Tom E. Curran's Hard Truths review: Patriots vs. Chiefs
The Patriots ran 94 offensive plays on Sunday. Before we get too far into the nooks and crannies of decisions made in the flow of the game, what needs highlighting first is the outstanding job of game-planning the Patriots did Sunday on both sides of the ball to possess it as long as they did and to keep the Chiefs offense in check as much as they did. And the season-long metamorphosis on both sides as well that turned the offense into a grinding machine and the defense into a more aggressive, blitzing man-to-man group. All the “we do what we do” teams around the league still don’t take note of the Patriots “we do what we have to” approach that works year-in, year-out once they figure it out.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RAN
The Patriots ran 48 times for 176 yards. They carried it 25 times for 99 before halftime. There was little the Chiefs could do to get the Patriots off the field as they went 7-for-9 on third down before the break and 13-for-19 for the game. While Michel (29 carries for 113 yards) was the main running back for a big stretch, Rex Burkhead (pictured) got more carries in the fourth quarter and overtime. His fourth-and-1 fail midway through the fourth was not encouraging and Michel’s 10-yard touchdown burst with 3:35 left that put the Patriots up 24-21 showed Michel still had gas left in his tank. But the dual-threat versatility of Burkhead eventually paid dividends as he bowled in from the 4 with 42 seconds left to make it 31-28 and scored the winning touchdown in overtime after three straight runs gained 10, 3 and 2 for the win.
WHEN THE CHIEFS RAN
Kansas City managed just 41 yards on 12 carries and their running game was effectively bottled up by the aggressiveness of the Patriots front. For a defense that struggled so badly stopping the run, even against teams that had afterthought running games, the turnaround in the final two games of the regular season and now in these two playoff games has been astounding.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASSED
Points get deducted for Tom Brady’s end zone pick in the first half and the pick that resulted from Julian Edelman having a throw glance off his hands for a pick but when plays needed to be made in the fourth quarter and overtime it was the passing game that kicked in. Brady finished 30-for-46 for 348 yards and a touchdown throw to Phillip Dorsett. But it was his three threaded third-down conversions on the overtime drive that were the most outstanding throws of the day. Finding Gronk on the sideline for the 25-yard pickup that allowed the Patriots to retake the lead late in the fourth was another brilliant throw.
WHEN THE CHIEFS PASSED
The Patriots made it complicated for Patrick Mahomes, getting after him with pressure (Kyle Van Noy and Trey Flowers were particularly hard to handle) and playing man-to-man all over the field. New England did a tremendous job bottling up Tyreek Hill (one catch for 42 yards) with an array of corners sent to cover him with help over the top. But Andy Reid schemed up some great plays late to get running back Damien Williams available for touchdowns. Mahomes also gets downgraded for the end zone overthrow that cost KC a touchdown and the sack soon after that backed the Chiefs out of field goal range. Mahomes was sacked four times.
Stephen Gostkowski’s 47-yard field in the third was big as the Patriots offense fell dormant. The Patriots also bottled up Hill on his lone punt return, dropping him for a loss of 11. Julian Edelman’s aggressiveness in the return game almost resulted in a disastrous turnover but replay saved the Patriots when it was determined he hadn’t touched a bouncing punt the Chiefs recovered (pictured). Both kick returners had decent days as well. Gostkowski’s field goal gives the edge to the Patriots.