By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Well then. That one lived up to the billing. But it did take a while.
The Patriots took the field against the undefeated Chiefs on Sunday night and thoroughly dominated the first half. It looked like the Patriots were back to being the top dog in the AFC, and it looked like the Chiefs were falling back to earth.
But the Chiefs woke up and scored 31 points in the second half, including a 75-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill to tie the game at 40 points apiece (40 points apiece!) with just over three minutes left in the game.
But Tom Brady and Co. went to work, executing a seven-play, 65-yard drive to set up a chip shot for Stephen Gostkowski to win the game as time expired.
It was the rare much-hyped matchup that lived up to the billing.
In a game where the offense puts up 43 and the defense allows 40, there’s obviously going to be a few Ups and Downs.
The game-winning kick was a breeze for Gostkowski, a 28-yarder which came following a timeout. There was no rush to get on the field, and though a game-winning kick is always stressful, this was one of the easier ones for the veteran kicker.
But the kick prior to that one was a huge one. It was a 50-yarder, and it came when the Patriots were leading by four points with 3:15 left in the game. If Gostkowski had missed it, the Chiefs would have been given prime field position, with an ability to take a lead with a touchdown. But that was no issue for Gostkowski, who drilled the 50-yarder. (The Chiefs ended up scoring a touchdown on the ensuing drive, but it was only to tie the game, not take a lead, thanks to Gostkowski’s successful kick.)
On the night, Gostkowski was a perfect 5-for-5 on field goals and 4-for-4 on extra points.
On a night when many figured Tom Brady would be dominant, it was instead the rookie running back who largely carried the offense early on. (Brady’s heroics weren’t needed until the fourth quarter.)
Sony Michel was immense early, picking up 55 yards and a touchdown on eight carries in the first quarter. He ended up with 106 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.
It wasn’t just the volume, too. Michel came through in some huge moments. On the game-winning drive, he picked up two yards on a third-and-1 at the New England 34-yard line. Three drives earlier, he picked up four yards on a third-and-1. He punched in a touchdown to continue the momentum from a big interception returned to the 4-yard line.
Sony Michel was big time. He’s still not functioning in the passing game (zero receptions on just one target), but he’s been a workhorse in the running game.
Dont’a Hightower/Duron Harmon
Normally, it’s the Patriots’ offense that’s making plays in the end zone just before halftime. But Dont’a Hightower and Duron Harmon flipped the script a bit on Sunday.
The Chiefs were looking to score before the half in order to cut the Patriots’ lead to seven points. But on a first-and-10 at the New England 15-yard line, Hightower broke into the backfield and chased Patrick Mahomes, forcing the quarterback to try to fit a pass into tight coverage in the end zone. Travis Kelce was blanketed and didn’t really have a chance, and Duron Harmon was able to make an interception to keep the Chiefs off the scoreboard entirely on the drive.
Hightower had an interception earlier in the first half, returning it to the Kansas City 4-yard line.
First Half Red(dish) Zone Defense
The Chiefs left a lot of points on the board, in large part due to the work of the Patriots’ defense in the red zone — or close enough to the red zone. (There’s a reason Bill Belichick calls it the “red area.” It’s a spectrum.)
The Chiefs drove to the edge of the red zone on their opening drive, but Trey Flowers forced an overthrow from Mahomes for a third-down incompletion. The Chiefs settled for a field goal.
The Chiefs again drove to the Patriots’ 24-yard line on their third drive, but pressure from Adrian Clayborn forced another third-down incompletion for Mahomes. The Chiefs settled for another field goal.
On their next drive, the Chiefs drove to the New England 6-yard line, but Stephon Gilmore showed some surreal closing speed to break up a pass to Sammy Watkins in the end zone. The Chiefs … settled for a field goal.
And on the Chiefs’ final drive before halftime, pressure from Dont’a Hightower pushed Mahomes to force a throw into coverage, and Duron Harmon made an interception in the end zone.
That’s 19 potential points the Chiefs missed out on in the first half.
It wasn’t quite a non-stop offensive onslaught like most of us expected, but the Patriots still put up a 40 spot. The work in the passing game was spread out pretty evenly, too.
Rob Gronkowski made the most of his three receptions, picking up 97 yards. Chris Hogan picked up 78 yards on four receptions. Julian Edelman caught four passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. James White gained 53 yards on five receptions. Josh Gordon only caught five of the nine passes sent his way, but he did pick up 42 yards.
Tally it all up, and Tom Brady went 24-for-35 for 340 yards and a touchdown.
