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Pulling out the stops

Patriots halted Chiefs' run game

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The statistics are too overwhelming to ignore: NFL teams that allow a 100-yard-plus rusher have a lousy winning percentage. In Week 11, teams that allowed a 100-yard rusher went 3-7.

It is no small coincidence that once the Patriots were able to stop Kansas City's Derrick Blaylock, the replacement for the injured Priest Holmes Monday night, they found themselves in control of the game. New England went on to post a 27-19 win, improving to 9-1.

Why? The Chiefs became one-dimensional, while the Patriots had running back Corey Dillon producing well, although he fell 2 yards short of having his sixth 100-yard game (the Patriots are 5-0 in those games).

While Kansas City's Trent Green, who threw for 381 yards, made some connections against the Patriot zone defenses, the burden of pulling off the upset fell all on his shoulders, and he couldn't do it.

Green exploited some of the inexperienced members of the Patriots' defensive backfield, most notably Earthwind Moreland, who twice was burned for touchdowns. But Green wasn't helped when veteran receivers Eddie Kennison and Johnnie Morton had balls clang off their hands in key moments.

The Patriots held Blaylock to 58 yards and the Chiefs to 64, about 100 fewer than they were averaging.

New England did so without even having to use safety Rodney Harrison up on the line; he spent most of his time trying to slow down tight end Tony Gonzalez, sometimes as part of double coverage.

Slowing the Chiefs' running game had another benefit: It helped quiet a stadium in which the fans can be among the loudest in the country, making for a horror show for opposing teams.

After practicing with crowd noise piped in, the Patriots knew what to expect.

"The guys up front did an unbelievable job." said Harrison. "We had set out to control things up front, and against that offensive line, what a job our guys did."

If any offensive line should have given the Patriots all they could handle, it would have been this one. It's a line filled with Pro Bowlers and future Hall of Famers, but Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Jarvis Green, Vince Wilfork, and Keith Traylor never allowed them, and thus the run game, to get momentum.

Warren might have had his best game as a Patriot, with seven tackles, two sacks, and numerous appearances in the Chiefs' backfield.

Early in the season and in their only loss this season, against Pittsburgh, there was concern expressed about the Patriots stopping the run. Do they have a stout run defense after all?

"There were times out there where I'd fight my way over to make a play and the guy had already been wrapped up. I can't tell you how many times that happened," linebacker Ted Johnson said.

The Chiefs had 20 running plays, five for first downs. Blaylock had only one negative play, but it was a big one, on third and 1 at the Patriot 5-yard line in the third quarter.

He was stuffed by Tedy Bruschi for a loss of a yard, which forced the Chiefs into a field goal to make it 17-13, when the game could have been tied.

The Patriots allowed nothing up the middle, and once the Chiefs started to run around end in the second half, they did better. But by that time it was basically time to start passing to get back into the game.

Green probably described what the Patriots did best when he said, "Their defense. I don't think they do anything really complex. They don't do anything that confusing. They just play solid and they have discipline. They stay in their lanes."

Indeed, their filling of gaps seemed to be a theme as to why the Patriots were able to stop the run so well. Johnson spoke of that after the game. Seymour noted that the Patriots played fundamentally sound and didn't allow the slightest crack for Blaylock to run through.

"We came into this not wanting to give up anything up the middle," Johnson said. "To be a good defense, you have to stop the run. If we didn't do that, it would have been a long night because they can put up points in a hurry. But once we were able to stop them on the ground, they became predictable, and that's what we want to do every week. I think we did a good job of that against Buffalo and St. Louis."

Is this defense good enough to stop the run?

"Good enough to win games," Johnson said.

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