The New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs played one of the most exciting regular season games in recent memory yesterday, a 43-40 thriller that was decided in the home team’s favor on the final play. The contest produced many a memorable moments, and some plenty of standout performances – for better or for worse. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Winner: The offensive line
The Patriots gained 500 yards of offense against the Chiefs, with a respectable 173 of which coming on the ground. New England was willing to stick to the running game all night long and a big reason why it worked was the offensive line’s dominance: the unit paved the way for the team’s running backs to run wild over the Kansas City defense, which contributed to the Patriots dominating the time of possession 36:09-23:51. The unit also was strong when it came to pass protection.
Winner: RB Sony Michel
Sony Michel delivered another very good performance and was given a big role in New England’s offense. Overall, the first-round rookie carried the football 24 times for 106 yards – his second 100-yard game in the last three weeks – and two touchdowns. Michel’s productivity on the ground did not only help the Patriots control the tempo of the game, it also set up play-action opportunities for the offense.
Winner: TE Rob Gronkowski & FB James Develin
While both were involved in the passing game as well, Rob Gronkowski and James Develin are primarily in the winners column due to their contributions as run blockers. Both were dominant in that area and like the offensive line played a key role to New England establishing a presence on the ground early on and being able to stick to it throughout the night. Furthermore, Gronkowski caught three passes for 97 yards while Develin had two receptions for 3 yards.
Loser: LB Kyle Van Noy
The way the Patriots defense is schematically constructed, the linebackers play a key role in stopping opposing players. Good tackling is vital for this role, and this is where Kyle Van Noy had an inconsistent day: the veteran let running back Kareem Hunt slip through his hands on a third down in the second quarter which later led to a field goal – not the only time Van Noy failed to wrap a player up. In a high-scoring game, stops like these needed to be made.
Winner: LB Dont’a Hightower
After a slow start into the season, Dont’a Hightower has come along as of late. Yesterday, he was one of the driving factors behind behind what was one of the Patriots’ best defensive performances – at least in the first half. The veteran linebacker finished the game with two tackles, a quarterback hit, and registered an interception that set up a New England first quarter touchdown. Hightower was disruptive all game long and helped the Patriots slow down the Chiefs’ high-octane offense early in the game.
Loser: The second half defense
As good as New England’s defense was through the first two quarters, as bad it looked in the second half. While it started with its collective back against the wall on two drives thanks to an offensive giveaway and a long kickoff return, it also surrendered two big plays that swung momentum back to the Chiefs: a 67-yard touchdown pass to Kareem Hunt on the third play of the third quarter, and a 75-yard score by Tyreek Hill on the very first play from scrimmage after the Patriots went up seven points late in the fourth period.
Loser: WR Phillip Dorsett
For the first time all season long, Phillip Dorsett was not targeted in the passing game. The former first-round draft pick was relegated to a depth role on Sunday and hardly ever saw the field: Dorsett played a mere three offensive snaps and served as New England’s fifth wide receiver in terms of playing time – a disappoint development for a player that had a key role over the first four weeks of the season.
Winner: WR Chris Hogan
While it was not his most active performance, Chris Hogan still had a solid game and made big plays in important situations – none bigger than his 42-yard reception on a 3rd and 1 in the fourth quarter after Kansas City went up 33-30. Overall, the veteran wide receiver finished the day with four catches for 78 yards and could have also scored a touchdown had Tom Brady looked his way instead of firing incomplete to Josh Gordon early in the third quarter.
Loser: FS Devin McCourty
Devin McCourty’s up-and-down season continued yesterday. After he surrendered two touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts last week, the veteran safety was again beaten for two scores against the Chiefs. This time, it was wide receiver Tyreek Hill who took advantage of McCourty’s lack of fluidity as a one-on-one coverage player. While Hill is a tough matchup for any player, the Patriots’ team captain made it look too easy for him at times.
Winner: K Stephen Gostkowski
While his 28-yard game winner will remain the most memorable of his kicks from yesterday’s game, Stephen Gostkowski had a very good performance throughout the night. The veteran attempted nine kicks – five field goals and four extra points – and made them all for a total of 19 points. He looked like his usual automatic self, no matter the distance he had to cover: two of Gostkowski’s kicks came from 48 and 50 yards out, respectively.
Winner: CB Stephon Gilmore
The Chiefs have one of the most talented group of pass catchers in the NFL, but one member was effectively erased from the game yesterday by Stephon Gilmore: Sammy Watkins. The former Buffalo Bill, who usually was covered one-on-one by Gilmore, finished the day with just two catches for 18 yards. With a cornerback able to play against high-talent players like Watkins on an island, the Patriots defense is allowed to allocated resources elsewhere.
Loser: The kickoff coverage
The Patriots had a curious approach to kickoffs yesterday, oftentimes opting to kick short of the goal line and force Kansas City to return. The visitors gladly did that and ran back five kicks for 190 yards and an average of 38.0 yards per return – almost giving up a touchdown in the process as well. The plan by the coaching staff and the execution by the coverage team helped the Chiefs win the field position battle and build momentum in the second half.
Winner: The third down defense
New England had been inconsistent on third down entering yesterday’s game. And while the performance was not spotless, it was a step in the right direction against an opponent that had previously shined in this area. While the Patriots offense went 7-of-13 (54%), the defense allowed just 4 of 10 third downs (40%) to be converted. Before the game, New England’s percentages looked worse (41.7% on offense, 44.6% on defense) while Kansas City’s looked noticeably better (45.3% on offense, 29.3% on defense).