Patriots offense aces test, defense…not so much

Patriots offense aces test, defense…not so much

FOXBORO - The Patriots knew what their plan would be against the Chiefs, both offensively and defensively. 

Offensively they didn't see much, if anything, they weren't expecting and it showed. They ran it when and where they wanted to. Power out of their I-formation. Power out of the shotgun. Fullback isolations. End-arounds. And they found mismatches against Kansas City's man schemes all night. 

No gimmicks. Easy pickings for Tom Brady. Unless you confused him a tad, he was going to end up leading an offense that approaches 500 total yards. They hit that number on the button Sunday night. 

TOM E. CURRAN'S HARD TRUTHS:

Defensively the Patriots wanted to take away Travis Kelce. His size and athleticism made him a big play waiting to happen, and Patrick Mahomes goes to him in critical situations. So what did Bill Belichick and Brian Flores' defense do? They took Kelce away, often sending two defenders at him in coverage. He finished with five catches for 61 yards -- all of which came in the first half. 

But the Patriots didn't devote the same types of resources to Tyreek Hill, and he ended up burning them to the point that the Patriots allowed 40 points to an Andy Reid offense for the third time since 2014. 

This week's Report Card, like the high-scoring outcome at Gillette Stadium, is a tad predictable. Good grades for throughout the offense. Not so much for the defense. Let's get to them...

QUARTERBACK: B+

Tom Brady's fumble in the third quarter was perhaps his worst play of the season. He seemed to acknowledge as much on WEEI Monday morning. But he made enough plays against a horrid Chiefs defense to slide him into the honors conversation. His scrambling touchdown, his on-the-money throws to Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski late, his touchdown floater to Julian Edelman were all worthy of high marks. Aside from the turnover, though, how is he not in the "A" conversation? He missed an open Hogan on back-to-back attempts early in the third quarter -- never saw him -- forcing the Patriots to kick a field goal. He also nearly threw a pick in the third that was broken up on a nice play by Josh Gordon, who'd been woefully underthrown. 

RUNNING BACK: B
Sony Michel cracked the 100-yard mark for the second time in his career despite having 10 of his carries go for 3 or fewer yards (not including a goal-line plunge). He admitted after the game he feels as though he's still leaving yardage on the field, but he continues to be productive back there. That's opened up the play-action passing game, which has accounted for chunk plays in recent weeks. As a receiver, James White continues to be Mr. Dependable, as he picked up a 17-yard catch-and-run on the game's final drive to keep things moving. He also ran six times for 39 yards, showing that he can run between the tackles if defenses are going to go light and let him mosey through the box. Kenjon Barner gave this group a little jolt early as he ran three times for 16 yards, including one carry for 10 yards where he broke a tackle. 

RECEIVER: B
Julian Edelman's touchdown catch in the second quarter was one of the easier scoring grabs he's made -- Kendall Fuller almost fell down as Edelman breezed by on his way to the corner of the end zone -- but it obviously ended up being critical to the outcome. It came as some surprise that the Patriots didn't try to pepper Edelman with more targets, but the Chiefs opted for coverage over pass-rush in several key spots, forcing Brady to go elsewhere. Hogan's late grabs were clutch . . . and they helped make up for moments in the third when Brady seemed to overlook Hogan for potential scores twice. Josh Gordon and Brady still aren't quite on the same page with the back-shoulder throws they've attempted in recent weeks, but he played 63 snaps of a possible 78 (only Edelman played more), and he showed good effort throughout the night. He fought for a deep attempt that drew a pass-interference flag in the end zone. He also broke up a potential interception that could've led to a longer Patriots drive had Brady not been strip-sacked.

TIGHT END: B+

Rob Gronkowski's usage at the end of the game just goes to show what he can do as a receiver when called upon. On his long catch-and-stiff-arm-and-run jaunt, he created yards after contact like few can. On his final grab of the night to set up the game-winning field goal, he got a great release off the line -- not bad for a guy with a bad ankle -- and reeled in Brady's dime. He created some subtle separation by hand-fighting down the field, but not enough to pick up a penalty. He finished the night with three catches and 97 yards. Gronkowski was also, once again, a force as a run-blocker. In those power runs out of shotgun we mentioned off the top, he would pull with a guard to help cave in the edge of the defense. They ran the same play (to opposite sides) early and late in the first quarter. Both resulted in gains of 10-plus yards. Both featured Gronkowski moving people. James Develin also had himself a day, playing 33 snaps and clearing room on isolation calls, allowing Michel to follow him into holes and work off of his blocks.

