It could have been an easy victory for the New England Patriots, but the best teams hardly ever go down without the fight. The 2018 Kansas City Chiefs certainly are one of them and put up one hell of a battle on Sunday night. Down 24-9 after two quarters, the Chiefs and their high-flying offense came back out of the locker rooms swinging and scored their first touchdown of the contest just three plays into the second half.
And so it began: the Patriots, who had been on the other side of developments like this all too often over the past two decades, saw their lead decrease as the mistakes started to pile up. Blown coverages, bad special teams play, and an untimely turnover all allowed Kansas City to take a 33-30 lead – its first since the first quarter – midway through the final period. Suddenly, the pressure was on an New England squad that had applied it all game long.
Playing their best 30 minutes of the year, the Patriots cruised to a two-score halftime lead behind an efficient offense and a big-play defense. But staying comfortably ahead was not in the cards and instead New England was suddenly forced to climb uphill – something the team had struggled with earlier this season: against both the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Detroit Lions, the Patriots failed to come back from late-game deficits.
In the biggest contest of the year so far, however, New England finally was able to rise above the adversity it faced. The Patriots took a 40-33 lead with just three minutes left in the game, and even after Kansas City’s quick-strike touchdown to tie it yet again remained on course: Tom Brady and the offense drove 65 yards in seven plays to set up Stephen Gostkowski’s game-winning 28-yard field goal.
“I think we have a lot of clutch players,” Brady said after the game about New England’s ability to rise up when challenged. “I think we have no problem grinding it out. That’s what the football season’s all about.” The Patriots needed to grind it out against a talented opponent that just would not go away: Kansas City countered every one of New England’s attacks to challenge the team both physically and mentally for 60 minutes.
“That was a great job by our players and coaching staff tonight, just battling for 60 minutes,” added Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during his postgame press conference. “They were tough to handle, but in the end we were able to just do a little bit more, do enough. [I am] just really proud of the way we competed tonight all the way through from the opening kickoff to the final kick – it was just great effort.”
Along the way, New England found itself in multiple tough spots but found a way to come through. Whether it was a defensive stop late the first half on a Duron Harmon interception, or a pair of key third down conversions in the fourth quarter, the Patriots came through when they needed to. But despite their effort and the success it brought along, New England knows that it still has a long way to go.
“I don’t think we’ve seen our best,” Brady said following the game. “I think we can all play a lot better, and I think that’s what we plan to do.” But even without playing their best football for a full 60 minutes, the Patriots were able to come away with a victory – which speaks for their mental toughness and overall resiliency. It also speaks for their potential moving forward and a ceiling that has not yet been reached.