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Patriots vs. Chiefs: Fan Notes from the AFC Championship Game

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Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots’ 37-31 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs

AFC Championship - New England Patriots v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

I don’t know how much more of this I can take.

Being a Boston sports fan is a full-time job. The Patriots and Red Sox alone, both of whom selfishly always seem to end up playing very late into their respective seasons, are enough to make it so that, in the words of Bill Belichick, we get no days off. For those keeping score at home, the Super Bowl is Sunday, February 3rd. Red Sox Truck Day is Monday, February 4th. So buckle up.

But I’m not here to talk about the Rex Sox, and I’m not even here to talk about the Super Bowl. I’m here to talk about Tommy B and the Patriots going on the road to one of the most difficult places to play in the NFL and taking down the league MVP. Taking down one of the best offenses in NFL history. Getting something Tom Brady hasn’t had in well over a decade: a signature road playoff victory. This was an instant classic and a tale as old as time in the young buck taking on the old guard. They keep trying to get Tommy B to pass the torch, and he keeps wrestling it away from whoever is trying to take it, giving him a wedgie, and shoving his head in the toilet.

I just wish he’d stop giving me a heart attack while he did it.

  • I spent the first seven or eight minutes of this game irrationally fuming over the non-call that ended up costing the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl. The worst kind of fan is the one that blames the referees for one team’s success, and at the end of the day there were some missed calls on both sides of that game that could have affected the outcome...but holy jeez does that suck. Helmet to helmet hit, got there early, not even close to playing the ball. Unreal. We should be witnessing Brady vs. Brees in a few weeks. But hey...at least the NFL apologized to Sean Payton and admitted the got the call wrong, so now I’m sure the Saints are feeling just fine.
  • Luckily for me, while I was stewing the Patriots spent the first seven or eight minutes of this game methodically marching down the field behind the running game and effective playaction that would represent how New England played the first half. This is a running team and I love them for it. As the league has gotten smaller and faster, the Patriots have gotten bigger, bringing it back to old-school, smash mouth football.
  • What’s especially great about that strategy is that you have the greatest quarterback of all time under center to read the defense and audible into a passing play if he needs to. They go big, the Patriots go small. They go small, the Patriots go big. It kind of makes you wonder if this is some kind of Frankensteined version of the 2TE offense the Patriots wanted to run before...well, you know.
  • And like I’ve been saying all year: James White is a great short yardage back. When it’s third and short and you need to grind out some yards, look no further than New England’s smallest back.
  • What else is there to say about James White at this point? 12 snaps, six first downs, utilized as a runner and receiver. I was as critical of James White as anybody when he first joined the team and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the coaching staff saw in him. At this point I could either pull a Max Kellerman and just double down on my completely wrong prediction or apologize. So here goes:
  • James White benefits from playing in a system that is specifically designed to get him open. He has a quarterback that serves up mismatches for him on a silver platter. Of course he’s going to have 15 catches when he matches up against a linebacker! What’s the big deal?
  • I’m also not sure whether or not I should be apologizing for my thoughts on Rex Burkhead, because he had a pretty typical Burkhead day: either getting stuffed in the backfield and tripping at the line of scrimmage or busting out a huge play.
  • Speaking of - last thoughts on the running game before moving on. What the Pats seem to do with their rushing attack is identify pre-snap where the defensive front is weakest and adjust the blocking scheme to that side. Then they just attack with bigger, stronger guys. If a play is working well, they just keep doing it. When it stops working, they adjust. Kind of like the Raptors in Jurassic Park.
  • Defensively, the Patriots played as well as they ever have. They opened up with Stephon Gilmore on Sammy Watkins, Jonathan Jones and help on Tyreek Hill, McCourty roaming the backfield as the shallow safety, and the linebackers all playing close to the line. It looked like JC Jackson and Patrick Chung split duties on Kelce. Basically the exact opposite of what I predicted this past week on the Pats Pulpit Podcast. Thanks for listening!
  • Where the Patriots got hurt was on the big play. All of KC’s scores came on Mahomes and his ability to not only extend the play, but make an amazing throw as well. You can’t cover regular receivers for eight seconds, let alone the freaks of nature the Chief had. But there were no methodical, clock-killing drive that ended in points. In fact that the Chiefs only had one drive all game that was more than five plays - and even that drive only took four minutes - just speaks to how explosive this offense is.
  • That the Patriots dominated both sides of the ball for most of the first half and went into the locker room at halftime only up two scores tells you everything you need to about this game. The Patriots had to put the Chiefs away with every drive, and they could only muster two touchdowns. With a team as explosive as the Chiefs, you need to be up by 21 at all times.
