FOXBORO -- Tom Brady had a thought when Tyreek Hill sprinted down the sideline in front of the Patriots bench for a 75-yard touchdown:
"Good. Score quick."
With just over three minutes remaining, Hill's electric catch-and-run tied the back-and-forth shootout, 40-40. But taking a glass-half-full approach, Brady viewed it as more time for him and his teammates to drive the field and score to win the game.
He was right. Seven plays later, Stephen Gostkowski kicked a field goal as time expired that made the Patriots the only team to knock off Kansas City so far this season.
"We had enough time," Brady said. "They had one timeout left and it gave us enough time to go down and kick the field goal. I don't know if we punted tonight (NOTE: They didn't) . . . Still think we missed some opportunities out there. Made some situational plays when we needed it, the short yardage. We really lost the game (to the Chiefs) last year on short-yardages. I thought we were pretty good in that tonight, so that was real positive."
The critical short-yardage play of the game-winning drive came just after the two-minute warning. Sony Michel, who'd racked up over 100 yards for the second time in his young career, took a handoff on third-and-one at the Patriots 34-yard line, ran off left tackle Trent Brown and picked up two.
The clock was ticking and the Patriots were off and running.
"That was great," Brady said. "I was happy we made the third-and-one. You know, that gave us a great opportunity, and then we hit some other plays."
"Situational football," center David Andrews said. "We practice it so much. Talk about it. Walk through it. We knew we didn't want to give him the ball back. That was the third-and-short, right? To start the drive? That was a big play.
"We kind of knew what they were going to be in. We executed it. That was a big play right there. Sony did a great job of going downhill and getting the first down."
In last year's season opener, the Patriots failed on two fourth-and-one plays. On Sunday night, Michel converted a third-and-one at the goal line in the first quarter, James White ran for 10 on a third-and-2 in the second, Michel picked up enough on a third-and-one in the third, and later in that quarter Brady rushed for a touchdown on a third-and-four from the four.
The Patriots were 7-for-13 on third down in the game, and they went 6-for-7 on third-and-less-than-five. One of those conversions was a little atypical, with Brady hitting Chris Hogan for a 42-yard pass on third-and-one in the fourth. The Patriots were down 33-30 at the time.
"I think it's a confidence thing," Hogan said of his team's late-game execution. "We practice these things, and we're in these situations sometimes in games. When we're in those situations, our poise is good. Tommy obviously being in the huddle really commands us. Our attention and our detail and our sense of urgency has to go up in those situations, and you gotta execute. We knew it was going to be a four-quarter game."
Once Michel had picked up the final third-and-short of the game, Brady went to his most reliable weapons in the passing game. He hit White for 16 yards and a first down. Then he found Rob Gronkowski in one-on-one coverage for 39 yards up the right sideline.
"He got a matchup and made a big play," Brady said. "He’s been making a lot of those in his career. I’ll keep throwing to him in the biggest moments."
One snap to center the football for Gostkowski was all that was left to do. The game-winner might've been Gostkowski's easiest kick of the night, but he never would've been put in that position had he not made four field goals prior to that one, including a 50-yarder in the fourth quarter that was as clutch as any late-game play the Patriots were able to execute.
"That's a guy that's certainly taken for granted around here," Matthew Slater said after the game. "Kicker is a funny position in the league. Nobody starts paying attention to you until you start missing kicks. That guy's been so reliable, so consistent for the last 13 years . . . Really no surprise there. He does it in practice. His approach is the same. His mentality never changes. He came up big for us tonight."
Gostkowski. Gronkowski. Brady. White. Hogan. Michel and the offensive line. There were plenty who came up big to finish off the biggest test the Patriots have faced to this point in the year.
If every season is different, every team is different, as Bill Belichick and his players tell us annually, then Sunday -- and in particular that final drive -- must have taught them something about themselves. There are all sorts of players on the roster have been in that kind of late-game spot many times before. But this team hadn't.
"I think we have a lot of clutch players," Brady said. "I think we have no problem grinding it out. That’s what the football season’s all about. I don’t think we’ve seen our best. I think we can all play a lot better, and I think that’s what we plan to do."