Patriots had a plan — and executed it flawlessly
KANSAS CITY — Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 37-31 win over the Chiefs:
■ The Patriots had the perfect game plan on both sides of the ball. They executed it almost flawlessly. And they came up big in crunch time, over and over and over again.
The result is a familiar one: The Patriots are headed to the Super Bowl, for the fourth time in five years, for the ninth time under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, and for the 11th time in franchise history. This one is special, because the Patriots accomplished the rare feat of winning the AFC Championship game on the road, in one of the toughest environments of the season. And Sunday’s win erases any bad mojo left from the loss in Miami last month. The Patriots may not have had their best team this year, but they’re back on top when it matters most.
■ The Patriots offense had one of the most clutch drives in franchise history to start overtime, converting three third-and-10 opportunities. First there was a 20-yarder to Julian Edelman, then a 15-yarder to Edelman, then a 15-yarder to Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots’ passing game took a back seat to the running game for most of the game, but when the Patriots needed a championship drive, they got clutch plays from their three best players, Brady, Edelman, and Gronkowski.
■ Gronk went from goat to hero in just one play. First the ball glanced off his hands and right to the Chiefs for what looked like a game-ending interception, but the play was nullified by a Dee Ford offsides call. On the next play, Gronk went up over Eric Berry and came down with a 25-yard catch that put the Patriots on the 4-yard line and set up Rex Burkhead’s go-ahead touchdown with 42 seconds left. Gronk had a season-high 11 targets, finishing with five catches for 64 yards. With Gronk considering retirement after the season, it would have been horrible if the interception were his last play as a Patriot. Instead, he ends the day as the Patriots’ hero.
■ Phenomenal game plan by Josh McDaniels to play keep-away from the Chiefs by pounding the ball with the run. The Patriots called 47 run plays compared to 46 passes, and that ratio was only balanced out because the Patriots had to throw the ball a ton in the fourth quarter. Sony Michel had a season-high 29 carries for 113 yards and two touchdowns, Rex Burkhead added 12 carries for 41 yards and two touchdowns, and James White had 23 yards on six carries, including several clutch third-down conversions.
The Patriots won the time of possession battle, 43:59 to 20:53. They outgained the Chiefs, 524 yards to 290. They ran 94 plays compared to 47 for the Chiefs. And by the time overtime arrived, the Chiefs’ defense was gassed, unable to slow down the Patriots on their 75-yard drive.
■ And an amazing job by the offensive line, which opened up big holes for the running backs and gave Brady plenty of time to throw. Brady wasn’t sacked once on Sunday as the Chiefs’ excellent pass rush barely laid a finger on him. The Patriots don’t have the best skill players on offense, but their offensive line has been unbelievable this year, especially in the playoffs.
■ The only negative on offense was calling a play-action pass on the 1-yard line early in the game, which Brady threw for an interception. It looked like that turnover and missed opportunity was going to cost the Patriots, but it turned out to be just a minor inconvenience.
■ The Patriots did a phenomenal job slowing down the Chiefs’ No. 1 scoring offense. The Chiefs were held scoreless in the first half for the first time all year, and Patrick Mahomes finished just 16-of-31 passing, though he did pass for 295 yards and three touchdowns. Mahomes did an admirable job leading the Chiefs back in the second half, scoring all 31 points after halftime, and 24 in the fourth quarter. But he missed wildly on several throws, missing a certain touchdown in the first half. Brian Flores disguised the coverage well, and got really aggressive with blitzes on third down. The Patriots sacked Mahomes four times, and kept him off balance all night.
■ The Patriots also held Tyreek Hill to just one catch for 42 yards. The Patriots gave up four big plays over 25 yards, and that was basically it. The defense ran out of gas in the fourth quarter, but was outstanding for the first three quarters.
■ Kyle Van Noy played the game of his life. He finished with 10 tackles, a forced fumble, two big sacks in the first half and a key run stuff on third down. He also made a great tackle that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet — Damien Williams still picked up the first down on a draw play in the third quarter, but Van Noy shed his block and saved an even bigger run.