When the Patriots ran:
This is a case where quantity won out over quality. The Patriots racked up a whopping 48 rushing attempts but managed just 176 yards for an average of only 3.7 yards per carry. None of the three backs who received carries averaged 4 yards a run. But it was the relentless nature of the Patriots offensive line that allowed New England to continue to pound away, and four of the five Patriots touchdowns came on the ground. Sony Michel once again topped the 100-yard mark, finishing with 113 yards on 29 carries and a pair of touchdowns. Rex Burkhead added 41 yards on 12 attempts and two touchdowns of his own, the second representing the game-winner in overtime. James White did a lot of damage early with six carries for 23 yards, the first three of which came on third downs that moved the chains. Again, the production wasn’t great but it was relentless and kept the Chiefs defense off balance throughout the night.
When the Patriots passed:
This is another matchup that could easily have gone in a different direction of not for a couple of fortuitous events. Tom Brady was absolutely lights out perfect down the stretch when he had to be. He led touchdown drives on the final three possessions, the final one the winner in OT. He was particularly outstanding in overtime when he converted three straight third-and-10s with bullets to Julian Edelman (seven catches, 96 yards) for gains of 20 and 15 yards followed but a 15-yarder to Rob Gronkowski (six catches, 79 yards). But on his way to completing 30 of 46 passes for 348 yards and a touchdown there were some hairy moments. His end zone interception in the first quarter was awful. On third-and-goal from the 1 he failed to see linebacker Reggie Ragland and threw it right to him to thwart a drive. He was often high during the course of the game, which hurt him on a pass that deflected off Edelman’s hands to Greg Sorensen for a second pick. He also misfired on a key third-down pass to Chris Hogan late in the fourth quarter but the wideout bailed him out with a sensational one-handed grab. New England’s final drive of regulation almost ended when his pass to Gronkowski was a bit high and bounced off the tight end’s hands for a third pick. But Brady got a reprieve when Dee Ford lined up in the neutral zone, and eventually Burkhead’s touchdown gave the Patriots the lead. It was vintage Brady late, but a bit bumpy along the way.
When the Chiefs ran:
The Chiefs never really tried to run the ball and in truth when they did near the goal line late in the game they were successful. But Damien Williams wasn’t really able to be a factor on the ground as he was limited to 30 yards on 10 carries while the Chiefs were forced to play catch-up all night. A pair of Patrick Mahomes scrambles accounted for Kansas City’s final total of 41 yards rushing on 12 attempts, which translates to just 3.4 yards per carry. The Patriots once again did the job up front with Malcom Brown coming up with a big stop early to stop Williams on a third-and-one attempt in the first quarter. Even though the Chiefs didn’t show much interest in running the ball, the Patriots made sure it wasn’t a factor at any point in the game.
When the Chiefs passed:
Early on it appeared as if the rejuvenated Patriots pass rush was going to dominate the game. In the first half the guys up front – led by Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Adrian Clayborn and at times Patrick Chung as a blitzer – harassed Mahomes almost immediately on virtually every dropback. The results were a first-half shutout that had Mahomes looking bewildered at times. Then things changed dramatically in the second half. Mahomes found more time after the break and started finding receivers regularly. He needed only 23 second-half passes to put 31 points on the board, 21 of which came on his touchdown passes. He finished 16 of 31 for 295 yards with three TDs and no picks for an impressive rating of 117.0. Sammy Watkins was covered by Stephon Gilmore most of the day but came up big with four catches for 114 yards, including gains of 54 and 38 yards. He also drew a pair of penalties that provided valuable yardage. J.C. Jackson got the assignment of covering Travis Kelce, and while the tight end finished with just three catches for 23 yards that doesn’t tell the whole story. Jackson allowed a touchdown, interfered with Kelce in the end zone to prevent another and was also called for two other penalties as the rookie struggled. Tyreek Hill was bracketed by Jonathan Jones and a host of safeties and was effectively taken away, finishing with just one catch for 42 yards.
This was pretty much a deadlock but the Patriots get the slight edge based on a couple of under-the-radar moments. Hill’s decision to retreat on an early punt return allowed the Patriots to drop him for 7-yard loss and a penalty pushed the ball back to KC’s 4. With two minutes remaining and the Patriots trailing by 4, Cordarrelle Patterson returned the kickoff 38 yards to the 35 and give the offense a jumpstart. Tremon Smith was effective returning kicks for the Chiefs, taking three of his four attempts across the 25 and two of them outside the 30. Demetrius Harris also alertly fielded a Stephen Gostkowski squib and returned it 17 yards out to the 42 late in the first half. Edelman did a nice job returning punts, averaging 12.7 yards on three attempts, and both kickers made their only field goal attempts, Gostkowski’s from 47 yards and Harrison Butker’s clutch 39-yarder that sent the game to overtime.