OFFENSIVE LINE: A-
This group deserves a great deal of credit for what the Patriots were able to do on the ground (173 yards on 38 carries). They had to work for it, too. The longest Patriots run of the night was 15 yards. They also played smart, not accumulating any penalty yardage. Brady's goal-line run was particularly interesting to watch because the Chiefs only rushed three. Hard there for the line not to try to find someone to block down field there when Brady starts scrambling, but they had to play it straight on the off chance Brady might flip it forward into the end zone. Even if they look like they're spectating on that snap, it's better than picking up a penalty in the red zone. David Andrews (and Sony Michel) had a rough go in pass protection on Chris Jones for one snap, allowing a Brady sack. But this group only allowed two hits (not including the one Brady brought upon himself before fumbling), and Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney were forces in the run. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
This is a brutally tough grade. The kick coverage would likely get an "F" is that was all we looked at. But the 97-yard return allowed -- "Brutal," said Matthew Slater -- only counts as a portion of the overall mark, though. Same goes for the Patriots squib kick gone wrong early in the game. How to weigh those against the 50-yarder Stephen Gostkowski drilled to make it a seven-point game in the fourth quarter? To the open end of the stadium, no less? He made five field goals and four extra points by the time the night was over. And the Patriots needed all of them. No punts from this group Sunday, but what they put on tape was only the definition of a mixed bag thanks to the kicker who didn't miss. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: C+
Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton were asked to step up in the absence of Malcom Brown and they provided some resistance against the run. The Chiefs, however, still averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Woof. What this group needed, in particular in the second half, was more in the way of a pass-rush. Adrian Clayborn provided a pair of pressures in the first half that resulted in third-down failures by the Chiefs, but they couldn't generate much in the way of pressure in the final 30 minutes. Patrick Mahomes wasn't sacked, and he was hit three times by this crowd. 

LINEBACKER: B
Dont'a Hightower couldn't be corralled by the Chiefs early. He dropped into coverage, he jammed Travis Kelce at the line of scrimmage, he rushed the passer. He picked Mahomes on the second Chiefs drive of the game. Then he put a hit on Mahomes (after jamming Kelce) that forced the young quarterback into a red-zone pick. He also blew up a short play-action pass to the flat for a loss. Elandon Roberts appeared to have one of his better games as a member of the Patriots, knocking down a pass to force the Chiefs to settle for a field goal in the third quarter. He also came up with a pair of run stuffs on the night and wasn't targeted in 10 coverage snaps. Kyle Van Noy missed a tackle on Kareem Hunt early, and he whiffed on another in space on Tyreek Hill -- which, in fairness, is a difficult task for a player about 50 pounds lighter than Van Noy. But the Patriots could've used some better tackling from this level, which is why their grade is where it is. 

SECONDARY: D
Upon re-watching some of the game's most critical plays, it was fascinating for me to see so much focus on Kelce. I know how talented he is, but he doesn't have the game-breaking ability -- the athleticism to outrun an entire team 75 yards for a touchdown -- that Hill does. Focus on Kelce in the red zone, as the Patriots did on Hill's 14-yard score? Makes sense. But in the middle of the field late in the game, which is what the Patriots did when the doubled Kelce and allowed Hill to sprint through the defensive backfield unencumbered? Less clear on why that would be the choice. So perhaps a portion of this grade should go to the coaching staff. Bill Belichick didn't hold back when asked about Hill's long score on a Monday conference call, skewering players and coaches alike for the result there. But we can't highlight the players' ability to adjust on the fly in order to prevent big plays -- which they'd been good at through five weeks -- and then not point out when the opposite happens in prime time. Any other week, the plays that Stephon Gilmore and Duron Harmon made in the red zone in the second quarter would've helped make this grade respectable, but as a unit, they nearly erased all the positive they showed in the first half to lose the game. The Patriots won't see a group this athletic for the rest of the season. The regular season, at least. For a more detailed breakdown on the secondary's night -- good and bad -- head here.

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Patriots put more on Gordon’s plate as he’s leaned on for a majority of snaps

Patriots put more on Gordon’s plate as he’s leaned on for a majority of snaps

FOXBORO -- Josh Gordon is working his way up the receiver depth chart in New England. The fact that he saw 63 snaps against the Chiefs told us as much Sunday night. 

