FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)– New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady took off for the end zone and dived for the pylon, taking a helmet in the back as his body sailed over the goal line.
The ball stayed out, but it didn’t matter. Brady, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, carried it in for a score on the next play, reaching over the line to convert in a way Kansas City couldn’t Saturday.
Brady threw for two touchdowns to Rob Gronkowski and rushed for another, and the Patriots reached their fifth straight AFC title game with a 27-20 victory over the Chiefs.
New England (13-4), the defending Super Bowl champion, will meet the winner of Sunday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos for a spot in Super Bowl 50. The Patriots are trying to become the first team to win back-to-back NFL titles since they did it in 2003 and 2004.
After spending the past two weeks recovering from knee and back injuries, Gronkowski caught seven passes for 83 yards, including touchdowns from 8 and 16 yards out. Gronkowski also recovered an onside kick after Kansas City cut the deficit to 27-20 with just over one minute left.
Julian Edelman returned from a broken foot to catch 10 passes for 100 yards for the Patriots, who haven’t lost with him in the lineup this season.
Alex Smith completed 29 of 50 passes for 246 yards and one touchdown for Kansas City (12-6). The Chiefs had won 11 consecutive games, including a 30-0 victory over Houston in the wild-card round last week for their first playoff victory since 1993.
Brady led New England to a score on the opening drive, throwing 11 straight passes and completing eight, the last an 8-yard score to Gronkowski. The Chiefs then made it to the Patriots 16 but settled for a field goal.
After trading punts twice, the Patriots started on their 2 when punt returner Danny Amendola was flagged for a helmet-first hit to coverage man Jamell Fleming. The drive was in danger of stalling at the Kansas City 35 when Chiefs linebacker Dezman Moses hit Brady late and was called for roughing the passer.
The stadium erupted in cheers of “Brady!” just as it had four months ago, when the Patriots returned from his looming suspension over deflated football from last season’s AFC Championship Game to play in the season opener.
Four plays later, unable to find an open receiver, Brady sprinted for the corner of the end zone. The Chiefs managed to keep him out, but only for one more play. On the next snap, Brady leaned forward and reached into the end zone to make it 14-3.
His sixth career postseason rushing touchdown placed Brady in a tie with John Elway and Steve McNair for second all-time, behind only Steve Young with eight.
Patriots defensive lineman Chandler Jones forced a Knile Davis fumble on the Chiefs’ first possession of the second half, then Brady added another touchdown pass to Gronkowski to make it 21-6.
Smith led the Chiefs into New England territory on their first six possessions, but they managed just six points before he hit Albert Wilson on a 10-yard pass that made it 21-13.