  • Once again, the Patriots utilized a lot of stunts and complex blitz packages to get pressure up the middle and force Mahomes to hang onto the ball for longer than he would have liked.
  • Tommy B, on the other hand, couldn’t get the ball out of his hands fast enough.
  • I can’t for the life of me figure out why a bunch of people in multicolerd jumpsuits tumbling through a city is supposed to mke me want to buy a new iPhone.
  • I also can’t for the life of me figure out why the Patriots went for a playaction to Gronk at the goal like instead of just continuing to pound Sony Michel. Another horrible red zone throw from Tommy B. I don’t think he’ll do that ever again.
  • Note that I said that exact same thing the last time he threw a red zone pick.
  • Although the D played well overall, I have to question why Keion Crossen was in there at any point. More specifically, why he was ever matched up against Tyreek Hill.
  • JC Jackson has been a beast all season long, and he’s a great story, so I don’t want to rag on him too much...but man did he have a rough day. Flagged for some huge penalties and blew coverages. Here’s hoping he bounces back and...oh, I don’t know...maybe makes a game-sealing interception in a few weeks.
  • I think my favorite aspect of Sony Michel’s game is his jump cut. It’s been way too long since we had a between the tackles back with a jump cut.
  • It happens all the time in football, but it’s always incredible: I don’t know if there’s a single sport in which momentum plays such a large factor. The Patriots had it, then the Chiefs had it, and then the Patriots had it, and by the time all of the back-and-forth was done my neck hurt and I needed a nap.
  • Interlude: can we all take a minute to appreciate Stephen Gostkowski, or the fact that the Patriots have only had two kickers in the past 20 years?
  • The big difference between the first half and the second half was that KC started selling out to stop the run and funnelled everything to the outside, where the Patriots are at their weakest as they have no real outside threat ever since Josh Gordon left. New England had trouble adjusting to middle pressure and inside coverage - something I’m sure the Rams will be studying very closely in the coming weeks.
  • WHY THE HELL DID THE PATRIOTS STOP SNEAKING IT
  • Seriously. I legit don’t remember when the best sneaking QB in the game dove forward for a few yards on third or fourth and short.
  • OK, let’s talk about the refs for just a second. It’s 11:45 PM as of this note and I’m already completely sick of the ref talk. But the Patriots benefitted from a phantom roughing the passer call that kept a drive alive. The Chiefs benefitted from a missed holding call on Gronk that stalled a drive. The Chiefs could have won the game if Dee Ford was lined up onsides. What I don’t think happened - unlike the game before it - is that the refs directly cost the Chiefs the game or directly won it for the Patriots.
  • I have no clue whether or not Edelman touched that punt - I’m pretty sure he didn’t. But I 100% know that Edelman should have caught that pass that ended up picked. And Edelman also had no business being anywhere near that punt anyway.
  • But that’s the last negative thing I’ll say about Edelman, as he might be the best postseason receiver in NFL history and his seven catches for 96 yards, including some HUGE pickups in overtime, just made the conversation surrounding Edelman and Canton extremely interesting.
  • And oh...James Develin threw the block that put Burkhead into the end zone and sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl. Yawn.
  • I’m not gonna lie: I was really, really worried that an entire season would go by without the Patriots benefitting from a league-instilled rule that would then go on to get changed in the offseason. But now that Tommy B is 3-0 in overtime games, engineering masterful drives to keep the ball out of the opposing QB’s hands, look for the league to ensure that both teams are guaranteed a possession in playoff OT.
  • Congrats to Tony Romo, who had himself a career day in the booth. I lost track of how many plays he correctly predicted somewhere in the middle of the second quarter. But as good as Romo is and was, perhaps my favorite part of it all is that Phil Simms is sitting there, watching it all, knowing that he was ousted by an infinitely superior broadcaster.
  • Simms will always have this, though. All-time great TV moment.
  • And watching that makes me a little envious, because I was pucked up so tight watching this game I may never pass gas again - which I’m sure would make everyone else extremely happy, but me miserable. Kind of like if the Chiefs had won the game instead of Tommy B going to his ninth.
  • HIS NINTH. Tom Brady has been an NFL starter for 17 seasons. He’s been to nine Super Bowls. Every other year, he’s in it. How infuriating and exhausting this has to be for the entire world outside of New England. In an era where everyone has three devices open at once while the TV is on and everything is showing a different video as we wait for the six movies we illegally streamed to finish downloading while Alexa plays a Spotify playlist containing every song ever written, here come the Patriots again. Hate on it all you want...but this is just remarkable.
  • A quick happy anniversary to Robert Kraft, who bought the Patriots 25 years ago today. I guess it worked out pretty OK for him, and for us.
  • I don’t know what I would have done if the Patriots moved to St. Louis. Honestly, I might have jumped ship and become a Jets fan. How different my life would have been.
  • Patriots vs. Rams, Part II. I’d be lying if I wasn’t more than a little nervous that Tom Brady’s career is going to end with losses to the three teams he beat early on. But no sense in worrying about that now. First we have to get through the barrage of old Rams players who are going to come on air accusing the Patriots of cheating them out of a Lombardi Trophy in 2001.