The Patriots made no secret of their game plan against the Chiefs on Saturday: They were going to put the ball in the hands of their star quarterback and let him win the game.
New England dropped back to pass on 77 percent of its plays, including its first 14 plays of the game. Although Tom Brady's raw passing statistics (28-of-42, 7.2 yards per attempt, two touchdowns) might not blow anyone away, his total QBR tells a different story.
Brady posted an 86.4 QBR against the Chiefs. That's the highest by any player so far this postseason. To put that in perspective, a player with a QBR of 85 or higher in a season is considered to be playing at an All-Pro level.
Taking it a step further and accounting for Brady's efficiency and usage (46 action plays), he added significantly more value to his team, when compared to the baseline of an average quarterback, than any other quarterback has in a playoff game this season.
Let's dig deeper into a few factors contributing to Brady's QBR that might not be captured in traditional passing statistics:
Drops: The Patriots had five drops in the game, their most in a playoff game in at least the past 10 seasons. Because total QBR utilizes video tracking data, it does not penalize Brady unfairly for the drops. Overall, Brady was off-target on 10 percent of his pass attempts, his lowest percentage since Week 2 against the Bills.
Downfield accuracy: Brady did not throw deep often, but when he did, he was accurate. Against the Chiefs, he was 5-of-7 with a touchdown on passes of more than 10 yards. Brady had two particularly impactful deep completions. The first came early in the first quarter on third-and-13. Brady hit Rob Gronkowski when under duress for a 32-yard gain to the Chiefs' 11-yard line, which increased the Patriots' expected points by nearly three. The second big play was Brady's 42-yard completion to Keshawn Martin, which flipped the field and increased the Patriots' expected points by 2.3.
Making plays with his legs: Tom Brady? Believe it. Midway through the second quarter, Brady scrambled for 10 yards on second-and-goal. He plunged in with his typical 1-yard quarterback sneak on the following play to give the Patriots a 14-3 lead. Those two plays added about 2.5 expected points for the team. Because of the division of credit in total QBR, which is based on years of historic analysis, Brady received the majority of the credit for that scramble play.
In control late: Nearly half Brady's incompletions came in the fourth quarter. He was 4-of-10 with two first downs in the final 15 minutes. Even though the Chiefs ultimately cut the Patriots' lead to seven late in the quarter, the Patriots had a nearly 90 percent chance to win for the entire quarter. Total QBR does not "up-weight" for clutch situations, but it does "down-weight" when the game is out of hand. Brady's relatively poor fourth quarter did not hurt him in total QBR as much as it would in traditional statistics that treat all situations equally.
Overall, Brady's QBR peaked at 96 after the Patriots' opening touchdown and never fell below 77 after that point. Gronkowski certainly deserves credit for his contributions to Brady's big game -- Brady had a 99.9 QBR when targeting Gronk -- but Brady's clutch play in his 30th postseason game was the difference for New England.
With the win, the Patriots advanced to the AFC Championship Game for the fifth consecutive season. Continued play like Saturday's from Brady will go a long way toward securing the team's seventh Super Bowl appearance in the past 15 seasons.