The Kansas City Chiefs threw everything but the kitchen sink (unless you count Jerrell Powe) at the New England Patriots Monday night, hoping to disrupt Tom Brady early on and keep the game close late. It worked for about 20 minutes, but the Patriots eventually solved the Chiefs’ defense. The end result: a 34-3 Patriot victory and a tie atop the AFC standings.
Who published and who perished? Here’s my weekly report card.
Brady showed considerable poise in the midst of the Chief’s early onslaught, then used a combination of screens and hurry-up offenses to regain control at the line and beat that onslaught. Once Brady could breathe again, he began to pick apart the secondary, finishing the game with 234 passing yards and two touchdowns.
The Chiefs played early on as if they really felt they could beat the far-superior Patriots. Instead of panicking when they made a few plays, the unflappable Brady simply waited until they returned to earth, then swatted them aside like the flies they were.
Running backs: A
Three Patriots running backs combined for 147 rushing yards and a touchdown, with Shane Vereen getting into the end zone for the first time in his NFL career. BenJarvus Green-Ellis recorded a hard-fought 81 rushing yards, plus 25 more on a catch-and-run to kick-start New England’s first drive of the second half.
Once the Patriots took control at the line of scrimmage, running lanes started opening up. The Patriots’ successful second-half rushing game protected Brady from the blitz, sustained three drives that chewed up nearly 15 combined minutes, and kept safeties honest. Even during the less-successful first half, the running game still helped sell Brady’s first play-action pass – a 52-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski that gave the Patriots the only lead they’d need.
Tight ends/Wide Receivers: B+
Even a horrifying-looking head injury couldn’t slow down Gronkowski, who yet again led the team with 96 yards and two touchdowns. Both touchdowns were far more a testament to Gronkowski’s brute strength than Brady’s passing accuracy.
The Patriots threw less than half as often as they ran Monday, so the receivers didn’t have the opportunities they normally would to show off their prowess. Combined with a Chief secondary that contained the Patriots’ receivers until midway through the second quarter, you get a sub-par performance from the Patriot passing game.
Offensive Line: B+
Though they’ve had far worse games, the offensive line shouldn’t have had the trouble they did with the Chiefs’ pass-rush early on. The Chiefs have the fewest sacks in the NFL, but they still got to Brady three times and hit him six times. The offensive line took control in the second half, but bad pass-protection early on led to Brady’s fumble at the Kansas City 30, taking points off the board at a time when New England was losing. The offense sputtered out of the gate, and much of that was due to an over-matched Patriot offensive line.
Defensive Line: A-
Monday night’s performance wasn’t quite the awe-inspiring pass-rush of a week ago against the Jets. Still, the Patriots sacked Tyler “Who Is This Guy?” Palko four times, hitting him nine times in total. Andre Carter had perhaps the best all-around defensive game, splitting a sack with Mark Anderson while recording two tackles-for-losses, three QB hits and a defensed pass. Anderson added a solo sack.
The defensive line held the Chiefs’ running game out of the end zone, but they also allowed 125 rushing yards (discounting Palko’s six-yard loss). This unit was victimized by its own success Monday night: they played commendably, but we know they can play better.
Jerod Mayo led the team with 11 tackles, and Rob Ninkovich contributed a sack and two QB hits. Overall, the linebackers played adequately for the limited demands placed on them. Once the Patriots went up by three touchdowns, all the linebackers had to do was execute the Patriots'”prevent” defense. They did so competently, giving up short-yardage receptions for clock time.
The defense shut the Chiefs out for over 45 straight minutes, and the linebackers get a bump from the overall strong defensive play. But just like the defensive line, they’ve been better.
Defensive Backs: A
Palko’s 236 passing yards were the second-fewest of any game this season. Though Palko is by far the worst QB the Patriots have played this season, give the secondary credit for not allowing him to ever get into rhythm with his receivers. Patriot cornerbacks picked off Palko three times, including once in the Patriot end zone by Phillip Adams. Kyle Arrington, meanwhile, showed fantastic concentration by not giving up on tipped passes, hauling in two for interceptions that took the fight out of the Chiefs.
The Patriot secondary gets extra points for making due with a truly depleted roster. Even Julian Edelman had to play some snaps at cornerback, successfully handling the new role.
Special Teams: A
Stephen Gostkowski nailed both field goals and four extra points, and the return unit played penalty-free, immaculate football.
With just over five minutes gone in the third, Edelman received the ball at the New England 28. Edelman juked Jalil Brown at the 28, but his explosion past the rest of the Chiefs happened through fantastic blocking by his teammates. Edelman then easily dodged punter Dustin Colquitt to take it 72 yards for the touchdown. Edelman gave the Patriots a three-touchdown lead – insurmountable for the injured, inexperienced Chiefs.