By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — You know, most people don’t ever have it as good as Boston sports did on Sunday night. That was true even before the Patriots and Red Sox both won their games.
Sure, cities with multiple teams have the occasional overlapping of games, forcing fans to split their attention or devoutly declare their allegiance to one squad. But it’s a very rare moment when you can have two games of such magnitude — in one case involving the Greatest Of All Time vs. The Next Big Thing — taking place simultaneously.
In most living rooms in the region, second televisions were wheeled in, laptops were fired up, and tablets were working overtime so that everyone could keep one eye on the goings on of Foxboro and the other eye fixed squarely on the events at Fenway Park.
The fact that the Red Sox ended up winning and, thus, stepping aside so that everyone could pay full attention to the conclusion in Foxboro was just sort of icing on the cake for what was a memorable night in Boston.
Of course, this being a place where championships are all that matters, it will be remembered much more fondly if the Red Sox and Patriots are able to turn these years into championship seasons. That part remains to be seen. But for the time being, it’s worth marveling at the titanic night that was in Boston sports.
That was a whopper.
Now let’s dive into all the leftover thoughts from what will be remembered as one of the wackiest wins of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era, a 43-40 track meet victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
–There will be many platitudes thrown the Patriots’ way for beating the previously undefeated Chiefs. Much deserved, obviously. But, man, no matter how good the Chiefs may be, no matter how fast Tyreek Hill may be, the play by the New England defense in the second half was downright troubling.
When a team leads 24-9 at halftime, the priority in the second half absolutely has to be to prevent any big plays from happening. Let the opponent go buck wild underneath and over the middle. Let them gain 10-20 yards if they want. But absolutely do not give up any home runs that can change the game in a heartbeat.
The Patriots, though, allowed not just one home run (a 67-yard catch-and-run by Kareem Hunt) but two (a 75-yard catch-and-run by Hill). Both plays appeared to have been the result of coverage breakdowns (potentially both by Devin McCourty, though we’re not privy to the play call), and the latter was compounded by poor tackling from Duron Harmon.
The Patriots won, and that’s useful for playoff positioning and is overall a good thing. But allowing Patrick Mahomes to throw for 352 yards — 188 of which came in the second half — was a major, major issue for the New England defense. Learning that in a victory is always a benefit, but there remains quite a bit of work to be done.
–That explosion from the Mahomes-led offense did work to shine an even brighter light on the first-half interceptions by Dont’a Hightower and Harmon. Hightower actually had a hand in both picks. He made the first one by stepping up to stuff a potential run and then dropping in to coverage. Mahomes never saw him as he tried to hit Travis Kelce on a crosser. On the second pick, Hightower ran Kelce off his line off the snap, then broke up the middle of the Chiefs’ line to pressure Mahomes and force the quarterback to scramble right. With Hightower harassing him and grabbing his jersey, Mahomes rushed an ill-advised pass into a mess of bodies, hoping for the best. But it was picked.
That was an important bit of work for Hightower, especially after he got beaten badly in coverage on consecutive plays on Kansas City’s opening drive.
Considering that the Chiefs were ultimately able to put a 40-spot on the scoreboard, taking away those possessions looked to be even more important after the final whistle.
–We’ll all talk about how well Sony Michel is progressing, and how much he’s contributing. It’s well-deserved. But we probably won’t properly be able to frame just how significant a role he is playing as a rookie.
His usage has been partially driven by necessity, with injuries to Rex Burkhead and Jeremy Hill, but the 23-year-old Michel has responded better than anyone could have rightfully expected. With a 106-yard, two-touchdown performance vs. the Chiefs, he’s now run for 316 yards and four touchdowns on 67 carries over the last three weeks.
It’s highly unusual for a rookie running back in New England to play such a role. He’s the first Patriots rookie running back to record multiple 100-yard games since Robert Edwards did it in 1998. (May the soul of Robert Edwards’ knee rest in peace forevermore.)
Factor in that he missed the entire preseason, as well as Week 1 and almost all of training camp, and the work he’s done thus far has been massively impressive.
–It’s not just about blocking, either. When Michel needs to lower the boom … Michel can lower the boom:
That’s linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who’s got an inch and 20 pounds (plus four years of NFL experience) on Michel, getting bulldozed from the 3-yard line into the end zone.
There’s always that hammer/nail thing at play with running backs. Michel seems to like being the hammer.
–Bob Gronkowski played on Sunday night:
Just in case you missed it. He did that.
Three catches for 97 yards is kind of a preposterous stat line. But Bob is kind of a preposterous dude.
–The Tom Brady/Josh Gordon relationship took some steps forward, but it’s clearly still a work in progress. Brady’s first pass of the night went to Gordon for a 12-yard gain on a simple slant, but the drive ended in large part due to Gordon never looking for the ball on a back-shoulder throw on a first-down incompletion and then not coming back on a sideline route on a fourth-down incompletion. Later, on a pass into the end zone, it looked like Brady would have preferred the receiver to sit down in a soft spot in coverage, rather than continue running along the back line of the end zone.
