(Reuters) - Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots snapped the Kansas City Chiefs’ 11-game winning streak with a 27-20 victory on Saturday to reach the AFC championship for a fifth consecutive season.
The Patriots, who had a first-round bye, looked to be back at full strength and nothing like the team that lost four of six games heading into the playoffs as they pulled ahead early and never looked back.
Brady tossed two touchdowns and rushed for another, Rob Gronkowski caught a pair of TDs to erase any injury concerns and receiver Julian Edelman ended a two-month absence from a broken foot to put New England at full strength.
“It’s pretty special to be back in the AFC Championship game,” said Brady, who extended his National Football League record for playoff wins to 22. “Whoever we play is going to be a great team. We’re going to need to be sharper.”
The Chiefs, coming off last week’s 30-0 rout of Houston in the wild-card round of the playoffs, entered the game as the hottest team in the NFL but trailed this one the entire way.
After pulling to within seven points with 73 seconds to play in regulation, the Chiefs tried an onside kick but Gronkowski recovered the ball.
The Patriots then caught a break two plays later when an unwise Brady pass deflected off the hands of Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali’s hands and straight to Edelman who picked up the first down to seal the win.
Brady finished with 302 passing yards and kept alive the Patriots’ bid to become the first back-to-back Super Bowl champions since they did it in 2003-04.
New England will play the winner of Sunday’s game between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers to determine which team represents the American Football Conference in the Feb. 7 Super Bowl in San Francisco.
The Patriots made a rousing start with an 80-yard scoring drive to open the game and seem to have restored the confidence that looked lost after they ended the regular season poorly and encountered health concerns.
“It’s great to have everyone back. The chemistry was clicking tonight,” Gronkowski, who was held out of two practices in the week leading up to the game due to a right knee injury and back injury, told reporters. “Overall we did what we had to do to get the ‘W’.”
Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith attempted a career-high 50 passes but finished with just 246 yards and one score.
”This gives us a great example of where we need to be,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid. “This is a great experience for us and that’s how we’ll take it. I’m proud of my guys, they battled like crazy and came up a little short.”
Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue