Patriots

Patriots' 43-40 win over Chiefs lives up to the billing

Patriots' 43-40 win over Chiefs lives up to the billing

FOXBORO – It was 11:28 p.m., just after Stephen Gostkowski’s 28-yarder at the buzzer ended a Sunday Night Football game you won’t forget.

As I walked from the media elevator to the field I thumbed out a tweet I suspected might get some pushback.

“That was a great, great game.”

That conclusion should have been self-evident. But launching a tweet like that into the vortex of snark and negativity that swirls on Twitter during Patriots games is asking for a mass debunking.

The “yeah, buts . . . ” and laments about which guy sucks, what play call was stupid and how this team won’t be winning Super Bowls playing like that usually come raining down.

But this time, the bitchers, moaners and punch-bowl turds were vastly outnumbered by people realizing just what they watched.

MORE PATRIOTS

Two teams putting up almost 1,000 yards of offense (500 for the Pats, 465 for the Chiefs)

The greatest quarterback of all time dueling the most exciting young quarterback in the NFL.

A franchise in the autumn of its years at the top, rolling up its sleeves at crunch time and using a whole lot of Dad strength to subdue the latest wannabe.

“Wannabe” isn’t meant to demean the Chiefs. Every team in the league that’s not based on Route 1 in Foxboro wants to be what the Patriots have been for two decades, not just another notch on the belt of Brady and Belichick.

It used to be the same here. We’d get giddy talk about the 1994 opener when Drew Bledsoe and Dan Marino dueled and the Patriots lost 38-34, the same way people in Kansas City are going to talk about this one.

But we’re a little jaded now. We’ve got a catalog of indelible games to thumb through now. So many that, when these games end we’re like jewelers inspecting diamonds searching for flaws in something that was really, really exquisite.

The journey to 43-40 was as entertaining and jammed with intrigue as any other regular-season game in recent memory.

It was 27-26 entering the last quarter, the Chiefs having erased a 24-9 halftime lead with a 67-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes to Kareem Hunt after Bill Belichick warned his team all week long about guarding against big plays. And there was a strip-sack of Brady in there too when the quarterback went on walkabout and got hammered to set up a touchdown pass to the uncoverable Tyreek Hill.

That was the prelude to a 30-point fourth in which the Chiefs got a 97-yard kickoff return setting up a go-ahead touchdown, Brady ran one in from four yards out on third-and-goal, Gostkowski drilled a 50-yarder after a 42-yard hookup between Brady and Rob Gronkowski, Mahomes hit Hill for a 75-yard touchdown that tied it and then Brady hit Gronk for 39 yards to set up the game-winner.

After a week debating the merits of Gronk compared to Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, Gronk got the last word. And so did Brady after we spent more than a week marveling at the arm and composure of Mahomes.

In a lot of ways, this was the rare game that we all forecasted pretty accurately.

Not all the dirty details, but the fact that both teams would go up and down the field on each other.

That the Patriots might hatch a couple of things to confuse Mahomes (both of his picks were costly and caused by savvy defense) but that his arm strength and the speed of his receivers made him a threat no matter where he was on the field.

MORE PATRIOTS

That Kansas City might get alternately picked on and bullied on the ground and spread thin and picked apart through the air.

But we also learned that Mahomes has it in him to rebound on the road against a dynasty. Yeah, he’s just another notch on the Patriots belt this morning, another under-25 quarterback that lost to the Patriots at Gillette, but he’s the wind beneath the Chiefs wings now. And that’s why the losing locker room didn’t sound like a losing locker room.

The Patriots didn’t play badly and lose badly as they did the last two times the Chiefs saw them in the regular season. The Patriots, overall, played really well and still the Chiefs almost got them.

“I feel like if we had the ball last like they did we would have gone down and scored and won, too,” said Hunt. “We can take this loss. I mean, you never want to lose. We’re going to learn from this, go study and make sure it don’t happen again.”

The Chiefs can “take this loss” as Hunt said because they feel pretty good that this won’t be the only time they see the Patriots this year.

“When you score 40 points and you lose you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror,” said corner Orlando Scandrick. “This team has got great character. It’s one of the best group of guys I’ve been around in my whole 11-year career. We’ll be fine, I am not worried about it at all. The way this team works, the way this team prepares. If we handle our business the way we’re supposed to handle our business there is a good chance we will see them again.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Brady buzz dominates combine: Vrabel says 'there's a time frame to have those discussions'

Brady buzz dominates combine: Vrabel says 'there's a time frame to have those discussions'

INDIANAPOLIS -- It was a topic that no one wanted to touch. Well, almost no one. 

Chris Ballard laughed it off. Mike Mayock was terse. Brian Flores repeated what felt like a well-rehearsed company line. Even the ever-confident Mike Vrabel fidgeted a bit, but in the end, he couldn't help himself. 

So, guys, Tom Brady...any interest?

Right alongside the topic of the new multi-billion dollar collective bargaining agreement being discussed by union leaders and NFL owners, Brady's future whereabouts have dominated early-week conversations here in Indy. The league and anyone associated with it may be in town for the scouting combine, but draftable players and their futures took a backseat to the Brady buzz Tuesday. 

The Patriots are still in play for Brady. Whether or not the Patriots make an effort to retain Brady will be coach Bill Belichick's call, from what I've been told. Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft wants nothing more than to see Brady remain in New England, as he's stated, and if the difference between Brady staying and going is a manageable amount of money then the owner would happily step in. But Belichick has yet to show his hand, and so the football world continues to wait and see what's next for the 42-year-old quarterback. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

That means other front-office chiefs and head coaches around the league, those with quarterback questions of their own, will be peppered with Brady-related questions this week.

Even questions that didn't invoke Brady's name -- coaches and general managers are wary of publicly discussing players who are still technically on other rosters, as Brady is, until the new league year begins -- were dodged. 

Joe Judge, former Patriots special teams and receivers coach, was the first up. He was asked if Daniel Jones is his team's "franchise quarterback." 

"It's not going to be fair for me," Judge said, "to go ahead and set expectations for anyone on our roster at this point."

Listen and subscribe to Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast here:

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but consistent with Judge's policy of leaving individual evaluations out of his public comments at this point in his coaching tenure. 

So what about Brady? He's owned property in New York City. Maybe he'd like the idea of playing in New York? 

I asked Judge about that hypothetical without mentioning Brady specifically. 

"Could you envision," I asked him, "a scenario in which the best way to teach Daniel might be to sit a year or two and allow him to grow that way?"

"We're going to let our players compete," he said. "Whoever our best player is going to be is going to be on the field. I don't have any scenario of letting anybody sit down if they're the best player for the job at the time. I'm not trying to create a hypothetical scenario where I think there's a timetable for any of our guys to contribute. I don't care how old or young you are. I really don't. I don't care about what your experience is before you get in our building. All I care about is can you help our team improve? That's it."

Raiders general manager Mike Mayock was quicker with his dismissal. After acknowledging that any and every position will be evaluated, including quarterback, he noted that one of the things that's critical to playing that position in Vegas is being able to grasp Jon Gruden's offense. 

What if, though, there was a quarterback who'd run another offense better than Gruden's? It stands to reason that any team Brady would join would end up running some variation of Brady's offense. 

So...? 

"We've got a quarterback," Mayock said, "who runs Jon's offense at a very high level." 

OK then. 

Brian Flores said essentially what Miami general manager Chris Grier and owner Stephen Ross have said of late, which is, why would Brady want to join a rebuilding team like Miami? 

Curiously consistent in that response have been the Dolphins, but with Chad O'Shea's departure -- the former Patriots receivers coach who was relieved of his offensive coordinator duties in Miami after the season -- and Chan Gailey's hiring as coordinator, the Dolphins make less sense for Brady than they did two months ago.

Up next: Chris Ballard, Colts GM.

Indy is flush with cap space. They've been reluctant to commit to Jacoby Brissett as their quarterback of the present or the future. They have a roster, though, that looks talented enough to compete if they had consistent quarterback play. 

Ballard said multiple times that he wouldn't comment on impending free agents potentially joining his team; Philip Rivers has been linked to Indy multiple times already this offseason because of his connection to certain members of the coaching staff there. 

Still, I asked him about Brady. As a longtime competitor, could Ballard envision Brady in another uniform? 

"So," he laughed, "you're going to ask me a question now? You don't want me to comment but you're going to ask me?" 

"I'm not going to talk about that," he said, eventually. "Great career, though."

As the day wore on, a couple of coaches were a bit more loose-lipped. Bruce Arians of the Bucs flat out named Brady as a potential target for Tampa Bay when asked for examples of quarterbacks he'd consider next month. 

"Tom Brady," he said. "Philip is another guy. We'll see."

Tell us how you really feel, Bruce. 

Seriously. And why not? Maybe Arians is an NBC Sports Boston reader. Maybe he knows there's really nothing to worry about when it comes to tampering with Brady because the Patriots probably aren't going to pursue tampering charges involving their quarterback. Tampering might actually help Brady gauge his market more quickly and allow the Patriots to act one way or the other as they construct their team. 

Here's what our Tom E. Curran wrote earlier this month: "My understanding is that the Patriots aren’t worried about other team’s financial pitches. Their business with Brady revolves around the direction of the 2020 offensive personnel, Brady getting some input on that, and Brady’s role in the team’s future. They aren’t going to be super-vigilant about tampering."

That brings us to Vrabel, the Titans head coach, a friend of Brady's, who straddled the tampering fence as well as anyone Tuesday. It looked uncomfortable for him at first, though. Vrabel looked down when asked about Brady potentially playing elsewhere during a podium session at the Indianapolis Convention Center. At one point he fidgeted with the recorders in front of him.

"Tom's a teammate, former teammate," Vrabel said. "He's a friend. He'll always be a friend. He'll do what's best for him and his family. Wherever that may be, I'm not sure."

Vrabel was quick to compliment Brady as an opponent. Though his defense beat up on the Patriots offense in the Wild Card Round in January, he clearly still holds Brady's game in high regard. 

"Very accurate passer," Vrabel said. "A player that's got great command of the pocket . . . Tom did a great job of staying in the pocket when we mixed some of those three-man rushes in. Great command of the offense. Great leader."

Pressed further on Brady, and told that the Titans look like a good fit for Brady if he was to leave New England, Vrabel interrupted. 

"Why would you see it would be a great fit," Vrabel asked? "I'm just curious."

The Titans have shown they can win now, I told him. Good weapons. Good offensive line. Brady knows the coach.

"We were 9-7," Vrabel interrupted. "We played a couple of good games. I know a lot of players. I played in the league 14 years. Friends with some. Tom's under contract. I was just curious why you thought he'd be a great fit."

Do you agree, I asked?

"Do I agree that I know Tom, or that I'm friends with Tom," he replied?

No. Is Tennessee a good fit? 

"I think when you look at players that are still under contract," Vrabel said, "it's important for us to evaluate each and every position but understand that there's a time frame to have those conversations."

Outside of Arians spelling out his Brady interest, that was as close as we came to another organization acknowledging it'll make a play for the six-time Lombardi-winner. "There's a time frame to have those conversations..." 

Technically that's the legal tampering period, starting on Mar. 16 and running right up to the start of the new league year on Mar. 18. But the reality is those conversations begin now, this week, in Indianapolis, where agents, coaches and executives mingle to discuss their options. 

No one wants to admit it, but if those conversations haven't started already, they will soon. 

Vrabel, while complimentary of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is coming off of what was far and away the best season of his career, didn't necessarily commit to Tannehill as the team's quarterback of the future. That might simply be a leverage play; Tannehill is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. But it might also mean the team is leaving its options open. 

Vrabel and Brady remain close. When asked about his relationship with Brady, Vrabel said Tuesday, "undefeated," referencing Tennessee wins over New England in 2018 and in the playoffs last season. 

"I asked him for a bigger trophy this year," Vrabel said. "Still waiting for it."

In just a matter of weeks, Brady and Vrabel can legally discuss any kind of trophy they'd like, and how Brady might be able to bring a big one to Tennessee.

Patriots ask QB prospect at NFL Combine how he'd feel about replacing Tom Brady

Patriots ask QB prospect at NFL Combine how he'd feel about replacing Tom Brady

The Patriots staffers who questioned Oregon State quarterback Jake Luton at the NFL Scouting Combine just came right out and asked it.

How would he feel about replacing a legend at QB?

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Luton, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound QB projected as a late-round pick, told USA TODAY he was a bit taken aback to get the Tom Brady question right off the bat. 

“I think that was a great question," he told Patriots Wire's Henry McKenna. "It was a fair question for them to ask.”

Listen and subscribe to Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast here:

Luton said his demeanor would be an asset if he was indeed that next guy for the Patriots.

“Those are big shoes to fill. But for me, I’m a pretty even-keeled guy. I kind of reiterated that,” he said. "I’ve never let any of the outside noise distract me, so I don’t think that would be an issue. I’d bring it every day and prove that I’m a leader, no matter if it’s a high or a low. Keep doing it every day, however that works out. I’m not going to worry about filling anyone’s shoes. Just doing the best that I can do.”

Injury concerns have dropped Luton down most draft boards. He spent six years playing in college between Idaho and Oregon State and a forearm injury kept him out of what would've been his final college game against Oregon.

Luton was one of four QB prospects the Pats have met with at the combine in Indianapolis. Jake Fromm of Georgia, Jordan Love of Utah State (projected as New England's first-round pick in Phil Perry's latest mock draft) and James Morgan of Florida International, who met with them at the East-West Shrine Game, are the others.

It stands to reason that the others were asked the Brady question, too. And it was probably put to current backup Jarett Stidham before he was selected last year in the fourth round.