The New England Patriots defense started its game against the Kansas City Chiefs’ high-octane offense in perfect fashion: after the team’s offense scored a touchdown on the game’s opening drive, it registered an interception when cornerback J.C. Jackson picked off reigning league MVP Patrick Mahomes. Ultimately, however, the unit failed to keep the momentum going and allowed Kansas City to score 20 unanswered points before the half
But even though the Chiefs added another field goal in the early third quarter, the Patriots were starting to get the better of one of the most talented offensive units in all of football. It was ultimately not enough to keep New England from losing with a final score of 23-16, but the top scoring defense in the league did play an encouraging 30 minutes of football after its bad start into the contest — building the foundation for a potential comeback bid.
“I thought we did a better job in the second half just playing complementary football, special teams stepping up and the defense making the turnover and the offense doing a good job of turning it into points,” said team captain Devin McCourty during his postgame press conference when talking about the defensive turnaround at the half. McCourty, of course, played a key role and had one of the game’s biggest plays along the way.
In the third quarter, the veteran defender knocked the football out of tight end Travis Kelce’s arms for what was ruled a fumble after a successful challenge by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. The play was one of the best for New England against Kansas City, but far from the only big one made by the defense as a look at the Chiefs’ second-half numbers shows: the team scored just three points, gained a mere 97 yards of offense and converted only one of eight third downs.
What did change for the Patriots after they had allowed Kansas City to score 20 points in the first half and gain 249 yards while converting four of their eight third down attempts? According to McCourty, the answer is a simple one: improved execution after the unit had some negative plays — including scores on a 48-yard pass from Mahomes to Mecole Hardman and a four-yard run by Kelce out of a wildcat formation — early on in the contest.
“It was really two bad plays in the first half and I thought we just did a better job of eliminating that. When you play a good team, you can’t have those plays,” the 32-year-old said. “I thought in the second half we really locked in and just did a better job of not giving up the big play or a silly play in a key situation — third down in the red area, we’ve got to play our best football. After that, the second half is kind of winning time, you’ve got to play your best.”
The Patriots did just that and it almost allowed them to climb out of their 17-point hole in the second half. They came up short in the end, but some of the signs certainly were positive for McCourty and his fellow defenders — and something to build on moving forward.