By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — By now, we’ve all heard every bit of promotion for Sunday night’s football game in Foxboro. Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes. Rob Gronkowski vs. Travis Kelce. Explosive Offense vs. Explosive Offense. Kareem Hunt! James White! Tyreek Hill! Josh Gordon! Touchdowns, touchdowns, touchdowns!
All of this hype is not without reason, of course. The Chiefs average 35 points per game, and the Patriots seem to have figured things out, having scored 38 points in consecutive weeks.
Yet while we’re all awaiting an old-fashioned, Wild West shootout, we may be overlooking the most important factor for Sunday night’s game. He’s the fella on the sideline, perpetually wearing a visor, holding a moderately sized playsheet, and whispering sweet nothings directly into the tympanic membrane of Tom Brady.
That man, is, of course, Josh McDaniels, the man with whom Brady shares a fairly special connection. And though the two men are no doubt scheming to put up a significant yardage total and score a ton of points against the Chiefs, the preparation this week likely involves a little something more: patience.
If you’ve been watching the Patriots closely this year, instilling a little bit of extra patience shouldn’t take much adjustment. Though the Patriots for years have been known for a high-tempo, no-huddle offensive approach, a common scene this season — particularly in the first and third quarters of games — has been Brady calmly taking the play call from the sideline, slowly approaching the huddle, breaking out of that huddle and allowing the play clock to dip into the single digits. While the no-huddle approach is still available, particularly as the team tries to score before halftime, the Patriots appear to have taken a more deliberate approach on offense.
It seems to have paid some dividends, too, when they’ve been able to execute such a plan. In their three wins, the Patriots’ average time of possession has been 31:42. In their two losses, it’s been 25:00.
The strategy in the victories perhaps was motivated by necessity. Without Julian Edelman, the offense was not at full power. Now with Edelman and the explosive potential of Josh Gordon on the outside, the Patriots may start to play a bit quicker. That may be the right move. But not this week.
With the Kansas City Chiefs and their terrible defense coming to town, the temptation to attack attack attack will be strong. But it probably should be resisted. There’s been no NFL defense that’s been able to stop Mahomes’ offense thus far. Their quick strike ability (and the dreadfulness of their defense) is reflected in the fact that despite ranking No. 2 in the NFL in scoring, the Chiefs rank 20th in time of possession. The Chiefs’ offense does not need much time to score 35 points per game.
An optimist’s optimist might try to believe that the Patriots could be the first to out-scheme and outperform the Chiefs’ offense; a realist would say the task is probably too tough.
So, instead of running a hurry-up, and instead of partaking in the guns-a-blazing shootout that the world is ready to see, the Patriots would benefit from running as many long, sustained offensive drives as possible.
That’s something they’ve proven capable of this season. The Miami game was the best example. The Patriots that day had four scoring drives that drained at least five minutes off the clock — two of which chewed up more than 6:30. On those four drives alone, the Patriots took 23:39 off the clock while scoring 24 points. The drives required an average of 12 plays for an average of 77 yards each. That’s a recipe for a victory, no matter the opponent.
Their win vs. Houston was much the same. That day, the Patriots embarked on three separate scoring drives of 58 yards or more. Those three drives ate up 15:49 off the clock and put 21 points on the scoreboard.
These are the types of drives that Brady and McDaniels will have to engineer if they want to control Sunday night’s clash of AFC titans.
Though we’re all envisioning a comical amount of scoring, the most important display board inside Gillette Stadium may not be the scoreboard. It may just be the play clock. The more that it tick tick ticks down while the Patriots have the ball, the better their chances are of coming away with a win.