]()It didn't play out quite the way it was written up but the New England Patriots extended their record regular season winning streak with a 17-10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs to kick off the 2008 season.
All of New England will hold its breath this week until the first injury report comes out on Wednesday. That's because Tom Brady, who has never missed a start since he took over at quarterback for the Patriots back in 2001, left the game with a knee injury in the first half and did not return to the sideline.
His replacement, Matt Cassel, did all he needed to do to help his team win this one, going 13 of 18 passing for 152 yards and a touchdown. The running game chipped in as well with Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris both averaging over 5 yards a carry and teaming up for 104 yards.
On defense, New England held Larry Johnson to 74 yards as Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Tedy Bruschi were stout up the middle. Rodney Harrison led all tacklers with 14 and Ellis Hobbs picked up the team's first interception of the season.
Brady came out passing on eight straight plays on the game's first drive. On that eighth pass, he hit Welker on a quick pass but Welker lost the ball after being hit by Patrick Surtain and Jarrad Page recovered.
Despite the turnover, the Chiefs went three and out and New England had the ball back after the punt on its 16-yard line.
This time the New England offense looked to Maroney on the first two plays for gains of 4 and 9. Brady found Moss for 17 yards on first and 10 from the 29 and then Maroney picked up another 9 yards. Two plays later Heath Evans picked up a first down with 3 yards behind the left side of the line and then every Patriots fan's worst nightmare became a reality.
Brady dropped back and had time. After checking down he finally let one go downfield that Randy Moss came back for and caught deep in Kansas City territory. But back behind the line of scrimmage, Bernard Pollard of Kansas City got rolled back right into Brady's left knee. Meanwhile Moss slipped to the ground and fumbled with the Chiefs recovering to literally add insult to the injury.
]()A stunned Gillette Stadium quietly watched as the Patriots defense forced the Chiefs to punt at the New England 43 after eight plays. The crowd then got to its feet to encourage Cassel as he trotted onto the field in place of Brady who had been taken immediately to the Patriots locker room after he left the field.
Things were looking mighty bleak when, starting from New England's own 2-yard line, Morris gained a net minus 1 yards on the first two plays. On third and 11 from the 1, Cassel dropped back, stood strong in the pocket and looked to Moss streaking downfield. The pass was right on the money and Moss picked up 51 yards to the Kansas City 48 as the first quarter ended. It was the exact type of play -- and boost -- Cassel and his teammates needed.
Morris continued in the Patriots backfield. Now out of the shadow of his own goal line, he found room for 9 yards but his big play came two snaps later when he took one up the middle, bounced off a couple Chiefs and rambled 22 yards to the 12. Morris followed that play up with a 7-yard reception out of the backfield to the 5-yard line. David Thomas was flagged for movement to bring up a second and 8 at the 10.
Cassel called timeout and came back to throw incomplete to Thomas. That brought up third down. The call was pass and with good protection Cassel waited until Moss could find his way along the back of the end zone. Cassel threw high where only the lanky wide receiver could reach and Moss came down inbounds for the touchdown.
The 98-yard scoring drive went 10 plays in 4:51.
Both defenses settled in for the remainder of the first half but Kansas City did manage three points with 17 seconds left on a 13-play drive during which Croyle made good use of his elite tight end Tony Gonzalez for four completions and 40 yards. The field goal was a 40-yarder by Nick Novak to make the halftime score 7-3, Patriots.
Adalius Thomas knocked Croyle out of the game with an 8-yard sack on the first possession of the second half. The play also forced Kansas City to punt. New England took over on its 20.
]()New England took over and Cassel looked confident, driving his team downfield with completions to Thomas for 18 and Welker for 13. On the Chiefs half of the field, the load was put squarely on the shoulders of the running game and Maroney and Morris delivered; Maroney with a 17-yard run to the 17 and Morris with 12 yards to the 5 and then dragging the Chiefs' Page into the end zone on the next play.
Play moved into the fourth quarter and the Chiefs moved closer to adding to their tally. Damon Huard came in the game, replacing Croyle who left with a shoulder contusion after the Thomas sack. Having been corraled for most of the game, Johnson finally broke out with a 22-yard run to the Patriots 26 midway through the drive. Huard hit Dwayne Bowe for 11 and after two more Johnson runs for 4 yards, he found Bowe again from 13 yards out to make the score 14-10.
Momentum had shifted to the Chiefs side in the fourth quarter when Evans was stuffed on a third and 1 play from the Patriots 47. But Hobbs did his part in getting the ball right back for his team when, on the next play from scrimmage, he stepped in front of a pass intended for Bowe and returned it to the Chiefs 38.
An unnecessary roughness call on the Patriots after Hobbs' pick moved the start of the drive back to the New England 47. After a Morris run for 1 and a Welker catch over the middle for 6, Cassel saw daylight and kept for a 9-yard run to convert the third down play.
Two plays later, Cassel faced another third down, this one a third and 9 and he found Welker for 12 yards in the left flat to keep the drive going. A holding call on Stephen Spach set the drive back setting up Stephen Gostkowski for a 37-yard field goal that he made.
With 2:26 left to play, New England had a 17-10 lead.
The Chiefs started their final drive at their 22 and converted a second down play with a 7-yard pass to Gonzalez. On first and 10 from the 33, Hobbs snuck in on a corner blitz and got to Huard for a 5-yard sack. Things were looking good for the Patriots as the pocket closed in on Huard on the next play but Huard stood in and got a beautiful pass off to Devard Darling streaking across the middle. The ball hit Darling in stride and he took it down to the Patriots 5-yard line.
Kansas City had plenty of time to try and score any way they wished but the Patriot defense was up to the test. They got a little help when a ball thrown to Bowe skipped off his hands in the end zone on first down. Johnson got stuffed by Vrabel and Richard Seymour for no gain on second down. Third down saw a pass intended for Gonzalez bounce of a couple players before falling incomplete. On fourth, Huard looked to Bowe but Deltha O'Neal had good position and with the pass incomplete, the Patriots had 37 seconds left on the clock for Cassel to take a knee and end the game.