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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As the AFC Championship game rolled to its frenetic finish, Sony Michel was conspicuously absent.
Michel, a major part of the Patriots’ 37-31 victory, ran the ball 29 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns over the course of the game. Only two of those touches, however, came in the final eight minutes of regulation and overtime, when Rex Burkhead and James White got the bulk of the attention out of the backfield.
Via conference call Tuesday, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said the decision to go with Burkhead and White late in the game was based on simple matchups.
“We went into the game planning on playing multiple guys and most of the time, we played all three on the same drive at some point,” McDaniels said. “There were a couple of instances where that wasn’t the case, but nothing in particular.”
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Michel, who ran for 931 yards and six touchdowns on 209 carries in 13 games this season, has 242 rushing yards and five touchdowns in his two postseason games. There’s always a possibility that rookie running backs hit a late-season wall as the NFL season rolls long past the point the college season would have ended, but Michel, who never carried the ball more than 20 times in a game the University of Georgia, hasn’t looked at all worn down.
“I would be lying to you if I told you that Sony wasn’t a better player now than he was when he first got here and a lot of that has to do with Ivan Fears and the room that he’s in,” McDaniels said. “He’s really taken note of that and become a much better football player as the year has progressed, which is what you hope for with all rookies.”
It’s possible that Michel could have gotten banged up, or that the Patriots trusted their veterans or wanted fresher legs in the game, but McDaniels downplayed any and all of that.
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Flowers draws praise
Trey Flowers’s 14-yard sack of Patrick Mahomes late in the second quarter Sunday was a forgotten big play in the AFC Championship game because it forced a punt when Kansas City would otherwise have had a chance to put points on the board before halftime.
Anything before halftime feels like years ago, but in a game that went to overtime, Flowers probably saved the Patriots 3 points.
Asked about Flowers, Patriots defensive line coach Brendan Daly said the usual things about the 25-year-old defensive end — hard worker, great fundamental skills, smart, and instinctive. But Daly also added one point that is relevant both for the upcoming Super Bowl and to Flowers’s future in New England.
“He does a great job and he is an unselfish player, he’s willing to do whatever you ask him to do, even if it may not be best for him, he understands the big picture, and he understands what he needs to do to help the team win, and he’s always been willing to do that,” Daly said.
Flowers isn’t a traditional, flashy, speed rusher, and he racks up quarterback pressures far more quickly than he does sacks. A lot of this has to do with the Patriots’ defensive priorities, since the team emphasizes containment. Flowers is set to hit free agency this offseason, though, and it will be interesting to see if he’s recognized as a premiere edge rusher even without the gaudy stats. Flowers is also a strong candidate for the Patriots’ franchise tag.
Daly also had an interesting player comparison for Flowers, referencing a defensive end he worked with who had a 10½-sack season in 2010.
“I’ve thought this for a long time,” Daly said, “and it’s a name that you may not recognize, but I had a guy by the name of James Hall, who was with the Rams, ironically, when I was there, who had a lot of similarities in terms of play style, in terms of his versatility, in terms of his football IQ and his technique. He reminds me a little bit of Trey.”
Laser sparks search
The NFL is looking into a report that a green laser appeared to flash on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady a couple of times Sunday. Brian McCarthy, the league’s vice president of communications, confirmed the news and said NFL Security is taking the lead on the investigation.
KMBC-TV in Kansas City, Mo., caught it on camera during the game.
The first incident came on the first play after Julian Edelman appeared to muff a punt, a play that was overturned on reviewThe second, according to KMBC reporter William Joy, came on a Brady pass to Chris Hogan, although it is not clear in the video that a laser is being pointed at Brady.
It happened one other time that we've seen on a pass to Hogan. #Chiefs #Patriots pic.twitter.com/27QkYf0m9P— William Joy (@WilliamKMBC) January 21, 2019
Brady was apparently not affected by the laser on either play.
Lasers being pointed on players during NFL games has happened before, including Texans vs. Raiders in Mexico City in 2016 and Bills at Lions in 2014.
Chiefs fire DC
Two days after losing to the Patriots, the Chiefs fired defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.
“Bob is a good football coach and a great person,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid in a statement Tuesday. “He played an integral role in the success of our team over the last six seasons.
“I’ve said before that change can be a good thing, for both parties, and I believe that is the case here for the Chiefs and Bob. This was not an easy decision, but one I feel is in the best interest of the Kansas City Chiefs moving forward.”
Despite winning the AFC West with a 12-4 record and claiming the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, the Chiefs were 31st in total defense this season.
The Chiefs blew two fourth-quarter leads Sunday, as the Patriots gained 524 total yards and converted 13 of 19 third downs. On the winning drive in overtime, the Patriots converted three third-and-10s.
Nora Princiotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @NoraPrinciotti.