FOXBOROUGH – It seemed apropos that a weird week in New England should come to an end with a weird start to the Divisional Playoff.
Kansas City, as the visiting team, called tails at the coin toss and it came up tails. Referee Craig Wrolstad then turned to the Patriots captains and asked what they wanted to do. Matthew Slater then had to remind him that the Chiefs won the toss.
After that embarrassing public gaffe, the Chiefs – who normally like to receive the opening kickoff – chose to defer, meaning the Patriots – who prefer to kick off the start games – would be on offense right off the bat.
Turned out to be precisely what New England needed.
For the previous five straight days, the Patriots endured questions, speculation, and unwelcome attention for numerous reasons.
Bill Belichick's black eye.
Chandler Jones' mysterious (albeit brief) hospitalization.
Rob Gronkowski's recurring injuries to his right knee and back – not to mention the expected return of star wide receiver Julian Edelman from a two-month injury hiatus.
After an uncharacteristically lethargic end to the regular season, which saw a sluggish offense struggle to score and the team lose its only four games in a six-week span, the biggest question the Patriots had to overcome was, Would they be able to turn the switch back on once the playoffs started?
Thanks to KC's deferring of the coin toss, they got to answer the question immediately.
It was the Gronk-and-Edelman show from the get-go.
Both men got to work early, combining on the game's opening drive scoring march for five catches and a combined 67 yards, including Gronkowski's first touchdown catch of the game.
From there, QB Tom Brady continued to look for his two favorite targets, throwing a combined 24 passes to them, 17 of which were caught, for a grand total of 183 yards and two touchdowns (both by Gronk). Edelman also knocked off a bit of rust – three egregious drops – to make several crucial catches in traffic to keep the sticks moving.
The Patriots' rushing attack, meanwhile? Less than an afterthought. Steven Jackson carried six times for 16 yards. James White had one for five yards. Brady and Edelman had six and one carries, respectively, as well, for a total of 17 yards.
OC Josh McDaniels made his point: This game was going to be won or lost on the arm of Brady and the hands of Gronkowski and Edelman.
"Oh, you always want to get a fast start," Gronkowski said later. "Especially with Julian, Danny [Amendola], everyone back out there on the field. We were all just clicking on that drive. It was great to get a touchdown on that first drive. That's how you want to start."
Meanwhile, the Chiefs, during their 11-game winning streak, relied heavily on creating turnovers to fuel their victories, but against New England, Kansas City's D didn't come up with a single one. And with Gronkowski and Edelman catching passes from Brady, the Patriots looked more like the team that started this 2015 season, rather than the one that ended it.
"Very confident," Edelman asserted. "We played a good complementary game as a team. We got a lot of work to do. We got a lot of situations that we could have done better on, but it was definitely good to go out there and get a win."
Of course, it wouldn't be a true Patriots game this season without that specter that's been haunting them. Seems this team can't escape one game without at least one significant player getting injured and being unable to finish the game, putting his status for next week in doubt. This time, it was on defense, where both Jones (right knee) and a fellow Pro Bowler, linebacker Jamie Collins (back), had to exit early.
For the time being, though, the Patriots can breathe a collective sigh of relief that they were able to extend their 2015 season and Super Bowl title defense by at least one more week. They now await the winner of Sunday's Pittsburgh-Denver battle at Mile High.
"It's pretty cool. It's hard to do," Brady said of his team's fifth straight AFC title game appearance. "You've got to grind throughout the entire year. There are only four teams playing next week, and we're one of them. And that game means a lot, so we've got to try to get as healthy as we can and see if we can put together our best game of the year."
"It's a great feeling," added Gronk. "Definitely a lot of work, dedication put in. Can't be satisfied. We've got to go out there next week, have a good practice week, and prepare just like we always do. Whatever happens, happens [with the other game]."
"I'm just happy to be playing next week," echoed safety/co-captain Devin McCourty. "Whoever we play, like Bill says, it'll be another good football team who has either won one playoff game or two playoff games now. They'll be hungry, they'll be excited, and they'll be just like us – trying to move forward. So home, away, I mean, you guys saw the first round of the playoffs. All away teams won, so it doesn't matter. It's all about executing and going out there and playing good football.
"It's why we play. It's not guaranteed," McCourty said of advancing to the AFC title game yet again. "We come in every year, same goals. We work our butts off to try to get into the playoffs to give ourselves a chance, and you guys saw tonight. It wasn't pretty. It's not easy, so to me, it means everything."