Patriots rise to the situation against unbeaten Chiefs

Patriots rise to the situation against unbeaten Chiefs

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."


Kyle Van Noy has had enough of Max Kellerman's bad Patriots takes

Kyle Van Noy has had enough of Max Kellerman's bad Patriots takes

As Tom Brady proved Sunday, the New England Patriots don't live in a bubble. They're well aware that some people think they "suck."

On Wednesday, Kyle Van Noy took a stand against one of Brady's most ardent critics.

During an interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Zolak & Bertrand," Van Noy commended co-host Scott Zolak for firing back at ESPN's Max Kellerman, who actually said Brady was the worst quarterback left in the playoffs after the AFC Wild Card Round.

Van Noy then delivered this message for Kellerman:

Well maybe, because everybody says we need to stick to football, he needs to stick to his boxing or whatever he does, his commentating.

That's what Kellerman might call a knockout punch.

Van Noy's comments continue quite a back-and-forth between Kellerman and the Pats. After the "First Take" co-host (who also has covered boxing for ESPN and HBO) recently stood by his years-old take that Brady is "falling off a cliff", the team responded with a clever social media video assuring that Brady and the Patriots are very much still here, which they demonstrated by dismantling the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC Divisional Round.

It sounds like Van Noy doesn't mind the criticism, though.

"We enjoy being the underdog," he added. "We hear people (say), 'Guys are old. The linebackers are slow.' But at the end of the day, we believe the guys in our room that we have. ... We know what we're capable of."

New England indeed will be an underdog Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

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Bill Belichick gives perfect response to AFC title game weather question

USA TODAY Sports Images

Bill Belichick gives perfect response to AFC title game weather question

Weather forecasts change, but everyone is in agreement that it's going to be very, very cold during Sunday's AFC Championship Game between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

Early reports suggested an "arctic blast" is going to be over Kansas City by the 6:40 p.m. ET kickoff time, which would make for temperatures in the single digits. The Arrowhead Stadium grass, which has had issues in the past, also must deal with the icy temperatures and could result a less-than-ideal playing surface.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, whose team will be playing in its eighth consecutive AFC title game, was asked Wednesday about the frigid weather expected in KC on Sunday, and he gave a perfect response.

Sure, it's going to be freezing during this game, but the Patriots often play and practice in the cold, so the elements shouldn't be a shock to them. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady also has a 24-4 record in games where the temperature is below 30 degrees, with his latest victory coming in last weekend's AFC Divisional Round defeat of the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium. 

The Patriots established a dominant rushing attack Sunday when rookie running back Sony Michel ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns. The conditions in Kansas City this weekend could make for a perfect environment for the Patriots to go back to that ground-and-pound offensive gameplan led by Michel.

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