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Patriots to face Rams in Super Bowl LIII

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Agence France-Presse

Five-time champion Tom Brady guided the New England Patriots into their third consecutive Super Bowl, where they will face a Los Angeles Rams squad that advanced Sunday in dramatic but controversial fashion.

The only day in NFL playoff history with two over-time thrillers saw the Patriots win 37-31 at Kansas City on Rex Burkhead’s 2-yard touchdown run in the American Conference final.

“Over-time, on the road, against a great team, it required everything,” Brady said. “This is crazy. That was a hell of a game. It’s unbelievable.”

The Rams edged host New Orleans 26-23 on Greg Zuerlein’s club playoff record 57-yard over-time field goal in the National Conference final, their rally from 13-0 down the best in team playoff history.

“Unbelievable. Can’t find the words,” Rams quarterback Jared Goff said. “To be down 13-0, the defense to play the way they did. And our kicker made a 57-yard field goal. Unbelievable.”

New England will face Los Angeles in Super Bowl 53 on February 3 in Atlanta in the NFL championship spectacular.

The Patriots seek their third title in five years in their ninth Super Bowl trip in 18 seasons under Brady, who at 41 could surpass 39-year-old Peyton Manning as the oldest starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl and become the first to do it six times.

“It feels pretty sweet,” Brady said. “We earned it and I’m really happy for us. It was awesome. What a game.”

Brady became the first quarterback in NFL playoff history to go 3-0 in over-time, having won all three on the opening drive of the extra session.

This one came after four lead changes in the fourth quarter and a dramatic fightback drive by Kansas City to force the first extra-time American Conference final since 1986.

“The players just competed really hard today,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “You can’t buy these. You’ve got to earn them and they earned this one.”

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will not become the youngest Super Bowl champion quarterback at 23, but he served notice he could trade dramatic late-game drives with Brady, the sport’s master of such heroics.

– ‘Never get over it’ –
The Saints, meanwhile, were livid over the lack of a late-game penalty call when Rams defender Nickell Robey-Coleman ran into Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis on a third-down pass. New Orleans lost a chance to run down the clock and make a last-play short field goal try.

“They blew the call,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I don’t know if there was ever a more obvious pass interference call.”

“It’s a tough way to lose a game, especially when you’re in a position like that to win it,” Payton said. “We’ll probably never get over it.”

The Saints received the ball to begin over-time but Rams linebacker Dante Fowler hit Brees as he threw and safety John Johnson picked off the awkward lob while falling onto his back, the lone New Orleans turnover setting up Zuerlein’s winner.

“I was crying on the bench,” said Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. “I’ve never been this excited.”

Rams coach Sean McVay, who turns 33 on Thursday, became the youngest coach to reach the Super Bowl.

“It’s a credit to the people you have around you,” McVay said. “Our team demonstrated great mental toughness. It was a tough start. We had confidence and we got it done. It was a great win.”

The Rams seek their fourth NFL crown but their first for Los Angeles in the Super Bowl era. The team won NFL titles in 1945 based in Cleveland, 1951 based in Los Angeles and by winning the 2000 Super Bowl while based in St. Louis. The franchise lost two other Super Bowl trips in 1980 (Los Angeles) and 2002 (St. Louis).

– Drama at Kansas City –
At Kansas City, there were four lead changes and a conference-finals record 38 points scored in the fourth quarter.

Brady marched the Patriots 65 yards in 84 seconds and New England seized a 31-28 lead thanks to Rex Burkhead’s 4-yard touchdown run with 39 seconds remaining.

Mahomes then drove the Chiefs into position for Harrison Butker’s 39-yard equalizer field goal with eight seconds remaining.

The Patriots took a 14-0 half-time lead on Sony Michel’s 1-yard touchdown run 8:05 into the game and Brady’s 29-yard touchdown pass to Phil Dorsett with 27 seconds to play in the second quarter.

Mahomes answered 2:04 into the second half on a 12-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce but the Patriots answered on Stephen Gostkowski’s 47-yard field goal.

Damian Williams scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns for the Chiefs on catches of 1 and 23 yards from Mahomes and a 2-yard run.

Brady, 72-1 as a starter when up by 14 or more, marched the Patriots for rookie Michel’s 10-yard touchdown run and Burkhead’s go-ahead and winning touchdown runs.