FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts — The New England Patriots returned to normal just in time to return to the AFC championship game for the fifth year in a row.
With Julian Edelman back from a broken foot, the Patriots shrugged off their end-of-season slump and beat Kansas City 27-20 in the divisional playoff round. New England will play the Broncos in Denver on Sunday for a spot in Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California.
Edelman, who had been the team's No. 1 receiver before breaking his foot in Week 10, had 10 catches for 100 yards against the Chiefs on Saturday. With Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski back in the lineup, Tom Brady threw for more than 300 yards for just the second time since Edelman broke his foot.
"It certainly makes a big difference with the rhythm and the confidence of the offense," special teamer Matt Slater said on Sunday. "He's a big part of what we do."
Typically one of the best end-of-season teams in the NFL, the Patriots won just two of their last six games since Edelman went out. Injuries on the offensive line also left Brady scrambling to protect himself.
But Edelman's return seemed to have the biggest impact on Saturday, when Brady threw his way 16 times — including the second, third and fourth plays of the game.
Rusty from two months without being on the field together, the two misconnected on five of the first eight tries before Brady completed seven of the next eight passes thrown to Edelman.
Edelman took the blame for the drops.
"That was just me trying to be too fast," he said. "I dropped some balls that I shouldn't have. You can't win ballgames doing those kinds of things, so, I'm personally going to have to get back and do a lot more."
The 29-year-old former college quarterback also ran 11 yards on a reverse early in the second half. After the game, reporters saw him going to the X-ray room, but he said the team does not allow him to talk about injuries.
"That guy has got the heart of a lion," linebacker Rob Ninkovich said. "He's just never going to give up on a play. I've been with him for a very long time now, and I respect the way that he plays and how much he gives this team. So again, tons of respect for No. 11, and I'm happy that he was able to be out there doing his thing."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick preferred to spread the credit around.
"The more of those guys you have out there the harder it is to defend," he said. "Tom knows what to do with them, he can find those matchups, that's what we need to do.
"It's great to have Julian back," Belichick said. "It's great to have a lot of guys back that we had back today. Hopefully they'll all be out there again Sunday."