Brady looks cool and collected. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
1. Quarterback Curse - The Patriots were able to stifle Tyler Palko for the majority of the game, but there are some interesting breakdowns:
Palko completed 66% of his passes by taking the easy throws across the middle of the field
He was 1/1 for 7 yards on the Chiefs' only scoring drive
He was 5/6 for 39 yards in the first quarter
He was 5/8 for 72 yards and an INT in the second quarter
He was 5/8 for 28 yards and an INT in the third quarter
He was 10/16 for 97 yards and an INT in the fourth quarter
It's clear that they were giving Palko the underneath throws- which forces me to wonder about their game plan. A lot of the completions underneath were off the play-action as the linebackers bit and opened pockets up the field. I have to think the Chiefs knew the Patriots expected them to run the ball and drew up a game strategy of just play action passes. The Patriots adjusted after a period of time, but I wonder about why they were so content with giving up the short passes- if they're facing an inexperienced quarterback, I'd challenge them to make the big throws down the field and try to take advantage of the bad passes.
However, the Patriots had an inexperienced secondary and had to balance their inexperience when planning against the Chiefs' offense. At the end of the day, they limited Palko to a very pedestrian day, even though he completed a high percentage of his passes. Win for the Patriots.
2. Pressure Cooker - The Chiefs entered the game with 9 sacks on the season. They picked up 3 sacks in the span of 5 minutes and 30 seconds at the start of the second quarter. The offensive line's inability to generate any consistent protection prevented Tom Brady from getting into a groove in the first half and, in my opinion, it's no coincidence that the Patriots offense started operating more fluidly when Ryan Wendell came off the bench to play in place of Dan Connolly. I don't think Wendell is the answer at center, but he provided enough change in protection to start some offensive production. Oh- and Logan Mankins picked up some penalties. Over the whole span of the game, the offensive line was exceptionally average, which is extremely noticeable after years of consistently dominant line play.
On the defensive side, the Patriots were able to generate some pressure, but decided not to for a fair amount of time. Andre Carter and Mark Anderson are growing into a formidable tandem and, while only Anderson blows into the backfield to generate immediate pressure, both are relentless- and Carter adds incredible value in run defense. The secondary played well enough to force Palko to hold the ball long enough for the pass rush to capitalize and make plays which, while still not where the pass rush could potentially be, is a great improvement over last season. Looking at both offense and defense, I'll say the Patriots split this decision.
3. Get Open - The Patriots struggled on offense. There's no way around that. Seven points came off of Julian Edelman's incredible punt return. Seven points came off of Shane Vereen's impressive running at the end of the game on a drive where, apart from the two completions to Wes Welker, was Vereen walking up the field and into the end zone. That leaves two Rob Gronkowski touchdowns and a pair of Stephen Gostkowski field goals- and another week of -Kowski domination.
The Chiefs' defensive coordinator is a former Patriot great Romeo Crennel. Crennel coached the Patriots Super Bowl defenses and he knows how to coach a quality defense. Expect a lot of press coverage from the defensive backs in order to eliminate receiver Wes Welker and look for a lot of unique pressure looks and blitz packages to force Brady to throw the ball before his receivers are open. This means it's extremely important for the tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to get open quickly and move the chains. The Chiefs are without their starting Safeties from earlier in the season, and the Patriots must take advantage of the middle of the field.
Gronkowski and Hernandez were the two receivers with the greatest production, combining for 8 of Brady's 15 completions (over 50%) and 140 of Brady's 234 yards (over 50%). Production can come from wherever necessary and it's clear the Patriots took advantage of the weak safeties on the Chiefs' roster. However, Romeo Crennel was able to utilize unique pressures and blitzes to force Brady into low quality throws for the majority of the first half. Only once Nate Solder report as a tight end did the Patriots generate any form of consistent offense. In fact, they only had success with Solder on the field. Sounds like the first round pick is proving his worth.
Still, this goal was for the Patriots receivers (Gronkowski and Hernandez not included) to find their way open and they clearly did not. On scoring drives, the pure wide receivers (so Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco, etc) combined to generate 3 receptions for 34 yards. Keep in mind that two of those receptions were by Wes Welker on the garbage time drive to seal the game. The rest of the production was Gronkowski, Hernandez, Danny Woodhead, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Now- since they were able to move the ball, it's clear that the receivers were taking a back seat to take advantage of what the Chiefs were giving the Patriots offense. Still, in order for the Patriots have success against winning teams, the wide receivers will have to step up their performance. The Chiefs were able to prevent the wide receivers from getting open. Loss for the Patriots.
4. Run the Ball - Glad to see the Patriots run the ball down the Chiefs' throat. Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis combined for 22 carries and 104 yards before the final drive. The 4.7 yards/carry average is fantastic and it showed that the Patriots were able and willing to win the game away from Brady's arm. Now, I don't think the Patriots would be able to run the ball so easily against a playoff-caliber team, but it's good to see the running game have a good night. Add in Shane Vereen's final drive and it's clear that the Patriots were able to run at will all game. Big win for the Patriots and an area to spotlight in future games.
5. Turnover Battle - Win. I thought the Patriots might be in for a long night when Tom Brady was hit from behind and fumbled the ball on the third drive (after two extremely ineffective possessions), but the Patriots managed to protect the ball for the rest of the night. On the other side, the Patriots defense did a great job forcing the ball into the air off of defended passes and allowing the players in the secondary to have a second chance to come down with the ball. The tipped balls could only go against the Patriots for so many games that when Kyle Arrington corralled two ricochets, it just felt like this team is heading on the right track. The defense has been growing all season and appears to be on the same trajectory as last season, where it became reliable as the playoffs drew close. Big win for the Patriots.
The Patriots finish 3.5/5. Not bad, but not as dominant as the final score shows. It will be nice to see the passing offense, rushing offense, and defense all have a quality game at the same time. However, that time has to come quickly as the team heads towards the final few games of the year.