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Chief Thoughts: Why I love rooting for the 2018 Patriots

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This week’s edition is a feast for the crows.

NFL: AFC Championship Game-New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I was wrong. I don’t think I have ever typed those words with such a stupid slapstick smile on my face. I am exhausted, I am viciously hungover, but I am also happy. On Sunday night I figured out why I have loved rooting for the Patriots so much this season. When asked why I am a fan of the Patriots I have traditionally responded that I am a fan of greatness. But it’s more than just that.

I respect the greatness of the Golden State Warriors. I don’t begrudge them or root against them. But I’m not a fan. To me the Golden State Warriors are like the kids in elementary school who put all the best soccer players on one team because they just want to spend thirty minutes kicking butt before lunch. There is nothing wrong with it. But it’s hard to be a fan of it.

The Patriot dynasty is different. They aren’t defined by what they have. They are defined by what they don’t have and overcome regardless. The truth is part of me cannot help but view the Patriots as underdogs because they consistently roll out lesser talent than the team facing them. So when the Patriots win a big game a part of me always feels like it’s a bit of an underdog victory. A victory of heart, collective effort, and smarts over talent, natural gifts, and a system designed to destroy the existence of dynasties.

There are different types of greatness. I am a fan of the Patriots because I find their style of greatness inspiring. It’s not just that they get great results, though that is obviously an important part. It’s the process of how they get great results that makes being a fan such a rewarding experience. So rewarding that I am not remotely bothered by posting a crow edition.

Let’s get started.

The GOAT Does It Again

I probably wouldn’t be posting a crow edition if I simply got my pick for the game wrong. After all four other members of this site also picked the Chiefs. No, the reason I am leaning into this bit so heavily is because I doubted the Patriots pretty much up until they won the coin toss in overtime. In order to understand where my predictions went wrong, let’s refer back to the key pivots I discussed in my article last week.

Chiefs Defensive Line versus the Patriot Offensive Line

The single biggest pivot in this game was the dominance of the Patriots’ offensive line. Tom Brady and the team’s skill players all made major mistakes at various points in this game. The defense fell apart in the last quarter. The offensive line was essentially flawless and the undeniable MVP of the championship game. I accurately predicted that the unit would have a good chance of dominating in the run game but where I was wrong was the dominance of New England’s pass protection.

I thought that even though the Chiefs defense would get gashed in the running game, they would be able to put pressure on Brady when he was forced to pass. That did not happen. The offensive line barely let its quarterback get touched. The Patriots saw what happened when your defensive line cannot produce anything against the run or the pass in last year’s Super Bowl. Offensive domination.

And make no mistake that is exactly what happened. The Patriots had over 500 yards in total offense and easily could have scored 40+ points if it weren’t for the two interceptions from Brady. The Patriots’ offensive line has now dominated consecutive games against two of the best defensive lines in football. If they can do it one more game against Aaron Donald and company, New England will probably win another Super Bowl.

Old Timers

Some time in the second half I realized that the Chiefs defense had effectively adjusted to the Patriots offense. They minimized the run and took away Brady’s short passing game. This coincided with adjustments by the Kansas City offense that opened the floodgate of points for their side. Brady was going to have to pass this team to victory using the intermediate passing game or they were going to lose. This is where I got seriously nervous.

Up until that point Brady and his receivers had been mediocre with numerous costly mistakes. He did have one beautiful pass to Phillip Dorsett but he also threw an awful pick and compounded it with another mediocre throw for another pick. The offensive line was going to need to buy Brady more time for routes to develop and I figured the Chiefs’ pass rush would finally cash in on that opportunity. I was wrong.

Fun Fact: Brady got the ball out of his hands in an average of 2.23 seconds. Brady completed four passes for over 10 yards in the first half. He completed 17 passes over 10 yards in the second.

As impressive as the offensive line performed, Brady’s quick release was a key part of winning this game. And despite not playing particularly well for much of the game, Brady remains the NFL’s greatest clutch quarterback. He was a monster in the fourth quarter and overtime. Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Brady all made major mistakes in that game but they were also the driving force behind both lead-changing drives.

Fun Fact: The Patriots had 97 offensive snaps. Rob Gronkowski had 97 offensive snaps. That’s right, Gronk was in for literally every single offensive play in this game. Yes, his prime appears verily past him but that is an incredible level of endurance. I also find it amusing that the catch that set up the game-winning touchdown was against Eric Berry in man coverage. That is a nice bit of revenge from Gronk for the season opener last year.

The fortitude these guys displayed was simply incredible. Edelman in particular deserves note. He looked like hot trash in his post game interview. His eyes didn’t even appear like they were pointed in the same direction. It would not shock me if he had a concussion after taking some mean hits. He still caught two critical 3rd and 10 conversions on the game’s final drive. All three of these guys are proof that how you end a game is really the only thing that matters — at least when you have a little luck on your side. If the coin flips another way I think we are having a completely different conversation. But that’s the definition of life not just football.

Fun Fact: The Patriots added eight new plays to the offense the day of the game. None of these were practiced. The Patriots used five of them, all were successful. There are some advantages to having some vets on your squad.

Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce

Both of these players were first team All-Pros. Both of these players punished the Patriots earlier this season. Both players were essentially erased from the AFC Championship Game. The decision to put Jonathan Jones, primarily a slot cornerback, on Tyreek Hill with safety help on top was a bold move that could have easily been slandered if it did not work. The decision to put J.C. Jackson, an undrafted free agent corner on Travis Kelce would have been treated the same.

But it worked. I legitimately do not believe the Chiefs coaching staff were prepared for either of those decisions. Plenty of credit is also due to Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung who also spent time guarding both of those players but it was those surprising personnel decisions that I think played the biggest role. I thought the Patriots would definitely take away one of these players but I did not expect them to effectively take away both.

