Kansas City, Mo. - The 2004 New England Patriots have made it a habit of making key plays at the most opportune times. That mantra held true in Monday night's contest against the Kansas City Chiefs, when the Patriots defense held one of the NFL's highest-scoring offenses in check and walked away from Arrowhead Stadium with a 27-19 win.
The Patriots understood the Kansas City offense would make plays. The Chiefs entered the game leading the NFL in six offensive categories, including total offense (422.1 yards per game) and rushing offense (164.1). They average 28.6 points per game, scoring 34.8 points per game in home contests. The Chiefs offense had especially been in-synch of late, averaging 38 points over the last four games.
The Patriots were fully aware of the gaudy numbers from the Kansas City offense. But despite yielding 417 total yards and 20 first downs, the Patriots made enough plays Monday to come out ahead where it mattered most - on the scoreboard.
"It's really all that matters," linebackerTed Johnson said. "At the end of the day, that's the one stat - points on the board. It certainly didn't look pretty out there at times - certainly that drive in the second half - but you just find a way. By no means do you take it for granted. Some of the effort that these guys put out there, it's just always somebody different."
The Patriots game plan against Kansas City began with stopping the run. Without Priest Holmes for the second straight week, the Chiefs were forced to rely on reserve Derrick Blaylock - who ran for 186 yards and a touchdown in his first career start last week. The Patriots successfully relied on the front seven to stop the run, holding Blaylock to 58 yards on 19 carries. The Chiefs' 64 total yards on the ground was their second-lowest total of the season.
"Our front seven did a wonderful job of putting pressure on [Trent Green] and stopping the run, which really made them a one-way team," said safety Rodney Harrison, who led New England with eight tackles. "You have to commend those guys, because they have an excellent rushing attack. I think Blaylock rushed for 180-plus yards last week so he was definitely cause for concern. Obviously they didn't have [Holmes], but they have a lot of very capable guys. You have to be proud - that's the No. 1 offense."
Without the running attack, the Chiefs became a one-dimensional offense. Green had his way against the Patriots zone schemes for most of the day, completing 27-of-42 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns. Going against an injury depleted secondary that seemed content to give up big chunks of yardage but attempted to limit the big play, Green was still able to find Eddie Kennison on 26- and 65-yard scoring plays.
Other than those two large gains, and thanks in large part to their red zone defense, the Patriots were the epitome of a bend-but-don't-break philosophy against the Chiefs.
"I think it's us staying together," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "We stay together. Even though offenses are able to have some success sometimes, it's easy to sort of start complaining to each other and pointing people out, saying 'Why didn't you do this? Why didn't you do that?' It's just about [whether] they got in the end zone. That's the only thing we care about. Let them get their yards, and lets not let them in the end zone."
The Patriots have been playing well in the red zone all season. Entering the game, they had allowed only 11 touchdowns in opponent's 31 drives inside the red zone, a 35.5 touchdown percentage. They continued that trend Monday night, holding the Chiefs to three points in two trips inside their 20-yard line. The red zone has become a source of pride for the Patriots defense.
"You better start having some pride when they get that close," Bruschi said. "Because there's nothing left to do, they're running out of field. You look back and you see the goal line, and it's like 'We have to do something.'"
Trailing 17-10 late in the first half, the Chiefs put together a sustained drive to move down to the Patriots 23-yard line. Facing a fourth-and-one, Kansas City sent their field goal unit onto to the field before allowing the game clock to reach the two-minute warning. The Kansas City coaching staff changed their minds during the two-minute break, and converted the fourth down with a one-yard run by Derrick Blaylock. After a 6-yard run by Green, a short pass to Blaylock and two incompletions, the Chiefs faced third-and-goal from the 9-yard line with less than a minute remaining.
The Patriots knew Green would be looking for Gonzalez - who finished with a game-high seven receptions for 86 yards - in this situation. Green dropped back, looked right, and tried to force the ball to Gonzalez, who was correctly double-covered by Harrison and linebacker Roman Phifer. Harrison stepped in front of the receiver and intercepted the pass, ending the Chiefs' hopes of tying the game.
"That was a big play before the half," Belichick said. "That was a really big play. Fortunately we had double coverage there on [Gonzalez]. He is obviously a great tight end, they went to him a lot and had some great catches even when the coverage was tight. That was a big play saving those points before the half when they were right down there. It looked like they were going to get something and that was a huge play by Rodney [Harrison]."
Instead of a field goal - or even a potential touchdown - the Chiefs had nothing to show for their effort.
"It was very crucial," linebacker Willie McGinest said. "Anytime a team gets in the red zone - especially that team, their perdentage in the red zone is one of the highest in the league. It's almost automatic when they get in the red zone that they're going to score. So that was crucial. We had to double Tony [Gonzalez] on that play and Rodney [Harrison] came over the top and got the ball and made a great play."
Kansas City opened the second half with another long drive, mixing four runs and six passes to drive down to the New England 13-yard line. On first-and-10, Blaylock was held up the middle for 1 yard. After an 8-yard completion from Green to Gonzalez, Blaylock was stuffed for a 1-yard loss by Bruschi on third-and-one from the 4-yard line. Still trailing 17-10, the Chiefs had little choice but to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes.
The Patriots defense was far from perfect against the Chiefs. Green often had time to throw and picked apart the secondary at times, which was overmatched with Earthwind Moreland, Randall Gay and an injured Asante Samuel on the field. But in a game of pick your poison, the Patriots shut down the Chiefs running game and decided to take their chances through the air.
Thanks to their opportune red zone defense, it was enough to limit Green and company to 19 points.
"You have to be proud of our guys, because we just kept fighting," Harrison said. "No matter what the situation [was], we come back and continue to fight. That's just pretty much our motto. Continue to fight, don't get frustrated with one another, and eventually someone is going to make a play."