After a long wait, Steven Jackson finally got back on the field for some playoff action and his New England Patriots got past the Kansas City Chiefs to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
Despite a game plan that didn’t feature much of a rushing-attack from Bill Belichick and his staff, S-Jax still saw the majority of work out of the backfield whenever his number was called. In the aerial-oriented contest, Jackson gained 16 yards on six carries and secured one of two targets for two yards in Saturday's 27-20 divisional round victory over Kansas City.
With a healthy Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola together on the field for the first time since November, Tom Brady and the Pats offense got back to the elite passing game fans were used to seeing at the beginning of the season. SJ39 was essentially the exclusive back the team chose to utilize when it came to the ground-game, as fellow running back James White had one rush on the day and was the only other back to carry the ball for New England.
"It's just great to have those guys back," Gronkowski said of his team getting back some of its key offensive players. "They're hard workers, they're great players. The chemistry was clicking tonight."
On the opening drive of the game for the Pats, Brady started off pass-heavy. In an 11-play, 80-yard drive that featured all pass plays, New England opened up the scoring on an eight-yard Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski connection in the end zone.
Kansas City put together a solid response with a lengthy 17-play drive where the New England defense held the Chiefs to a 34-yard field goal from Cairo Santos to make it a 7-3 game with 1:55 left in the first quarter. On the next Pats drive, S-Jax received his first carry of the game on a first-and-10 from the New England 32-yard line where the vet gained a couple yards, but the drive ended quickly a couple plays later and the Patriots were forced to punt.
The Patriots responded with a defensive stop of their own, holding strong and forcing the Chiefs to punt the following possession. The offense for both teams lagged until midway through the second quarter. In an 11-play, 98-yard drive, Brady led his team all the way down the field to the Kansas City 11-yard line. On second down, TB12 made a gutsy scramble attempt to the end zone, but after review it was determined that he was stopped just short.
On the very next play, Brady finished what he started. The reigning Super Bowl MVP snuck it in for the score to give the Pats a 14-3 lead after the Stephen Gostkowski extra point with 3:25 left in the half. Kansas City drove 52 yards before halftime and came away with a 32-yard field goal to make it a 14-6 game.
In the opening drive of the second half for the Chiefs, a costly turnover swung the momentum back in the Patriots favor. Alex Smith led the Chiefs to the Patriots 40-yard line, Chandler Jones forced a Knile Davis fumble, recovered by New England’s Dont’a Hightower. Five plays later, Brady connected with Gronk again, this time from 16 yards out for the touchdown. After the successful extra point, the Pats led 21-6.
Kansas City finally found the end zone for the first time on its next drive. Alex Smith marched the Chiefs 80 yards and hooked up with Albert Wilson for the score from 10 yards out. Santos’ successful extra point made it an eight-point game with 2:17 left in the third quarter.
The Patriots responded on the next series with a critical field goal drive. The eight-play, 57-yard drive bled into the fourth quarter, and the 40-yard boot by Gostkowski added to the New England lead. After forcing the Chiefs to punt, the Pats recorded another field goal on the ensuing possession to make it a 27-13 game after the 32-yard kick by Gostkowski.
With time running out for the Chiefs, the Patriots defense came up big again to all but crush the hopes Kansas City had at mounting a comeback. On a 4th-and-10, the Chiefs went for it and a Smith pass intended for Wilson appeared to be picked off by Duron Harmon, but after review the interception was reversed. It didn’t end up mattering tough, as the incompletion gave the ball back to New England anyway.
A late Charcandrick West touchdown with 1:18 to play made it a seven-point game, but a failed onside kick attempt sealed the Chiefs’ fate, and S-Jax and the Patriots punched their ticket to the AFC Championship game. The impressive win snapped the 11-game win streak by the Chiefs.
"It's pretty special to get back to another AFC championship game," said Brady after the game, who is slated to play in his 10th conference title game. "It's pretty cool. It's hard to do, man. You've got to grind throughout the entire year. There's only four teams playing next week and we're one of them. That game means a lot."
SJ39 and New England will meet the Denver Broncos with a spot in Super Bowl 50 on the line.
The 23-16 win for the Broncos over the Steelers was not what Patriots fans were hoping for, as the team will now have to travel to Denver instead of playing the Steelers in the confines of Gillette Stadium.
Jackson will try and help the Patriots become the first team to win back-to-back NFL titles since they did it in 2003-04.
Kickoff is set for 3:05 p.m. ET from Mile High Stadium and will be broadcast on CBS.