Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com.
Fantasy Spin: The Packers need a dependable option to support Davante Adams, and both Tate and Crowder would quickly become potential WR3 options if Aaron Rodgers is throwing them the ball.
Atlanta Falcons SS Keanu Neal (knee) posted a video of himself going through agility drills without a brace on his injured left knee.
Washington Redskins QB Colt McCoy (leg) was seen without any braces or supports for his injured leg.
Los Angeles Chargers impending free-agent LB Denzel Perryman will be re-signed this offseason if the Chargers have their way, according to a source.
Updating a previous report, free-agent QB Colin Kaepernick (49ers) desired at least $20 million to play in the Alliance of American Football, according to a source.
Free-agent QB Nick Foles (Eagles) is expected to 'keep tabs on' the New York Giants this offseason, according to NJ.com's Zack Rosenblatt. A source with knowledge of Foles' thinking said the former Super Bowl MVP would 'probably' be interested in starting for the Giants if they were to release QB Eli Manning.
Fantasy Spin: There are many pieces that must fall in order for Foles to the Giants to work out. It's a sensible destination, though, with Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley leading one of the most talented offenses in the NFL. Foles could be the piece that makes them take a forward step. Were this signing to come to fruition, Foles would demand QB1 consideration given the pieces that would be around him.
Free-agent QB Nick Foles (Eagles) is not expected to return to the Philadelphia Eagles as the backup to Carson Wentz.
Fantasy Spin: Foles deserves a starting job. He won't want to play as a backup and make less money when there are teams willing to pay him to be their starter. He can be a part of the QB1 conversation if he lands in the right spot. Of course, when Wentz is healthy he too has QB1 appeal.
Free-agent QB Colin Kaepernick (49ers) and former NFL QB Tim Tebow were asked if they wanted to join the Alliance of American Football, according to league co-founder Bill Polian. Polian said he doesn't know what transpired with Kaepernick, but added that he spoke personally with Tebow, who declined.
Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown and Steelers impending free-agent RB Le'Veon Bell are not expected to be intensely pursued by the Indianapolis Colts this offseason. The Colts will have the most salary cap space in the league this offseason and will do their due diligence, but Brown's off-field drama and Bell's asking price may be too much for the Colts.
Fantasy Spin: The Colts did just fine last year without the services of Brown or Bell. Brown seems like more of an immediate need, but general manager Chris Ballard wants a cohesive and cooperative locker room. While the fantasy marriage of Brown and/or Bell with the Colts might be ideal, don't get your hopes up.
Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee is considered a strong candidate to be cut this offseason, in the opinion of NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal. Lee's extensive injury history, $10 million cap hit and the presence of fellow LBs Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith don't bode well for a possible return.
Arizona Cardinals WR Christian Kirk (foot) expects to be fully healed from his broken foot by the end of February. Kirk suffered the injury in Week 12 last season. Doctors said his recovery process is going well. 'I'm doing all the things I can to make sure I'm the best me,' Kirk said.
Fantasy Spin: Kirk performed well overall as a rookie despite Arizona's disappointing year. He and Josh Rosen showed glimpses of a future dynamic duo. Even with Larry Fitzgerald returning, Kirk possesses WR3 upside as Arizona's No. 2 wide receiver.
The San Francisco 49ers will not pick up the 2019 option on wide receiver Pierre Garcon, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. The 32-year-old declining wideout played in just 16 total games in his two seasons in San Francisco and missed eight games last season with shoulder and knee issues. The Niners will be hit with $7.2 million in deal money and will save $1.075 million on the salary cap. Garcon, who will turn 33 in August, plans on continuing his career, but he's unlikely to have a robust market given his age and injuries the last two years.
Denver Broncos QB Case Keenum could likely be obtained in a trade for a fifth-round draft pick, ESPN's Chris Mortensen said Thursday, Feb. 14. Keenum could be one of the top backups in the league, according to Motensen, and the Tennessee Titans would be an ideal landing spot.
Fantasy Spin: Titans starting QB Marcus Mariota hasn't played a full year in any of his four pro seasons so far, and he missed three starts this past season with injuries, so Keenum would certainly project as better option than current backup Blaine Gabbert, who had a 74.9 rating and threw as many interceptions (four) as TD passes while making a trio of starts.
Houston Texans wide receiver Keke Coutee, who dealt with hamstring injuries off and on his entire rookie season, is fully healthy again in the offseason and is excited going into his second season. "I'm feeling great," Coutee said. "I'm feeling really good. I'm feeling like myself." He managed to play in only six games in 2018 and had 28 receptions for 287 yards and one touchdown. Coutee also had 11 catches for 110 yards and a score ono 14 targets in the wild-card playoff loss to the Colts. With DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller on the outside, Coutee could have a big year in his second season out of the slot in a dangerous offense. He might fly under the radar in drafts, too, making him an attractive sleeper.