When the Patriots ran:
This was another one of those games where the Patriots basically forfeited the edge in the running game and instead had Tom Brady go almost exclusively through the air. New England attempted only 14 rushing plays and that included six from Brady himself, five of which were either scrambles or kneel downs. The one exception was his 1-yard sneak for a touchdown. Other than that effective run, the Patriots managed almost nothing on the ground. Steve Jackson rushed carried six times for 16 yards with 8 of those coming on one attempt. As a team the Patriots picked up just 38 yards on those 14 attempts for a 2.7-yard average. Despite throwing on almost every down, the Patriots couldn't open any creases on the rare occasions when they tried to keep the Chiefs honest. Obviously the lack of rushing was game-plan specific, but it would be reasonable to expect a little more production simply due to the element of surprise. That didn't happen.
When the Patriots passed:
Brady may been the only effective runner for the Patriots but he was the star of the game due to what he does best. Brady was effective in dissecting the Chiefs secondary, making sharp reads and delivering the ball in the face of a heavy rush that wasn't able to get to him a single time on the evening. He completed 28 of 42 passes for 302 yards and a pair of touchdowns – both to Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski's resurgence keyed the resurrection of the passing game that had been dormant in the final weeks of the season. The All-Pro tight end grabbed seven passes (on eight targets) for 83 yards to go with the two scores. The second was a thing of beauty as he baffled All-Pro safety Eric Berry with a double move in the red zone for a 16-yard touchdown. Julian Edelman's return to the lineup also was a rousing success as the slot receiver caught 10 passes (on 16 targets) for 100 yards and helped the offense convert 50 percent of its third downs. Having the two top targets back made all the difference as the rest of the supporting cast was quiet, although Keshawn Martin did manage to haul in a 42-yard toss from Brady in the second quarter.
When the Chiefs ran:
Kansas City did rack up dominant yardage on the ground but was effective until very late in the game. As a team the Chiefs picked up 135 yards on 32 carries for a steady 4.2-yard average. Charcandrick West got off to a hot start before faltering a bit down the stretch but he still managed 61 yards on 17 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown. Knile Davis filled in for the injured Spencer Ware and was effective picking up 30 yards on six carries, while quarterback Alex Smith also contributed with 44 yards on nine attempts. Most of that damage was done on scrambles as the Patriots handled Smith's designed runs quite well. The Patriots did improve up front in the second half but Kansas City was able to consistently stay in manageable third-down situations for most of the day by virtue of pecking away with the running game. Strangely, once the Chiefs fell behind by two scores and were forced to only use the run as an occasional change of pace, the Patriots performance improved. Overall this was a pretty even battle but Kansas City was able to control the clock by picking up just enough yards on the ground to stay competitive.
When the Chiefs passed:
The Chiefs brought the 30th-ranked passing attack to Foxborough and considering their top weapon – wide receiver Jeremy Maclin – was compromised with a high ankle sprain the visitors weren't expected to do much through the air. The Patriots early lead forced Smith to attempt a career-high 50 passes, and although he gamely fought to keep his team in it, he was unable to make enough plays to pull off the upset. He completed 29 of 50 of those throws but for only 246 yards and a touchdown. As is his reputation, Smith checked down frequently and was unable to connect on a few deep balls that might have changed the complexion of the game. Malcolm Butler took advantage of Maclin's injury and limited him to two catches for 23 yards, but it was the work of Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty on tight end Travis Kelce that led the way. Kelce made six catches but they resulted just 23 yards for 3.8 yards per catch, as Chung in particular was outstanding in keeping his under wraps. Despite that, Kansas City managed to convert 12 of 20 third downs for a 60-percent success rate so it wasn't perfect. But the combination of limiting Kelce and strong work early in the red zone allowed the Patriots to control the game.
Both teams were pretty solid in the kicking game. Each kicker made both field goals with Stephen Gostkowski's 40-yarder representing the longest of the four. Both punters attempted just three kicks with Dustin Colquitt getting the edge as two of his were downed inside the 20 and Ryan Allen had a touchback in his one chance to pin the Chiefs. Each punt returner also made a play as Frankie Hammond took one back 19 yards in the first quarter to set up the Chiefs at the Patriots 36, and in the second half Danny Amendola recorded a 22-yarder to the Chiefs 32 that led to a field goal. Davis did a good job on kickoffs, averaging 30 yards on his three attempts including a 34-yarder on a re-kick following a Nate Ebner penalty that negated a Gostkowski touchback. The Patriots gain the edge based on the timing of the Patriots plays. Amendola's return led to points that helped New England tack on some insurance and Gostkowski's three touchbacks all came in the second half when the Chiefs could have used a jumpstart to help with their comeback.