BEN VOLIN | ON FOOTBALL
Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff
FOXBOROUGH — Here are some takeaways from the Patriots’ 43-40 win over the Chiefs on Sunday night:
■ Not to put too much on a Week 6 game, but this win may have saved the Patriots’ season. It wasn’t pretty, and in fact the Patriots tried their best in the second half to give the game away. But Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski put on their superhero capes late in the fourth quarter, and did enough to enable the Patriots to come away with a crucial win on Sunday night. The win improves the Patriots to 4-2, drops the Chiefs to 5-1, and puts the Patriots right back in the thick of the race for the No. 1 playoff seed in the AFC.
A loss would have put the Patriots 3½ games behind the Chiefs for the No. 1 seed. By owning the tiebreaker, they’re only a half-game back. And the No. 1 seed is how the Patriots have reached six of their eight Super Bowls with Brady and Bill Belichick. The importance of this win can’t be overstated.
■ We all know the Chiefs have a great offense, and are one of the most explosive teams in the league. But the Patriots didn’t even pretend to play defense in the second half. They allowed 31 points and 236 yards, plus a 97-yard kickoff return. The Patriots went up, 30-26, the Chiefs returned the kickoff 97 yards and scored three plays later. The Patriots retook a 40-33 lead, and Tyreek Hill scored a 75-yard game-tying touchdown 12 seconds later.
Kareem Hunt and Hill once again turned the game into a track meet, with Hunt catching a 67-yard touchdown and Hill catching three scores in the second half. The Patriots have no speed and no playmakers on defense, and were badly exposed by the Chiefs in the second half.
■ This is the second straight week that the Patriots looked out of sorts in the second half.
In the first half, it was the Chiefs settling for short field goals, unable to punch the ball into the end zone, and Patrick Mahomes giving the ball away with two interceptions. And it was the Patriots who crossed into Chiefs’ territory on all five drives, coming away with three touchdowns and a field goal. The Patriots led, 24-9, at halftime, and looked like they were going to cruise to victory.
But talk about a role reversal after halftime. It was the Patriots who settled for field goals, and it was Brady who made a horrible decision, leading to a fumble.
■ Terrific game from running back Sony Michel and the offensive line. Michel rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns, and the Patriots rushed for 173 yards as a team with a 4.6 average. But it seemed like the Patriots went away from the rush in the third quarter when the Chiefs were making their big comeback. Michel showed really great vision with some of his runs, and developed a nose for the end zone with two short-yardage scores. He got stuffed last week, and stuffed again on one run Sunday night, but definitely atoned for it with the two scores. Michel now has four touchdowns and two 100-yard games this year, and is justifying his draft position.
■ Somehow, the Patriots ended up with 500 yards of total offense, and Brady threw for 340 yards and a touchdown. As bad as the Patriots’ defense was in the second half, the Chiefs were their equals. The Patriots scored points on five of six possessions in the second half, scoring 19 points and gaining 310 yards.
■ Overall, the Patriots didn’t punt all night, and scored on nine of their 11 real possessions (the only nonscores were a turnover on downs to start the game, and Brady’s strip-sack in the third quarter). Then again, the Chiefs didn’t have Justin Houston, Eric Berry, or four of their top five safeties. This was a wounded team that frankly should have been gashed.
■ Gronkowski could barely get going all night, with just one catch for 16 yards through three quarters. But he came up big when Brady needed him the most, coming down with fourth-quarter catches of 42 and 39 yards to keep the Patriots’ chances alive. The real question is — why did it take Brady so long to get Gronkowski involved?
■ Interesting night for the Patriots’ wide receivers. Josh Gordon had a team-high nine targets and five catches, going for 42 yards. Brady looked his way on fourth down, and clearly is developing some trust in him. Meanwhile, Phillip Dorsett barely played, and didn’t have a catch. And Brady kept ignoring Chris Hogan, missing him twice wide-open in the end zone, until finally coming back to him for big plays of 42 yards and 19 yards in the fourth quarter.
■ Mahomes made some rookie mistakes, but he is unbelievable. His arm strength, his throws on the run, his big-play ability — the kid is a superstar. The Patriots are lucky time ran out in the fourth quarter, because Mahomes and Hill would still be running up and down the field on them.
■ Maybe it’s time to stop using Devin McCourty in 1-on-1 coverage. He appeared to allow two more touchdowns on Sunday night, and though it may not always be his fault, it’s not like he’s doing much to stop the defenders from scoring. Then again, not many people can cover Hill.
■ The pass rush was pretty non-existent again on Sunday night. Mahomes wasn’t sacked, and the Patriots only hit him three times in 36 drop-backs. They seemed to not be attacking Mahomes much and instead content to drop seven and eight into coverage. But maybe they should have been more aggressive, because Hill still had no problem getting behind the defense.
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