FOXBOROUGH - The Curtis was Jackson, not Martin. The “Wiggy” was Jermaine (Wiggins), not Larry (Whigham). The Klemm was Adrian, not Roger (Clemens).
Where have these guys been all year?
The New England Patriots, embarrassed by their shellacking in Detroit on Thanksgiving, were not going to be embarrassed again.
Using new personnel, new formations, new attitudes, and a newfound confidence on offense, they staved off a last-minute comeback by the Kansas City Chiefs to take a 30-24 victory before 50,328 at Foxboro Stadium.
The Chiefs made it another Monday night photo finish, driving from their 26 to the New England 7 with time running down. But when Elvis Grbac threw over the middle to Tony Gonzalez, Tebucky Jones made the tackle at the 7, and the clock ran out, giving the Patriots’ their fourth victory.
“We probably made it tougher than we needed to,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, “but overall I was pleased. I think we made improvements all around, including on special teams.”
After much speculation that Drew Bledsoe wouldn’t play or would be replaced early by Michael Bishop, Bledsoe had a superb night, completing 33 of 48 for 282 yards and 2 touchdowns, using the hurry-up offense in which he called the majority of the plays.
“I was excited when I heard about it from Charlie [Weis] earlier in the week,” said Bledsoe. “We tried it earlier in the year against the Bucs. We may use this more extensively, but you have make sure it’s against the right team.”
Belichick said the Chiefs use a number of combination blitzes, so the hurry-up offense prevented them from substituting as they wanted to.
Bledsoe’s favorite target was Troy Brown, who shook off a pulled quad muscle in his left leg and caught 12 passes for 119 yards.
Wiggins, an East Boston product who had been released by the New York Jets, had the best day this season for a New England tight end, making five catches for 41 yards and a touchdown.
The Patriots, who had lost five of their last six, hadn’t scored 20 first-half points since Oct. 1 in Denver, but they went off at intermission with a 20-10 lead.
“We could have folded up the last four games or we could battle and try to win them all,” said Bledsoe. “We decided to fight and win the games.”
The Patriots added to the halftime lead when Bledsoe connected with Wiggins for a 1-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. Completions of 19 yards to Terry Glenn and 17 yards to Brown keyed the scoring drive.
On the Chiefs’ subsequent series, another ex-Jet, Otis Smith, picked off a Grbac pass and returned it 56 yards to the Chiefs’ 40. The possession ended without points, though, as Adam Vinatieri missed a 37-yard field goal attempt wide right.
The Chiefs then drove 73 yards, with Grbac tossing a 4-yard touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez with 13:43 remaining to pull them within 10 points, 27-17.
After Vinatieri’s third field goal made it 30-17, Chiefs linebacker Mike Maslowski forced a Kevin Faulk fumble, which led to a 19-yard touchdown pass from Grbac to Kevin Lockett with 3:58 remaining.
The Chiefs put a final scare into the Patriots, but Jones made the stop that counted on Gonzalez.
“I wasn’t going to let him score, no way,” said Jones. “I knew if I made the tackle and laid him down, the game was over. They had no timeouts left. I wasn’t going to let him get back in the huddle and run one more play.
“It shouldn’t have been that close. The whole world is watching.”
A spurt by the Patriots just before halftime broke a 10-10 tie and gave them the 10-point cushion. Faulk returned a punt 35 yards to the Chiefs’ 32, and three plays later Bledsoe fired a 17-yard touchdown pass to Brown with two minutes remaining for a 17-10 lead.
Vinatieri booted a 53-yard field goal, the second-longest of his career, with no time left on the clock.
Prior to that, the Chiefs and Patriots played a game of copycat, taking turns with field goals in the first 6:33 of the game, and with matching second-quarter touchdowns.
Jackson, acquired from the St. Louis Rams’ practice squad two weeks ago, returned the opening kickoff 47 yards to the Kansas City 47. He was subbing on returns for Faulk (22 carries, 52 yards), who started at running back because J.R. Redmond was inactive with bruised ribs.
The Patriots could move only 17 yards, though, and Vinatieri put them ahead with a 48-yarder.
When the Chiefs got the ball back, Todd Peterson answered from 42 yards to tie it.
The Patriots pulled out all stops on their next possession. They used the no-huddle offense, five receivers, and - most notably - defensive tackle Henry Thomas as a fullback near the goal line. When the Patriots got to the 1, Thomas was the lead blocker for Faulk once, but Faulk couldn’t get in. On the next play, the Patriots ran Faulk to the opposite side and he leaped over the goal line, making it 10-3.
Offensive coordinator Weis pulled out some seldom-used plays. On one series, Glenn ran a reverse that went for 35 yards.
Ty Law defensed four passes intended for Derrick Alexander in the first half, but Law and Lawyer Milloy’s $12 million coverage was beaten by Alexander on an 81-yard bomb from Grbac with 8:39 remaining in the half, evening the score, 10-10.