1st & 2nd Quarters
…It's becoming quite clear that the Patriots like what they see in Josh Gordon, the talented receiver acquired last month. A connection is being built between Gordon and quarterback Tom Brady, who looked for Gordon three times on the game's opening drive, including the first pass of the night, which Gordon caught for a first down gain.
But Gordon is also still in the midst of a learning curve with this offense, as evidenced by the two incomplete targets to Gordon thereafter, when it seemed as if he and Brady weren't entirely in synch. Yet, it's easy to see why New England is growing more confident in Gordon. As he would go on to demonstrate, he has reliable hands, strong body control, and field awareness.
…OC Josh McDaniels had only seven opportunities to call plays on the opening drive, but he used an array of personnel packages and formations, which is becoming the norm for this 2018 offense and its many talented parts.
…Defensively, New England started out with a nickel look that featured three down linemen, three linebackers, and five defensive backs, with slot corner Jonathan Jones being the extra element of the secondary. This was how the team best felt it could begin to defend Kansas City's versatile run-pass option offense.
…K.C. nearly had ad touchdown on its first possession, had QB Patrick Mahomes thrown a more accurate pass to RB Kareem Hunt down the seam. Hunt got wide open against LB Dont'a Hightower on a play that looked nearly identical to one on which Hunt scored last season at Gillette against then Patriots DE Cassius Marsh.
…Looked like Mahomes never saw Hightower dropping into pass coverage when he threw an interception over the middle, the game's first major turnover (other than on-downs by the Patriots on the opening drive). Hightower showed blitz at the snap, which lulled Mahomes into believing Hightower wasn't going to be at the spot he ended up in when Mahomes threw the pass.
…The Patriots placed a heavy emphasis on the running game, particularly with fullback James Develin leading the way mostly for rookie Sony Michel, often from a broken-I formation. Develin provided a devastating block that took out two Chiefs defenders on the very next play, when Michel finished off the play by barreling through one of those opponents and into the end zone.
…Mahomes did well throwing on the run, with the exception of the second INT he threw, also a result of a Hightower play. Hightower flushed Mahomes out of the pocket and nearly dragged him down on his own, but the QB fired an ill-advised pass into tight coverage that ended up being batted around before safety Duron Harmon finally secured it in the end zone for a touchback.
3rd & 4th Quarters
…Mahomes atoned for that end-of-half miscue by throwing a phenomenal touchdown on the run to his right at the start of quarter three. Hunt ran a simple wheel route out of the backfield, and CB Jason McCourty, covering him in a zone look, seemed to expect to have help in the form of his twin brother, Devin, at safety.
However, Devin had drifted to the middle of the field to help out on another receiver. Once Hunt got past Jason, the was no one left in the secondary to help out and he raced down the field after collecting the precise pass from Mahomes.
…For the second straight game, New England had a mostly sloppy third quarter that allowed an opponent to mount a comeback. It wasn't that the Patriots were getting fooled by what K.C. was doing so much on offense, but more a series of mental errors, it seemed, on both sides of the ball.
…The lack of any no-huddle plays by New England was a sign, perhaps, that McDaniels and the Patriots wanted to shorten the game and keep the ball away from the Chiefs as much as possible by controlling the football.
New England's running game helped immensely in this regard. Michel eclipsed 100 yards on the ground again, thanks in large part to Develin and fantastic blocking by the o-line, tight ends, and receivers.
…The Patriots haven't been consistent in the kickoff coverage department this season, and they struggled again with intentionally short kickoffs against the Chiefs. In the fourth quarter, a 97-yard return by K.C. was the direct result of co-captain Matthew Slater being blocked to the ground by a Chiefs player just as Slater was bearing down on return man Tremon Smith.
Another Patriot, Brandon King, had a shot at Smith around that same area deep in K.C. territory, but missed the tackle. That opened up a huge hole for Smith. Slater is normally adept at skirting opponents in these situations, but this time, the Chiefs got the better of him. Had he been able to keep his feet, the play might not have resulted in such a huge gain.
…On Brady's TD run, it looked as if LB Breeland Speaks just let him go after getting his arms around Brady's midsection. One has to wonder if the spate of roughing the passer calls around the league this season factored into Speaks' thinking when he did this.
…Kickoffs aside, what a great night for Stephen Gostkowski, who converted all nine of his scoring kicks (five field goals, four extra points). His best effort might have been the 50-yarder he drilled with about three minutes to go. Had he missed, the Chiefs would have taken over at their own 40-yard line down by four points. Instead, Gostkowski gave the Patriots a 7-point advantage, which turned out to be crucial as the Chiefs quickly scored a tying touchdown before Gostkowski hit the winning kick from 28 yards.
The entire placekick operation, including long snapper Joe Cardona and punter/holder Ryan Allen, did a superb job Sunday night to help New England secure an important win in the AFC.