Hard day's night
It takes a lot of work, but Patriots improve to 9-1
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The sweat was dripping off Ted Johnson's face as if someone had forgotten to turn off a bathroom faucet. With each drop came the satisfaction that the Patriots' defense again had risen to the challenge, not only holding the No. 1 rushing team in the NFL to 64 yards on the ground and surviving a patchwork secondary for one more week, but holding up in the fourth quarter, allowing the Patriots to claim their ninth win in 10 games this season.
"Our defensive line did an unbelievable job," said Johnson following last night's 27-19 win over the Chiefs. "We didn't give up anything up the middle. To be a good defense, you have to stop the run. We knew we had to stop their run, and doing that we made them be a one-dimensional team -- and that wasn't easy, either."
The Chiefs and their All-Pro offensive line fell far short in the battle of the trenches. Not only was Priest Holmes replacement Derrick Blaylock ineffective inside, but by the time he was able to run well outside, it was time to pass. And despite throwing for 381 yards, Trent Green's night wasn't as impressive as that sounds. He threw a key interception to Rodney Harrison in the end zone before the end of the first half on a ball intended for Tony Gonzalez, which greatly contributed to Kansas City's loss.
Chiefs receivers dropped two passes that could have been scores, one in the first half by Eddie Kennison and another by Johnnie Morton in the second half, while the Patriots received a huge boost with the return of Deion Branch, who caught six passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. Daniel Graham also came up huge with three catches for 83 yards including a 48-yarder that set the stage for Adam Vinatieri's 37-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Chiefs fans were seeing red because they knew a golden opportunity to turn their season around went by the boards.
Green managed to make a game of it by connecting on a 26-yard touchdown pass to Kennison with 6:13 remaining (though the 2-point conversion failed) after the Chiefs' defense had forced a Corey Dillon fumble at the Kansas City 3. The Chiefs marched 97 yards in 11 plays. But the Patriots got the ball back and ate up the clock behind Dillon, who fell 2 yards short of 100 and just as many short of 1,000 yards for the season. The Chiefs' D couldn't make a play to prevent Vinatieri's field goal with 1:46 left to play to give New England an 8-point lead.
"I'm disgusted," said Dillon of his fumble. "I was just trying too hard to make things happen. Immediately after that the team told me, `We need you to come through, run the ball hard, and get us down there.' That's what I did."
The Patriots received a huge defensive game from Ty Warren (seven tackles, two sacks), who seemed to be in the middle of the action most of the night. The downer was that the young and patchwork secondary got burned. Earthwind Moreland was beaten twice for touchdowns and Randall Gay was also beaten downfield. But Harrison's veteran presence, particularly his battles with Gonzalez, helped give the Patriots just enough control.
Harrison said of his interception, "I knew it was coming to Tony. He's the best tight end in the league and he gets the ball in the red zone. I was just reading the quarterback and I was able to get a break on the ball."
The Chiefs got the ball with 1:46 remaining in the game, but Green was unable to pull off any heroics as Willie McGinest sacked him for a 10-yard loss with 56 seconds remaining on fourth down.
The Chiefs got as close as 17-13 in the third quarter when Lawrence Tynes hit a 24-yard field goal with 6:45 remaining after the Chiefs had marched from their 27 to the Patriots 5. They were unable to get the 6 when Tedy Bruschi made a huge play, stuffing Blaylock for a 1-yard loss on third and 1.
Also during that drive, Morton dropped what appeared to be 6 points on a long pass that hit him between the numbers after he'd beaten Gay. The Patriots' offense, on the other hand, didn't have much difficulty finishing off drives. Tom Brady, who had missed on a long pass to David Patten down the right sideline, went back to it two plays later and connected with Patten over Chiefs nickel back Julian Battles for 46 yards. On the next play, Brady got the ball out quickly on the left to Branch, who zigged-zagged his way 26 yards into the end zone, getting away from some poor tackle attempts by linebacker Kawicka Mitchell and safety Greg Wesley. That gave the Patriots a 24-13 lead with less than 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
"I had the opportunity to make some big plays," said Branch, who had been out with a knee injury. "I think everything worked out well today. It feels real good."
The Patriots silenced the crowd on their first possession, tying a record held by the Miami Dolphins for scoring first in 18 consecutive games. New England took the opening kickoff to its 29 and marched 71 yards in 10 plays, the drive culminating in a 5-yard run by Dillon, who scooted around the left end untouched. Graham's nifty 27-yard reception of a ball Brady threw while being blitzed was a key play.
The Chiefs scored the next 10 points. Tynes kicked a 44-yard field goal to cap a drive in which Green began to find seams in the Patriots' defense. He found Gonzalez for 22 yards and Kennison for 18, and when the Chiefs faced a fourth and 2 at the Patriots' 26 they decided to take the safe 3. On their next possession, Green burned Moreland with a 65-yard pass play as Kennsion caught the ball at the Patriots' 40 behind Moreland and raced down the right sideline to paydirt. That made it 10-7 Chiefs with 3:41 left in the first.
The Patriots answered, going on a 75-yard, 10-play drive in which Brady seemed determined to get the ball to Branch. They connected for 18 and 13 yards, and Troy Brown made a big catch on a third and 3 for 22 yards to the Chiefs' 28. Dillon broke a tackle and romped for 8 yards to the 1, from where he'd eventually score, giving the Patriots a 14-10 lead with 8:27 remaining in the half.
The Patriots tacked on a Vinatieri 37-yard field goal with 3:52 left in the half, thanks to a 48-yard pass from Brady to Graham, for a 7-point lead. But the Chiefs, who had a golden opportunity to tie it after a 36-yard pass from Green to Morton put them at the Patriots' 36, stumbled at the worst moment on Green's turnover. Green had missed an open Blaylock on the play before from the Patriots' 7.