…The opening drive was exactly what New England needed. Crisp execution, for the most part, by the Patriots' offense resulted in an 11-play, 80-yard scoring march. QB Tom Brady felt a little bit of pressure from the Chiefs' defense, mostly from the right side, yet despite a bum right ankle, Brady was able to maneuver his way out of trouble.
…Brady had a couple of misfires, but mostly, he delivered the ball accurately and quickly, which also helped alleviate pressure from the Chiefs' defense.
…Having WR Julian Edelman back in the lineup was an undeniable factor in opening up passing options for Brady. Showing no ill effects from his surgically-repaired left foot, which he broke two months and a day ago, Edelman was able to cut, accelerate, and play exactly the way normally does.
…TE Rob Gronkowski put the Patriots on the scoreboard first with his touchdown grab from Brady. It was a beautifully-placed back-shoulder throw by TB12 to Gronkowski, who was 1-on-1 with KC corner Sean Smith on the left flank on 3rd-and-7 from the Chiefs' 8. Nothing fancy, but it's simply the most effective and logical play call in such situations.
…On the other side of the ball, New England's 3rd-down defense left much to be desired on the first KC possession, their only one of the opening quarter. The Chiefs converted four of five 3rd-down opportunities. One was a nice effort by injured WR Jeremy Maclin to fight off a good jam at the line of scrimmage by CB Logan Ryan. Maclin created space for himself to haul in QB Alex Smith's pass. TE Travis Kelce just sat in a zone on 3rd-and-3 and caught a 5-yard pass. On 3rd-and-13, Smith faked almost everyone out with a nice pump fake and scrambled for 15 yards. LB Jamie Collins nearly had him, but slipped at the last moment and Smith got away. Then on 3rd-and-4 Smith executed a brilliant triple-threat option, pitching to his second running back, Charcandrick West for a six-yard gain.
…Finally, on 3rd-and-6 at the NE 16, Smith was flushed out of the pocket because of up-the-middle pressure by DT Akiem Hicks. As Smith rolled to his left, he initially had room to run, but Collins quickly made up ground and pursued Smith to the sideline. Smith was forced to throw the ball away and KC kicked a field goal.
…On the second NE possession, Brady should have had a big-gain completion to WR Danny Amendola, who ran a perfect crossing route, with an assist on a rub by WR Brandon LaFell. Amendola got wide open to the left, with nothing but fake grass ahead of him, but Brady fired the ball too low to the ground for Amendola and the pass fell incomplete.
…Starting center Bryan Stork got his right ankle rolled upon during RB Steven Jackson's first carry of the game, on this second drive. Stork stayed in the game for a few more plays, eventually went to the locker room for treatment, and later returned to finish the game.
…Edelman had to overcome some uncharacteristic drops in the opening quarter. Three, to be precise, on throws that were right on target from Brady.
…Safety Patrick Chung did a great job against Chiefs TE Travis Kelce all night. This was on display on KC's second drive of this quarter. On 1st-and-10, Chung blew up a bubble screen to Kelce by taking on both of Kelce's blockers, which freed up CB Malcolm Butler to swoop and and drop the tight end for a 2-yard loss. Then on 3rd-and-12, Chung's persistence, in the form of holding on for dear life to the bottom of Kelce's jersey, prevented Kelce from advancing the football and allowed LB Dont'a Hightower to assist on the tackle and force a Chiefs punt.
…On that ensuing punt, Amendola, the return man for New England, opted not to field the punt inside his own 5-yard line. Instead, he threw a cheat-shot block on KC gunner Jamell Fleming. Amendola was within his rights to opt not to field the ball and to throw a block to prevent Fleming from downing the ball – in the hopes that it would bounce into the end zone for a touchback. Where Amendola erred was in leading with the crown of his helmet and launching himself at Fleming's head/neck area. That's an egregious foul and the officiating crew correctly flagged him for unsportsmanlike conduct.
…Rookie David Andrews spelled Stork briefly while the veteran was getting his right ankle taped, and Andrews, like he has all season, did a solid job at center.
…While we're looking at the NE o-line, hobbled LT Sebastian Vollmer (left ankle) returned to action and had a good day overall. He went wire-to-wire, held up well on that injured ankle, and blocked admirably throughout.
…Referee Craig Wrolstad's crew made the right call when they ruled that Brady didn't cross the goal line on his 10-yard scramble late in the half. Brady actually would have landed with the ball on the plane or in the end zone as he was falling backward were it not for a hit to the back from safety Tyvon Branch. Because of this extra effort, the ball didn't cross the plane. That only postponed the inevitable, though, as Brady punched it in on a QB sneak on the very next play. There's no one who's ever been better at that play than Brady. He never fails to pick up a first down or a score when that play is called. He executes it brilliantly almost every time.
…On that sneak play, Stork returned at center and Andrews stayed in the game, reporting eligible to line up as the fullback for Jackson. I believe that's the first time this year we've seen Andrews in that role. Fellow rookie Shaq Mason has done it a few times, but because another rookie guard, Tre' Jackson, was inactive, the coaches probably felt they couldn't risk sending Mason out there. If something were to happen to Mason, the Patriots would find themselves too thin at guard, with no true backup on the game-day roster.
…Great second effort by DE Chandler Jones to cause a fumble by Chiefs RB Knile Davis as KC was driving into Patriots territory for a potential game-tying touchdown. It was a close call. Davis was almost down by contact, but Wrolstad's crew again got it right. Jones pursued Davis downfield, and as the ball carrier was being taken down by Hightower, West spun around. From behind, Jones dove for the ball. As he made contact, the ball started squirting out of Davis' grasp before his body hit the ground. Proper call. It was a fumble and Hightower recovered for NE.
…Gronkowski, who's been dealing with a back injury in addition to his right knee problem all week, looked good running his pass routes all evening. Perfect example was his second touchdown catch. He ran a perfect stop-and-go against fellow All-Pro Eric Berry, who bit heavily on the fake. Gronk got himself wide open and beat Branch, who came across the field to help, to the pylon at the goal line.
…The Patriots managed to put some heat on Smith with several delayed blitzes throughout the game. They only sacked him once, but he was flushed a number of times from the pocket and forced to throw the ball away, which is equally effective.
…Ryan didn't have his best game versus Kansas City. Gave up that early pass to Maclin for a first down, then a big gain to Jason Avant in the second quarter, then a 26-yard heave by Smith to Avant late in the third. Ryan followed that up by giving up a touchdown to WR Albert Wilson. To be fair, it was a tremendous throw by Smith, to a spot where Ryan had no chance at making a play, and a precise route by Wilson.
…The Chiefs made a living during their 11-game win streak by creating turnovers. Against NE, they had none, but they came very close on at least two occasions to picking off Brady. Both times, corners Smith and rookie Marcus Peters couldn't hold on to the football, which hit them both in the hands.
…Jones was credited with the one sack of Smith on the night, but it was more a product of Smith tripping over one of his linemen's feet than Jones doing anything other than being in the right place at the right time to fall on the QB. The reason Smith was scrambling out of the pocket in the first place was because he was about to be consumed by DE Rob Ninkovich coming off the right side. Ninko drove his blocker, Donald Stephenson, so far into the backfield that Smith had no choice but to flee. In so doing, he tripped on Stephenson's leg when the lineman was backpedaling. Jones then dove on him to get the nominal "sack."
…Jones was injured two possession's later while pursuing Smith on another scramble. It's unclear exactly how it happened, but as he was running, Jones suddenly pulled up limping and clutching his right knee. He didn't return and wasn't seen in the locker room afterward. His situation will be a concern heading into this coming AFC Championship Week.