The end result was five connections (for 42 yards) on nine targets. (Gordon also drew a 37-yard pass interference penalty in the end zone to set up a score.) It’s not perfect or close to it, but it’s pretty important that they’ve been able to work on it on the fly — and during three wins.
–It must be mind-blowing to Gordon to be a part of three wins and zero losses, by the way. Going back through his game logs, you’d have to go through 23 games to find his previous three wins, dating back to early October of 2013. The Browns went 3-19-1 in that time with Gordon.
He probably likes things better in Foxboro.
–This graphic from the NBC broadcast was ridiculous, and not just for the Boston Tea Party theme:
A hot 10 percent winning percentage for QBs making their first start as opponents in Foxboro. Seems bad. But then … isn’t it just in line with veteran QBs, too? AFC opponents are now 2-60 against Brady and Belichick in Foxboro since 2007, so maybe the first-timers are better than most.
–Does Julian Edelman look like he’s missed any time? I suppose it’s too soon to fully tell, but the Edelman on the field on Sunday night looked very much like the Edelman who’s been lining up for the past several years.
Edelman upped the ante too when he took the time to adjust his glove — which had nearly been ripped off by Kendall Fuller — without missing a step while running his corner route into the end zone.
The degree of difficulty on that one was high.
–Nice rainbow arc by Brady, too. With his touchdown to James White two weeks ago, and his deep ball to a well-covered Chris Hogan on Sunday night, Brady clearly likes doing that.
–The defensive breakdowns were to be somewhat expected against an offense like Kansas City’s. What wasn’t expected was a breakdown by the kickoff team. And allowing a 97-yard return, just after New England regained the lead to go up four? That is just not something that can happen.
Tremon Smith running right past special teams aces Matthew Slater and Brandon King made it stand out even more.
“I don’t know what happened. We got to look at that on film. It was bad,” Slater said. “We put our team in a tough spot tonight giving up that return and they bailed us out.”
–It was a big night if you’re an enthusiast of the Zero Humans Defense. It was the most popular play call of the night.
Third play of the second half, leading by 15 points, on a third down? Let’s throw the No Guys D at ’em, make this thing interesting:
Just took a seven-point lead in the final minutes and only need to come up with one stop to win the game? Bah, where’s the fun in that? WE’RE THROWING ZERO HUMANS AT ‘EM!
Let’s take another look at that one!
The Chiefs gave it a whirl, too. Rob Gronkowski? Never heard of him!
Just gave up a 42-yarder to Chris Hogan? I guess we don’t have to cover him on the next play:
Defense is for losers, anyway.
–I had to chuckle a bit when I saw what Stephon Gilmore said about Tyreek Hill.
“Fast. I’ve never seen anyone that fast before,” Gilmore said. “Fast, fastest guy I’ve ever covered.”
He’s obviously telling the truth, but I laughed because all I could think of was this:
I know that I could never play in the NFL because I’d be saying stuff like that after giving up huge plays, and my teammates would hate me so, so bad.
(They’d hate me anyway, if we’re being honest with one another. But this stuff wouldn’t help.)
–Two things that deserve more attention: The offensive line is doing pretty well, and Trey Flowers is a one-man force. Flowers is getting plenty of pub, and these prime-time games help boost his profile. But the impact he’s able to have on games is remarkable. And the O-line kept Brady clean on this night (the two Kansas City sacks were plays where the Chiefs knocked the ball out of Brady’s hand as the quarterback tried to take advantage of his ample time in the pocket.) There was some consternation when Nate Solder left for the Giants (he’s been pretty bad down there), but with Trent Brown on the left side, the Patriots have had little issue up front. That’s even with LaAdrian Waddle stepping in when Marcus Cannon left due to a head injury. (That type of situation is probably a big part of why we saw the Patriots rotate those two at right tackle early in the year.)
–Big picture time. The Patriots are 4-2. They’re tied with the Dolphins atop their division but own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
(Also you’ll never hear this anywhere else, but AFC East teams have 13 combined wins. That’s tied with the AFC North for the most in the NFL. All you’ll ever hear from anybody is that the AFC East is terrible and it’s a joke and the Patriots always get a free pass to the divisional round.)
They’re a game behind the Chiefs, but now own the tiebreaker there, too. They’re amazingly a game up on the Jaguars, which seemed an unlikely position for both teams to be after the Jags spanked the Patriots in Week 2. But the Jags now stink, as evidenced by their 40-7 loss in Dallas and their 30-14 loss at Kansas City last week.
The other contenders for the top spot in the AFC? A big bunch of teams — the Chargers, Bengals, Ravens and Dolphins — with 4-2 records. We won’t dissect all the tiebreakers now. The Steelers are 3-2-1, and there are four teams with 3-3 records.
Point of this all is, despite a pretty terrible 1-2 start, the Patriots are in fine position to end up where they always end up: in the top two of the conference, hosting a divisional round playoff game.
Obviously there’s quite a long way to go before we all get to January, but it’s worthwhile to reflect back on the feeling surrounding this team as recently as three weeks ago. It’s changed quite a bit, and despite the normal defensive deficiencies, the Patriots appear to still be The Patriots™.