Foxboro Mass --
In a day filled with mediocre football, the NFL saved its best for last Sunday Night. This game was likely the best of the regular season so far unless you hate offense.
Early on, this game looked like it might be a blowout. The Pats led 24-9 at halftime and the Kansas City Chiefs run defense, one of the worst in football, had lived up to its reputation. The Chiefs simply could not stop the Pats running attack - mainly Sony Michel who had his second 100-yard game of the season. The holes were wide open. The Pats offensive line was good and the Chiefs defensive line was awful. In the second half, the Chiefs scored 31 points and America had a great shootout on its hand.
For all the talk about scheme and RPOs - the game turned into a match of great players. Rob Gronkowski earned his 500th catch in style Sunday Night. Gronkowski had only one catch for 16 yards in the first three quarters and two huge catches in the fourth quarter including the one that set up the winning field goal. Tyreek Hill, who felt like a non-factor with only three catches for 43 yards and no touchdowns in the first half, finished with seven catches for 142 yards and three touchdowns in the second half including a 75-yard catch that tied the game at 40. Great players make plays and that's what happened Sunday Night.
The Pats led 37-33 when Gronkowski had a 42-yard reception that led to a Gostkowski 50-yard field goal (Gostkowski was 5 for 5 on field goal attempts) to give the Pats a seven point advantage. His next big play occurred after Hill had tied the game at 40.
It was first and 10 at the Chiefs 48 and the Pats were facing a possible overtime. Then Brady hit Gronkowski for a 39-yard gain to the Chiefs 8. Inexplicably, the Chiefs decided after double teaming Gronkowski basically the whole game it would be a good idea for the immortal safety Josh Shaw to cover Gronk one on one. It reminds one of the old expression players win games coaches lose them. Gronk's catch sealed the game. Brady took one knee and Gostkowski hit a chip shot for the Pats to win 43-40. The Pats now have the inside edge on the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Yes, the Chiefs are one game ahead but the Pats own the tiebreaker. And if history is any predictor - the Pats will improve and the Chiefs will fall apart as the season progresses. Last year, the Chiefs started 5-0 only to finish 10-6 and lose in the Wild Card Round.
The Pats came away impressed with the talent of Hill. It is one thing to see his speed on film - another to witness it on the field.
"He is fast on film, but when you play against him he is really fast," CB Stephon Gilmore said afterward.
While the Pats defense was disappointing, Gilmore had to be satisfied. Gilmore covered Sammy Watkins most of the night and limited him to only two catches for 18 yards.
"I am hard on myself - you can always do better," Gilmore said.
25 years ago (the first game that Bob Kraft owned the team) - the old gunslinger Dan Marino faced second year QB Drew Bledsoe. Marino won 39-35 because the Dolphins had the ball last. It was vintage Marino as Sunday Night was vintage Brady. The losing QB that day Drew Bledsoe received high praise. In his first game against a great QB, Mahomes showed the NFL he might be the next great QB. Everyone watching Sunday knew whoever had the ball last would win. Brady had the ball last and the Pats won.
Players acknowledged afterwards that this game was fun - almost like sandlot football. The NFL can be demanding (meeting after meeting, physical practice after physical practice, weight room session after weight room session), but it is games like Sunday that make it all worth it.
"It was pretty good. You know, we had control and then we let them back in the game with some – you know, the fumble was a bad play. But, they were making plays on offense. We were making plays. And, we talked about competing for 60 minutes, and that’s what it took. It took us right down to the last three seconds," Brady said.
Added Sony Michel, "that is why I play football because it is fun."
The Pats must show they can win on the road after two bad road losses in early September. The Pats offense though is a far cry from those days with the additions of Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon. The Pats are deep at receiver - something that was evident on the big pass play to Chris Hogan in the fourth quarter who has been a foreign country heard from this season. On the Pats go-ahead touchdown drive Brady completed a 42 yard pass to Hogan who had single coverage against Chiefs CB Kendall Fuller. It also didn't hurt that the Chiefs struggled to stop the screen pass as James White caught five passes for 53 yards. White would have had more catches if he wasn't often double-teamed.
The Pats are confident even though the defense gave up 446 yards. Who wouldn't be when you have Tom Brady at quarterback. Brady has more wins than any QB with 227. The defense knows that no matter how much they struggle - Brady can bail them out.
"I am always confident in Tom Brady. He has been doing this for 19 years. He knows what to do and how to do it. The best QB of all time. It's good to have a guy like that you and can turn to and know is going to take care of business for us," Duron Harmon said.
The Brady show continues in the Windy City next week. The only thing that might stop the spectacle is Chicago Bears pass rusher Khalil Mack who is likely the best defensive player in football.
Given Brady's performance Sunday Night - not even Mack might be able to slow him down.