Among Patriots wideouts, only Julian Edelman (71 of a possible 78 snaps) saw more work. The top two at the position for Week 6 ran the same number of routes (39), which was more than Rob Gronkowski (34) or Chris Hogan (32). 

For Gordon to be firmly entrenched as the No. 2 option at the position in the 43-40 shootout win over the Chiefs is a clear-cut sign of his progression within the offense. In his previous two games with the Patriots, he saw 18 snaps in each. 

The amount of time Gordon spent on the field also made it readily apparent that he has plenty of room to grow in terms of his understanding of where to be and when, and what Tom Brady's looking for. He caught five passes on nine targets for 42 yards but seemed to have some issues hooking up with Brady on timing plays along the sideline that were contingent upon Brady and Gordon being on the same page.

"Pretty familiar with the playbook. You know, still some growing pains and stuff like that you’ve got to work out at practice," Gordon said. "And, through the course of just being here just under a month, you know, I’m trying to make it work as fast as I can. So, we’ll get it all figured out here pretty soon."

For a sign of Brady's trust in Gordon, how about the fact that he went to Gordon on the first play of the game for a 12-yard completion? Or how about Brady's deep throw to Gordon coming out of a timeout late int he first half, where Gordon drew a pass-interference penalty that helped set up a touchdown? 

Even on a play that didn't gain any yards -- when Brady underthrew Gordon and Gordon broke up a would-be interception down the middle of the field in the third quarter -- Brady likely gained some trust in his new target.

"We’re working at it," Brady said. "I mean, I think he’s only been here for four weeks, something like that, three weeks. So, I actually think it’s pretty impressive what he’s done – to come out and play as much as he’s played. Our offense is certainly not easy. So, we’re just building on it. We’re going to work at it every day, try to get better, and I have no doubt we’ll be on the same page as the season goes."

On 99 snaps through three games with the Patriots, Gordon has 9 catches on 15 targets for 124 yards and a touchdown.

"It was fun, honestly," Gordon said of his increased workload. "I think we were preparing for that all week at practice. I was expecting a little heavy of a workload, so I was just glad to have the opportunity to go out there and play. I had fun. I enjoyed it. I appreciate coach [Bill Belichick] giving me the opportunity."

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Brady still not satisfied: ‘We all feel like there’s still plays out there’

Brady still not satisfied: ‘We all feel like there’s still plays out there’

Tom Brady was up and at 'em early Monday morning after a late night Sunday. But coming off of a 43-40 win, a game in which the Patriots did not punt, Brady still sounded as though he had some leftover enthusiasm for what went down at Gillette Stadium when he spoke to WEEI's “Kirk and Callahan” show.

The Patriots scored 38 points in each of their previous two games, and even after getting into the 40s, Brady said he thought there’s still room for this year's offense to grow.

"I think we're starting to feel confident in what we can achieve really if we put it together for four quarters," Brady said. "I think it's going to look great. We had 38, 38 and 43. And I think we all feel like there's plays still out there and we're still getting familiar with one another. If we can just keep grinding and keep practicing and keep making improvements, it's tough to stop us. That's a good feeling."

One of the areas where the Patriots might be able to improve relatively significantly over the course of the year? The connection between Brady and receiver Josh Gordon. The two are still in their first month together as teammates, and Brady seemed optimistic about Gordon's future with the team. 

"I think if we keep working at it," Brady said, "a lot of things are going to look better. I have a lot of confidence in him." 

Gordon caught five passes on nine targets for 42 yards. He played 63 snaps in the game, and only Julian Edelman played more at the receiver spot.

"For him to be in there as many plays [as he was]," Brady said, "in my view is so impressive . . . I think the best is ahead of us if we just keep working at it."

Here are a few more quotes of note from Brady's radio call Monday...

On the Rob Gronkowski versus Travis Kelce debate: "I'd vote for Gronk 100 out of 100. He's a special player. Made some huge plays when we needed him. He's getting punt viced on some of his routes . . . They're aware of him on every play . . . He's doing a great job and I'm so proud of him."

On Brady's strip-sack fumble: "That's just a mental error. For me to roll right and avoid the guy and swing the ball around with really no chance to complete it. I had guys. I had Julian on the sideline, I didn't see him. Usually when you roll right you just gotta keep rolling right and try to make a good throw. But to stop and move around with all the bodies coming, it was just a mental mistake. I'm not going to have any more of those this year. I won't do anything like that again."

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