The Chiefs will face the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game in a rematch of New England’s buzzer-beating Week 6 win. But with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line, Kansas City will have one major advantage — and it’s all thanks to Rob Gronkowski’s inability to make a tackle.
The 2019 AFC Championship Game will take place in the hostile, frozen environment of Missouri’s Arrowhead Stadium thanks to the Chiefs’ status as the conference’s top seed — a designation made possible, in part, to one play. Kenyan Drake’s lateral-assisted dash to the end zone delivered the Patriots their fourth of five losses on the season. And it probably wouldn’t have happened if All-Pro safety Devin McCourty and not tight end Gronkowski were serving as New England’s last line of defense:
The Miami Miracle isn’t the only reason why Kansas City reigned over the rest of the AFC, but it played a bigger role than any other single play over the rest of 2018’s 17-week season. With one 69-yard play, the Dolphins stole a win from the Patriots’ ledger — a win that would loom large over the rest of the season. A 12-4 New England team would have taken the top seed in the conference by virtue of its Week 6 win over the Chiefs. An 11-5 team had to sweat out an Eagles win over the Texans just to earn a first-round bye.
The Dolphins’ insane comeback isn’t the only reason for the Chiefs’ stop atop the AFC, but it’s certainly the most memorable
There are several factors behind why the Patriots aren’t hosting the AFC title game for the sixth time in eight years. New England has been one of the league’s toughest teams to figure out. Aside from the aforementioned loss to the Dolphins, Bill Belichick lost to four other teams — none of whom managed to qualify for the postseason.
the Patriots lost to 5 teams this fall:— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) December 31, 2018
- Jaguars (5-11, missed playoffs)
- Lions (6-10, missed playoffs)
- Titans (9-7, missed playoffs)
- Dolphins (7-9, missed playoffs)
- Steelers (9-6-1, missed playoffs)
That means a Week 2 mollywhopping at the hands of the 5-11 Jaguars had as negative effect as Gronkowski’s missed tackle. A Week 3 de-pantsing was equally hurtful. Losing to the Titans — by 24 points! — was exactly as responsible as the Patriots settling for the No. 2 seed as Ryan Tannehill’s third touchdown pass on Dec. 9.
But those games were the culmination of a long series of bad plays and abandoned series. The Miami Miracle? That was a game the Patriots had a 99.9 percent chance of winning before one single, stupid, glorious play grabbed the controls and pointed the probability chart into a nosedive.
The Miami Miracle is one of the biggest reasons why Kansas City will host its first AFC title game ever. It could be the key to the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance since 1970.
Avoiding Gillette Stadium is a major perk for the Chiefs
There’s been no sign of championship fatigue in New England; Gillette Stadium has remained one of the league’s toughest environments for road teams throughout the Tom Brady era. Since 2001, the Patriots are 141-26 at home and 20-3 in the postseason. The club is 7-1 all-time in AFC title games played in Foxborough, but 3-3 when trying to take the final step toward the Super Bowl on the road.
Fans in New England were rabid for the team’s now-annual home Divisional Round game, making it one of the most expensive second round games in league history:
That demand would have only spiked more for an AFC Championship Game against one of the league’s most explosive receivers. Kansas City wouldn’t have to just face a typically strong Patriots team, they’d also have to deal with a loud, often obnoxious, and usually angry home crowd. And so many ‘80s rock singalongs.
Jon Bon Jovi leading a “Livin’ on a Prayer” singalong, as if this game weren’t painful enough pic.twitter.com/5hbppR8dUj— SB Nation NFL (@SBNationNFL) January 13, 2019
Instead, the Chiefs will have an opportunity to host a team that went 3-5 on the road in 2018, beating the Bears before they rounded into playoff shape and earning expected wins against the Bills and Jets. Kansas City is 8-1 at Arrowhead Stadium this year, with the lone defeat coming against a Chargers team built for the road; Philip Rivers team hadn’t lost a game outside of Los Angeles until getting mashed into a paste in Foxborough Sunday.
That Chiefs-Chargers game is another contest that hinged on a single play — Kansas City’s complete inability to cover wideout Mike Williams on a game-winning two-point conversion.
If the Chiefs get an extra man on Williams, or if the wideout drops that ball, Gronk’s inability to stop Kenyan Drake wouldn’t have mattered.
But that’s not nearly as dramatic as a two-lateral, 69-yard last gasp that swung the Patriots’ winning probability from 99.9 to 0 percent. And if you’re looking to distill the reason why New England’s prepping for an AFC title game on the road Sunday, look no further than the Miami Miracle.