Heading into Sunday night’s showdown between the Patriots and the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, all signs pointed toward a shootout. It didn’t take long for that to materialize, and when the offenses are rolling oftentimes it’s the last team with the ball that wins.
Cue Tom Brady and the Patriots attack as he was the one with the ball last and the Patriots outlasted the Chiefs, 43-40, thanks to Stephen Gostkowski’s fifth field goal of the night.
Here are some observations from the Patriots fourth victory of the season.
-Bill Belichick recognized the type of game that was going to unfold right from the start, choosing to go for it on fourth-and-three from the Chiefs 40 on the opening possession of the night. Belichick clearly was expecting plenty of offense, which turned out to be accurate, and felt the opportunity to move the ball further to take an early lead was the right call. It did not pan out, though, as Brady was unable to connect with Josh Gordon on a timing play near the left sideline and New England turned it over on downs. That allowed Kansas City to drive down the field and take the lead on a 42-yard Harrison Butker field goal.
-That deficit could have been worse if not for some early misfires from Patrick Mahomes. The young quarterback was off target on the drive, missing open receivers for would-be touchdowns on consecutive plays before the field goal. The first was the most egregious as Kareem Hunt was 5 yards behind Dont’a Hightower and in the clear but Mahomes overthrew him. On the next play he overthrew Tyreek Hill at the goal line, costing the Chiefs a chance for more significant early momentum.
-Mahomes missing opportunities wound up being the theme of the first half as he did so time and again in the first 30 minutes. Butker was forced to kick another field goal when Mahomes missed an open Travis Kelce on third down, although he was dealing with some pressure from Adrian Clayborn on that throw. Then late in the half he had Kansas City knocking on the door at the 15 and a sure field goal in hand but tried to force one into coverage in the end zone where Duron Harmon wound up corralling the deflection to keep points off the board.
-Belichick also chose to maintain his early-season penchant for having Gostkowski hang his kickoffs short despite bad results. Prior to Sunday night the Patriots simply had a tough time containing returners, allowing many to successfully navigate out past the 25-yard line. The Chiefs upped the damage and then some. Tremon Smith was a weapon and Belichick kept putting the ball in his hands. He took back four kicks and made the Patriots pay each time, including an electric 97-yard return down to the 3 in the fourth quarter that allowed the Chiefs to take a 33-30 lead a few plays later. Gostkowski also squibbed a kick in the first half that Spencer Ware fielded and returned to the 45-yard line, leading to a field goal. Belichick finally had enough and had Gostkowski bang a pair of touchbacks on his final two kickoffs, the first of which drew some mock cheers from the crowd. “Brutal,” captain Matthew Slater said bluntly. “I don’t know what happened. We’ve got to look at the film. Just bad.”
-The offense was simply relentless and came up with several huge plays when the game was on the line. Brady hit Chris Hogan for 42 yards to set up a field goal late in the fourth quarter to extend the lead to a touchdown, and then when the game was tied on the final drive Rob Gronkowski delivered with a 42-yard reception of his own. That led to Gostkowski’s game-winning field goal from 28 yards out.
-Gronkowski got behind the defense with less than a minute left on his 42-yarder, which led to an interesting situation for the Chiefs. The play moved the ball to the Kansas City 9, all but ending the game considering the unlikely nature that Gostkowski would miss from so close. Josh Shaw was left chasing the All-Pro tight end but an argument could be made that the safety should have let Gronk score. That would have given the Chiefs about 45 seconds to mount a tying touchdown drive. Instead the field goal was the final play and the Patriots came away with the win.
-The Patriots offensive line saw their streak of games without allowing a sack come to an end at two. Chris Jones’ strip sack in the first half ended the run, although David Andrews was able to avoid the turnover by alertly recovering Brady’s fumble. The Patriots weren’t as lucky in the second half when Breeland Speaks knocked the ball away from Brady and the Chiefs recovered deep in New England territory. That led to Hill’s 14-yard touchdown reception that pulled Kansas City within a point at 27-26.
-The offensive line did a great job in the run game, though, carving out plenty of space for Sony Michel’s second-career 100-yard game. The rookie carried 24 times for 106 yards and a pair of touchdowns, consistently ripping off chunks of yardage between the tackles. His short-yardage efforts haven’t been great in the early going but he improved in those situations Sunday night. He found the end zone from 4 yards out and later from the 1, and when the game was on the line he delivered a huge run to convert on third-and-one just after the two-minute warning. Had Michel been stuffed on that carry it would likely have led to a Patriots punt (which would have been their first of the night) and the Chiefs would have had the ball in a tie game with plenty of time to win. He continues to improve each week.
-Defensive tackle Malcom Brown was among the inactives, leaving the defense with just two true run-stuffing defensive tackles in Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy. Brown injured his knee during the second half of the Week 5 win over Indy and was limited all week during practice before being listed as questionable. He was unable to go as Adam Butler occasionally rotated in with Guy and Shelton. The Chiefs fell behind almost immediately, though, and were forced to abandon the run while playing catch-up so Brown’s absence wasn’t much of a factor but Kareem Hunt did rack up 80 yards on just 10 carries.
-Derek Rivers cracked the lineup for just the second time this season, leapfrogging Keionta Davis, who started the first three games before being inactive the last three. Eric Rowe also returned to the lineup after missing the last two games with a groin injury. Jason McCourty remained the starter alongside Stephon Gilmore, however.
-There wasn’t much defense to be found in this game but the Patriots survived largely thanks to some misfires from Mahomes and turnovers. Hightower made a nice play dropping into his zone to catch Mahomes but surprise in the first quarter and came away with the first interception of his career. He nearly brought it to the house but was stopped at the 4, leading to Michel’s first touchdown.
-The Patriots established some milestones in the game. First, Brady earned his 200th career win. Also, Gostkowski fourth of his five field goals was his 350th of his career. Rob Gronkowski caught three passes for 97 yards, giving him 500 receptions for his career. The final note deals with the team itself. The win over the previously 5-0 Chiefs marked the 12th straight time New England won when facing a team with a better record heading into the game. The most amazing element of that stat is the last time the Patriots lost in such a situation was 2009 against New Orleans, meaning they have only entered the game with an inferior record as their opponent 12 times in nine years. Amazing.