FOXBOROUGH - Steve Martin, the comedian, is a master of one-liners and facial expressions. Steve Martin, the professional football player, may have matched his namesake and also precisely summed up a 41-38 overtime victory yesterday over the Kansas City Chiefs.
“We’re off Fantasy Island,” said Martin, gesturing with his hands and raising his eyebrow. “We’re back on the mainland now.”
The Patriots are 3-0 this morning, but yesterday’s game felt like a Pete Carroll 3-0. You know there will be games like this, and the offense continued to put up points. But the defense, the heart and soul of the team, allowed 38 points, 221 yards rushing, and 149 yards passing. They allowed Priest Holmes to rush for 6 yards a carry, 180 yards on 30 carries. If Holmes hadn’t fumbled early in the fourth quarter at his 39 (leading to the Patriots taking a 31-17 lead), the Chiefs may have won.
“It was a humbling experience,” said safety Lawyer Milloy, “and I think we needed it. As the world champions, we’re going to be seeing everybody’s best. We had two key parts of our defense out [Roman Phifer and Tedy Bruschi] and that’s tough. Guys have to step up even when we have injuries.”
After the Chiefs tied it with no time left in regulation on a 1-yard run by Holmes and the point-after, they called heads on the coin toss. It came up tails. The way the game was going, it seemed the team that got the ball was going to win.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who had an incredible day (39 of 54 for 410 yards, four touchdown passes, and one interception), took control at the 30. He started firing down the field, completing one for 13 yards to David Patten, 8 yards to Christian Fauria, and later 22 yards to Patten. It got down to the Kansas City 17, and then it was time for Adam Vinatieri.
The kicker who can’t seem to miss booted the 35-yarder through the uprights with 10:20 remaining in OT.
“Adam has ice water in his veins,” said fullback Marc Edwards. “He’s clutch when the game is on the line.”
“I go out there with the same mind-set,” said Vinatieri, who made a 37-yarder earlier and has kicked eight straight to start the season. “Whether it’s early or late, it’s your job to kick it through.”
Another star was Troy Brown, who caught a team-record 16 passes for 176 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown.
With the Patriots holding a 38-31 lead, the Chiefs’ defense held New England to three plays and out. Kansas City got the ball back with 2:30 remaining, and used every second.
The drive included a 17-yard completion, the first completion of the day to All-World tight end Tony Gonzalez. Quarterback Trent Green even ran a 4-yard sneak to the Patriots’ 5 with 10 seconds left. With 3 seconds left on the clock, Green handed to Holmes, who got terrific blocks from guard Brian Waters and fullback Tony Richardson and went over the top for the tying score as regulation expired.
Then came OT.
“I think we always feel confident we’re gonna win the game in that situation,” said Brady, who was sacked four times and knocked around quite a bit as the Chiefs blitzed and blitzed some more, except, oddly enough, in the OT drive.
“They lost both of their starting corners [William Bartee and Eric Warfield], who they were blitzing a lot with, but then they blitzed with other guys,” said center/ guard Mike Compton. “I don’t think they blitzed us in overtime at all. But I’m telling you, that was a tough game. That’s a very good team.”
Trailing, 10-9, at the half, the Patriots started slowly in the third quarter, allowing a 57-yard kick return by Dante Hall. Then it was the Holmes Show, as he gained 9 and then 25 yards, finally capping it with a 3-yard reception from Green with 13 minutes left in the third to make it 17-9.
The Patriots marched right down the field to tie it at 17, going 71 yards on 11 plays. Brown caught seven of his passes on the drive, including the 9-yard TD from Brady, who was throttled by a blitz on the play. The Patriots, who had tried a fake kick and got stuffed on a Ken Walter run for a 2-point conversion in the first half, got the conversion from Antowain Smith (16 carries, 92 yards) to tie it.
Late in the third quarter Green, as unsteady as Brady is steady, got steamrolled on a Tebucky Jones safety blitz and unwisely threw the ball in desperation. It was picked off by Ty Law.
Starting at their 44, the Patriots made two big plays. The first was Brady’s 38-yard completion to Brown, with Brady being sandwiched on an all-out blitz. He heaved it in the general direction of Brown, who adjusted to the ball at the KC 18.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Brady tossed a quick out to rookie tight end Daniel Graham on the right side and he drove forward and then dived into the end zone for an 18-yard score just five seconds in as the Patriots took the lead for the first time, 24-17.
On the Chiefs’ next possession, Holmes, on first and 5, had the ball stripped by Victor Green, with Jones recovering at the Chiefs’ 39.
Two plays later, Patten made a remarkable catch on a ball thrown behind him by Brady. He turned, caught the ball with his right hand, faked out the cornerback and went into the end zone to complete the 38-yard play.
Ahead, 31-17, the Patriots weren’t able to put together the defensive stand to put the Chiefs away. Kansas City went 62 yards, which included a 21-yard reverse by Dante Hall and ended with Green tossing to Eddie Kennison for 15 yards and a score that pulled KC within one touchdown with 9:23 remaining.
However, Brady and his offense left no doubt on the next series.
Starting at their 25, the Patriots continued with their medium-range passing game and had a second and 3 at the Chiefs 42 when Antowain Smith broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and rambled all the way with 6:10 left. It was reminiscent of some of the runs Smith had last season to seal games.
Except it didn’t quite get the job done.
The defense was again bending and breaking. The Chiefs went 59 yards without breaking a sweat. The defense gave up a 30-yarder from Green to Johnnie Morton. A 6-yard run by Holmes made it a 38-31 game.
The Patriots committed nine first-half penalties and trailed, 10-0, at one time. Brady’s only bad pass was to linebacker Mike Maslowski, who returned a late first-quarter interception to the Patriots 26. The Chiefs scored on Green’s 14-yard pass to Kennison making it 10-0 after 42-year-old kicker Morten Andersen kicked a 39-yard field goal earlier in the quarter.
But as it often does, the Patriots’ offense got into a rhythm. Brady directed an 85-yard drive, throwing seven times in eight plays, including a beautiful pass to Kevin Faulk, who had one-on-one coverage with a linebacker. Brady led him down the sideline for a 23-yard score.
“Great call by Charlie Weis,” Faulk said. “We got the matchup we wanted. Tom made a great throw, all I had to do was catch it.”
In the end, the Patriots believe they will learn from this.
The first two wins had been a wild dream, “Fantasy Island,” as Martin called it. Now the Patriots understand that in the NFL, nobody is invincible.