KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs hadn't been to the Super Bowl in 49 years, in which they beat the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, for the only world championship in franchise history.
This was supposed to be the breakthrough postseason for the Chiefs, who hadn't played in an AFC Championship game in 25 years, falling 31-13 to the Buffalo Bills on the road.
In the first conference championship game ever at Arrowhead Stadium, four lead changes transpired in the fourth quarter — a spell-binding classic between the Chiefs and the New England Patriots which carried over into overtime.
The difference was New England quarterback Tom Brady, whose Patriots won the coin flip and methodically drove 75 yards in 13 plays for the winning touchdown. Running back Rex Burkhead scored on a 2-yard scoring plunge for a 37-31 triumph, earning the Pats a third-straight trip to the Super Bowl and their ninth in the previous 18 seasons.
"It is hard to imagine," Brady said in the postgame conference with the media. "Yeah, it is a great feeling. I think we have overcome a lot this year.
"Down but not out, and we found a way to play our best the last four games — Buffalo, Jets, had the bye, played great against the Chargers and played really well today. We are going to need one more great game."
The Patriots have now played in 13 AFC title games since 2001 — including eight in a row, starting in 2012 —and won nine of them.
For the Chiefs, it was their second overtime loss in an AFC championship game, dating all the way back to 1971-72 playoffs. They lost to the Miami Dolphins, 27-24, at the 7:40 mark in double-overtime in the final game at Municipal Stadium on Garo Yepremian's 37-yard field goal.
That game from 47 years ago still remains as the longest in NFL history at 82 minutes, 40 seconds.
With the likes of Hall of Fame linebacker Willie Lanier and Hall of Fame quarterbacks Len Dawson and Joe Montana in attendance for Sunday's clash, the top-seeded and AFC West champion Chiefs entertained visions of taking the next step, but instead were reduced to heartache.
"This was a tough one," acknowledged Chiefs head coach Andy Reid in his postgame conference. "This one hurts, as it does with our fans, I know. I'm proud of our fans they were phenomenal.
"This gives us a little bit of what we have looking forward to us in the future and that's where we'll go after we're done aching here. It's bright future and we have good players and we'll get over the hump here ... a big hump."
The Chiefs found themselves trailing 14-0 at halftime, with time of possession playing a huge role. New England hogged the football for 21:07 of the first half compared to only 8:53 for Kansas City.
It loomed large as Mahomes and Co. couldn't get untracked the entire first half. The most explosive offense in the NFL managed only 32 net yards of total offense though the opening 30 minutes, and Mahomes was sacked three times during that stretch by one of the worst-ranking pass rushes in the NFL in the Pats.
"(New England) challenged us," Mahomes said. "They came up and played man. Not a lot of teams have this year. They put people in our face to see how we responded.
"The first half, we struggled. We couldn't make anything happen. The second half, I felt like our guys took the challenge and they (the Pats) were doing the same things and we were just winning. You have to find ways to win one-on-one matchups and we found ways in the second half."
Mahomes and the Chiefs finished with 290 yards of total offense. He completed 16 of 31 passes for 249 net yards, and the team managed only 41 rushing yards in 12 overall plays.
Mahomes was also 4-for-9 on third-down efficiency, compared to Brady going 13-for-19 and finishing with 524 yards of total offense.
Brady completed 30 of 46 passes and had two intercepted while accumulating 348 yards through the air.
The Chiefs, who won the initial coin flip and deferred to the second half, took the opening kickoff of the second half and promptly marched 74 yards in four plays.
It was highlighted by a 54-yard catch-and-run over the middle from Mahomes to wide receiver Sammy Watkins, setting up tight end Travis Kelce's 12-yard touchdown to trim the deficit to 14-7 at the 12:56 mark in the third quarter.
"We started slow, but we picked it up," Mahomes said. "You just got to trust in the process and not trying to do too much and things will start happening and having success your way."
After a 47-yard field goal by Steve Gostkowski gave New England a 17-7 lead at the 4:02 mark in the third quarter, Kansas City pulled within 17-14 on a 1-yard touchdown run by Damien Williams. It was his 33-yard completion on a catch-and-run put it in business at the 14-yard line.
"I think we just manned up (in the second half)," Mahomes said. "Nothing different. They played the same coverages; we did the same things.
"Our guys made plays. That was the message at halftime by everybody."
"You have to take in the hurt," Mahomes said. "You have to accept that this hurts. It's supposed to hurt. You put in work for this. You're doing everything you can to get to the Super Bowl and to win it.
"For this opportunity to fall short, it's going to hurt and (Reid) told us that. You have to go through that. At the same time, when you look back and you come back to look at the bigger picture, you know that you can build of of this feeling and use it as motivation to go out and find ways to win next time."
With the likes of star wide receiver Tyreek Hill getting double-teamed most of the game, he managed only one reception in three targets, but it was a 42-yard gain.
Williams started the see-saw battle by catching a 23-yard scoring pass from Mahomes, giving the Chiefs a short-lived 21-17 lead with 7:45 left in the fourth quarter.
But New England answered back quickly. Brady drove it 75 yards in 10 plays for a go-ahead touchdown and a 24-21 lead, capped by Sony Michele's 10-yard scoring bolt with 3:32 left.
A controversial play in the drive was tight end Chris Hogan's one-handed snag, where it appeared he never had full control of the ball and the ball appeared to touch the ground.
The Chiefs challenged the ruling, but the officials granted Hogan the reception, which would prove to be pivotal.
But Mahomes wasted no time and drove 68 yards in five plays, highlighted by Sammy Watkins' 38-yard pass catch down to the 2. Williams would score his third touchdown on a 2-yard touchdown run, as the Chiefs retook the lead at 28-24 with 2:03 remaining in regulation.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski's critical 25-yard reception topped off a six-play, 65-yard scoring drive. Burkhead's 4-yard touchdown made it 31-28 Pats with 39 seconds let.
Yet the Chiefs answered with Mahomes hooking up with running back Spencer Ware for a 21-yard gain to the New England 48.
Mahomes then connected with Demarcus Robinson on a 27-yard pass play down to the 21 with 16 seconds left. After an incompletion by Mahomes, Harrison Butker was summoned and booted a 39-yard field goal with 11 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
Armed with the coin flip going in their favor, Brady drove his team for the winning touchdown in overtime as the Chiefs never had another chance.