The Patriots are keeping their collective fingers crossed that the recent issue with footballs doesn’t affect their performance in the big game Sunday. (118990)

It will be the ninth Super Bowl appearance for the New England Patriots during the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era. They are the AFC East Division leaders, 16 times in 18 years, 10 straight division titles since 2009 with nine AFC championships, this being their third consecutive.

The Patriots have won five Super Bowls during this era, their last in February 2017 against the Seattle Seahawks, then losing last year to the Philadelphia Eagles. Since 2001, the Patriots have only missed the playoffs twice, in 2002 and in 2008.

To the dismay, the consternation of Patriot haters, New England has dominated under Brady the quarterback and Belichick the coach, becoming one of the most successful teams in NFL history. The tandem led the Pats in defeat of the Kansas City Chiefs 37-31, an overtime road game Sunday to advance to Super Bowl LIII (53) scheduled for Feb. 3 in Atlanta against the Los Angeles Rams. It will be New England’s third straight appearance.

The Patriots beat the top seeded Chiefs in a game that they easily could have lost. Down 14-nothing at halftime, the Chiefs scored 31 points in the third and fourth quarters, just 30 minutes of play to tie the game with a field goal extending the game to overtime.

Overtime rules state that the first team that scores a touchdown wins. A field goal allows the other team a chance to score.

New England won the coin toss, chose to receive the ball then preceded down field to score the touchdown.

“I thought if we got the chance, we’d score,” said Patrick Mahomes, who went 16 of 31 for 295 yards and three touchdowns. Brady threw for 348 yards, 30 of 46, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions.

“They had no quit. Neither did we,” said a tired but exuberant Brady. “We played our best football at the end.”

It was a semi-finals match between the NFL’s oldest quarterback, Brady, 41, and Mahomes, 23, the Chiefs’ second year QB who threw for 5,097 total passing yards and 50 touchdowns during the season, his first season as a starter, second among all quarterbacks. Brady, ranked seventh, threw for 4,355 yards, 29 touchdowns.

This was the second game this season between the two teams, New England’s second victory over KC, 13 and 3 during the regular season. The first win, 43-40, was in Week 6 in New England.

Brady’s success on the day was also because of the production of rookie running back Sony Michel, 2 touchdowns on 29 carries, 113 yards, and Julian Edelman, 96 receiving yards from 7 key catches, two of those in overtime. One for 20 yards, the other for 15.