Tom Brady and the New England offense were hot from the very start - going for a touchdown on their first drive and opening up a 21-6 lead after their initial drive of the second half.
The Patriots would have some chances to close out the game in the fourth quarter on offense, but came up short on back-to-back drives. That gave the Chiefs a bit of life, but after some interesting clock management from head coach Andy Reid, one final touchdown was too little too late, and the Patriots came away with a 27-20 victory.
The win clinches the Patriots their fifth consecutive AFC Championship appearance. They will play the winner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos, who face off in Colorado tomorrow at 4:40 PM ET on CBS.
Here are five things we learned from the Patriots' big playoff win:
Momentum doesn't matter. One of the big storylines we heard all week: the Kansas City Chiefs are the hottest team in football. The Patriots, losers of 4 of their final 6, have not played well enough in recent weeks to flip the switch. The truth is, momentum does not matter in the postseason. Every team is 0-0. Execution, poise, skill, and coaching win postseason games. The slate was clean, and the Patriots were the better team, and they are now in the AFC Championship.
Patriots offense is healthy, and rolling. Man, does it feel good to have Julian Edelman back in the starting line-up. The dynamic receiver struggled with drops in the first half (3), but made a bunch of key first round grabs, including the game-sealing snag off of a deflected pass in the game's final moments. The Patriots offense was particularly great when Edelman lined up with Gronk. Gronkowski was the Patriots' most dominating skill position player on a day when the Patriots ran the ball with their running backs just seven times. Gronkowski finished with seven receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns.
Of course, I need to mention Tom Brady. Brady had yet another amazing postseason performance. His movement in and out of the pocket was terrific. His throws were precise. His energy was through the roof, as you could see on his near touchdown run in the second quarter, in which he went ballistic on the sidelines with coach/best buddy Josh McDaniels (Brady ran for a one yard score on the ensuing play).
Patriots defense does enough. The Patriots' defense did a good job today, particularly in the secondary. Had it not been for a few insane Jason Avant catches, this game probably isn't as close as the final score would suggest. They did really struggle to get off the field on third and fourth downs - with the Chiefs going 12-20 on the former. Nonetheless, they held the Chiefs to field goals on their two first half scoring drives. They came up with a big fumble recovery on the opening drive of the second half and made stops early in the fourth quarter.
Along the front seven, Rob Ninkovich was the Patriots best player on the edge. In the secondary, the Patriots were very solid all night. Patrick Chung was all over the field. Devin McCourty was solid. Malcolm Butler and Justin Coleman were fantastic (Coleman was exceptional playing extended snaps in his first career playoff game).
With the Patriots in sub-packages essentially the entire game, the Chiefs were also able to pick up a lot of big gains on the ground.
Patriots defense also has serious health concerns. While the defense did it's job against the Chiefs, the unit also has some serious health concerns going forward. Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins, and Dont'a Hightower all missed time at linebacker with various games. Mayo (shoulder) and Collins (back) did not return from their injuries. Defensive end Chandler Jones also went down with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. All of this left players such as Dekoda Watson, Darius Fleming, and a one-armed Jonathan Freeny playing critical snaps.
Offensive line can be solid. The Patriots hadn't provided a consistent clean pocket for quarterback Tom Brady in around two months, but they were very solid today against a fantastic Kansas City Chiefs' front. Sebastian Vollmer was back and in good form on Tom Brady's blind side. Shaq Mason, Josh Kline, and Bryan Stork kept pressure off the middle. Even Marcus Cannon held to form on the right. Brady did have to make a few plays with his feet, but went un-sacked for the first time since week nine. If the Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl, this unit will have to keep being as consistent as they were today. This was a great start.