The two biggest receptions were made by Hogan and Gronkowski. The Hogan catch came on a third-and-1 in the fourth quarter, when Brady threw up a deep ball up the right side to a well-covered Hogan, and the receiver rewarded the faith. (Hogan drew a penalty on the play, but it was not needed.) The Gronkowski catch came on the game-winning drive, with the tight end running up the right side and hauling in a 39-yard catch over Josh Shaw to get the Patriots in field-goal range.
Pretty much a big night for everybody offensively.
Stephon Gilmore played excellent defense on Sammy Watkins (1 reception, minus-1 yard) and broke up a pass to Watkins in the end zone. … Tom Brady escaped a sack and made a diving lunge with reckless abandon to score a 4-yard rushing touchdown. … Kenjon Barner picked up 16 yards on three carries. … Trey Flowers was an impactful player in the first half. … David Andrews recovered a Tom Brady fumble.
The McCourty Twins (And Duron Harmon)
The Patriots exited the locker room at halftime leading 24-9. All they needed to do in order to maintain cruise control in the second half was prevent the big play. But that didn’t happen.
Jason McCourty allowed Kareem Hunt to get behind him up the right sideline on the Chiefs’ opening drive of the second half. It wasn’t clear to viewers, but it looked like he expected safety help from Devin McCourty on the play. It was not there, and Mahomes connected with Hunt for a 67-yard touchdown. The Chiefs were immediately back in the game.
Devin later gave up a touchdown to Tyreek Hill in the final minute of the third quarter, and he gave up another touchdown to Hill midway through the fourth quarter to give the Chiefs their first lead of the night. Not a supreme night for the twins.
Jason did break up a third-and-7 pass intended for Hill late in the fourth, on a ball that was underthrown by a pressured Mahomes.
It looked like Devin again left an entire half of the field open late in the game, leaving Harmon all alone in the open field to try to cover Hill. Though Harmon made the key interception to land on the Ups, his coverage (or lack thereof) on Hill just after the Patriots scored to go up seven with 3-plus minutes left in the game was abysmal. Harmon added insult to injury by failing to recover and make a tackle in the open field. Harmon couldn’t even slow him down, allowing Hill to go 75 yards for the game-tying touchdown.
We don’t know the exact coverages on these plays, so it’s difficult to pin down the exact blame. But the end result is, quite obviously, unacceptable.
Kickoff Team/Head Coach Bill Belichick/Special Teams Coach Joe Judge
Special teams matters. It always matters, but sometimes it’s more evident than others. Sunday night was one of those times.
It was very apparent early in the fourth quarter, when Stephen Gostkowski did not kick off deep through the end zone. Tremon Smith caught it at the goal line, broke up the right side, burned past the tackle attempts of Matthew Slater and Brandon King, and then he was off to the races. Devin McCourty didn’t track him down until he had gotten to New England’s 3-yard line. The Chiefs scored a touchdown three plays later to take a fourth-quarter lead.
The kickoff team also looked somewhat silly in the first quarter, when Gostkowski attempted one of those pop-up kicks. It traveled just 30 yards, and Spencer Ware simply caught it. Maybe it was supposed to catch the Chiefs by surprise, giving the Patriots a chance to recover the football and gain an extra possession. But what were the odds of that happening — 10, maybe 15 percent? Instead, the Patriots gifted a short field to the explosive Chiefs offense.
One kick involved poor execution, the other involved suspect decision making.
Tom Brady made a bad play when he allowed the Chiefs to strip-sack him in the third quarter. That turned out to be Marcus Cannon’s final play of the night, as he absorbed some helmet-to-helmet contact from Allen Bailey. Cannon left the game with a head injury. He missed time due to a concussion last season, so there is some added concern.
Brady had a pretty good night overall, but against a dreadful Chiefs defense, we all probably expected a few more touchdown passes. Outside of that, though, Brady made an uncharacteristic mistake when he scrambled and lingered for about two full extra seconds, allowing Breeland Speaks to knock the football out of his hand. Reggie Ragland recovered the loose ball, and the Chiefs were in the end zone four plays later to cut the Patriots’ lead to just one point.
In a 43-40 game, every single possession is important, and Brady gave one away there.
Kyle Van Noy missed a tackle and allowed Kareem Hunt to convert a third-and-3 in the second quarter, and he missed a tackle on a third-and-1 that should have gone for a loss of four but instead allowed Tyreek Hill to set up the Chiefs with a fourth-and-inches. (The Chiefs converted and went on to kick a field goal on that drive.) … The entire secondary should be feeling a bit beaten down, after Hill caught seven passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns, and Hunt caught five passes for 105 yards. Hill caught a 75-yarder, and Hunt caught a 67-yarder.