Defensive Trench

The Patriots have now won in the trenches on both sides of the ball two weeks in a row and that has resulted in two victories. The Chiefs’ offensive line is significantly better than the Los Angeles Chargers’ so I assumed the defensive line would struggle — but they were effective most of the night. Some excellent blitzing called up by Brian Flores certainly helped but the unit was able to get pressure with its front four and Kyle Van Noy had the game of his life. Trey Flowers, meanwhile, continues to show he is deserving of a contract extension.

Patrick Mahomes and the Armory

The Patriots defense could not sustain its dominance through the game. Patrick Mahomes explicitly stated that the Patriots secondary coverage did not change in the fourth quarter. They did not play scared. They played the exact same way that had allowed them to dominate the game until the end of the third quarter. They continued to play man, continued to erase Kelce and Hill, but this time the Chiefs tertiary receivers won their match ups.

Despite the Patriots effectively neutering their opponent’s two best offensive players and dominating the time of possession, the Chiefs were able to score 28 fourth quarter points using their secondary receiving weapons. That is a testament to Mahomes’ incredible talent and the sheer offensive depth of Kansas City’s skill players. The Chiefs armory delivered, but it did not deliver soon enough.

Patriot Coaching

I suggested the Patriots might not have a big coaching advantage in this game. That was clearly wrong. Josh McDaniels, Brian Flores and Bill Belichick completely outdid themselves in this game. The offensive and defensive game plans were superb and the creative blitzes and offensive designs were excellent. The Chiefs were out-coached in this game and frankly pretty bad.

Yes, you knew the Patriots were going to want to run the football and succeed in the quick passing game. You knew they wanted to play man coverage and blitz. But there is a world of difference between knowing what they want to do and knowing how they will do it. The Chiefs weren’t prepared for cover zero. They weren’t prepared for the straight up old school style of running. The Patriots were pulling out plays that were popular when Joe Montana — who was in the audience — was a quarterback. James Develin had more snaps Sunday that pretty much any other fullback in the NFL had all season.

An enormous amount of credit goes to Tom Brady and his fourth quarter heroics. The defense deserves heat for having no answer to the Chiefs’ adjustments in the fourth quarter, but there is a world where the Patriots run away with this game and a significant amount of the credit for that would go to the coaching.

20/20 Pivot Analysis

These are the most important pivots as I see them postgame. First and foremost were the dominant run blocking and pass protection from the Patriots offensive line. The second was the game plan and scheme provided by the Patriots’ coaching staff. The final element was the championship vigor of Brady and his old core of receivers. The biggest negative pivots were the defense’s late-game collapse and Brady’s turnovers. The last two pivots made this a much, much closer game than it seems like it would have been just looking at the box score stats. This is easily one of the best playoff victories in Patriot lore. They faced a team that was more talented on the road and came out with a victory. Damn impressive.

Closing Thoughts

Yes, the phantom roughing the passer call to convert a 2nd and 7 for the Patriots was terrible but the referees missing an illegal pick on Sammy Watkins’ 38-yard reception in the fourth quarter was absurd. Belichick chucked his tabled into the dirt because the officiating error was so egregious even he could not hide his disgust. In addition to that there was repeatedly uneven officiating regarding what the defensive backs were allowed and not allowed to do throughout the game.

J.C. Jackson got called on a ticky-tack penalty whereas Gronkowski was completely mugged and there was no call. In general, the NFL officiating this weekend was awful. Chiefs-Patriots was endurable because both teams benefited from game changing penalties, but the NFC Championship game was unforgivable. Drew Brees should be playing Brady in the Super Bowl, simple as that. I think it’d be really hard to stomach the NFL if you were a New Orleans Saints fan right no.

Speaking of J.C. Jackson, he should probably be considered a loser. But remember he was being matched up against superior players with veteran experience. He did well for good chunks of the game. The officiating was also fairly uneven with at least one bad pass interference call. Playing cornerback is stupid hard in the modern NFL and given his aggressive style of play I worry Jackson might be the kind of cornerback who is painfully reliant on what the refs are willing or unwilling to call in a given game. He was getting absolutely worked by Kelce at the end of the game.

While he may not be a steal on the caliber of Alvin Kamara in the third round of the draft, I still have high hopes Jackson can continue to develop into an above average cornerback. Stephon Gilmore got roasted by the Titans and was still the clear-cut first team All-Pro this season — and he has played that way in the playoffs. When you’re a corner you’re gonna get burned sometimes. It happens.

My early thoughts on the Super Bowl are that the Los Angeles Rams are going to be an extremely difficult opponent. It is a bit frustrating that Brandin Cooks and Aqib Talib can help feed the Rams information but I don’t think its a significant concern. The Patriots have openly admitted to signing players simply to collect intelligence on another team. They will be prepared to deal with any information those players might divulge.

Everyone wants to ride Sean McVay’s jockstrap but I find him less intimidating than Andy Reid. The Rams’ passing offense runs through their wide receivers and that bodes well for the Patriots. I think Brian Flores can confuse and punish quarterback Jared Goff. The coaches, quarterback, and skill players are an absolutely tough match-up but one that I think is more favorable for the Patriots than against the Chiefs.

There are two factors that legitimately concern me, however. Wade Phillips is one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL. The Rams’ defense is also more balanced than the Chiefs’. I think the Patriots can score on them but I think Phillips makes better use of his pieces than the now-fired Bob Sutton did for the Chiefs. The other factor that worries me is the L.A. offensive line, which ranks as the best in football this season. We saw what happened in the Super Bowl when the Patriots could not get pressure or stop the run. It was a massacre. I am definitely worried that could happen for a second consecutive year.

Finally,

Viva la Patriots.