Ten thoughts on the Patriots’ 43-40 victory over the Chiefs …
1.Well, go ahead and put me down in favor of a January rematch. The consensus expectation was that the Patriots-Chiefs matchup Sunday night would result in a shootout. That’s exactly what happened, though it was probably more entertaining than we even expected. The Patriots offense, with the return of Julian Edelman, emergence of Sony Michel, and presence of Josh Gordon, suddenly fits together much better than it did just a couple of weeks ago. And how can anyone not be sold on Patrick Mahomes at this point? He makes pretty much every play the Chiefs run look like it was drawn up on the spot by some open-minded offensive genius. I get why he was not the No. 1 pick in 2017 – his freewheeling style can look reckless when it’s ineffective, and sitting behind Alex Smith as a rookie was surely beneficial to his growth. So let’s put it this way. He went tenth, and there are nine teams that are going to be dealing with what-ifs for a long time.
2. Tom Brady’s performance Monday would rate as a career highlight for a lesser quarterback. Actually, you’re right, everyone in NFL history is a lesser quarterback, so let’s just say most quarterbacks would be thrilled with his statistics and outcome from this one. Brady threw for 340 yards and a touchdown, ran for another to put the Patriots ahead late (a Chiefs defender backed off in fear of a flag, but Brady still mustered the best Mike Alstott imitation that he could), led the Patriots on another drive to win it with a final-seconds field goal after the defense allowed the Chiefs to tie it, and guided the offense to a turnover- and penalty-free performance against a 5-0 team. Oh, and it was his 200th regular-season win as a starter, and probably one of the top dozen-most thrilling games in his 18 seasons as the starter.
3. Pretty darn good. And by Brady’s standards, pretty basic, too. He did appear to miss a couple of open receivers early in the game, to the point that I was wondering if Chris Hogan was on his Do-Not-Throw-To list. Purely anecdotally, Brady missing open receivers seems to have happened more often this year than in the past. Just something to watch.
4. With 2:20 left in the third quarter, Brady was sacked and fumbled after having what seemed like 10 seconds to throw. It looked like something from Drew Bledsoe’s first two games of the 2001 season. NBC showed a graphic identifying it as a coverage sack, with three boxes showing supposedly covered receivers … except that Julian Edelman was so open that he was jumping up and down and waving his hand.
5. Man, it was a blast watching Rob Gronkowski activate into TurboGronk mode in the fourth quarter, with Brady finding him for catches of 40 and 42 yards. On one of the big plays, Gronk left cleat marks on Chiefs safety Ron Parker after stiff-arming him to the turf. That wasn’t throwing him out of the club. That was beating him up in the club in front of his friends. The extra bonus is that he completely outperformed Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who is so obnoxious it’s a wonder he’s never played for the Ravens.
6. It’s interesting to see Brady go out of his way to involve Josh Gordon even though he’s still – somewhat understandably — running routes as if Joey Galloway was his mentor. There were a couple of times where Brady threw to a spot and Gordon was in the same area code as the ball, but not the same town. He still managed five catches for 42 yards on nine targets. Patience with receivers isn’t exactly Brady’s strong suit, but it seems he’s giving the super-talented Gordon room to figure this out.
7. Another sign that those now-infamous ignorant assessments that Sony Michel was a bust one game into his career were even more ridiculous than they seemed in the moment: Michel ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns Sunday night, and it seemed like a B-plus performance at best. Michel is shifty, in a Curtis Martin kind of way at times, but there are other times when he runs up his blockers’ backs when patience is required, or misses a few extra yards of open space on his periphery. He’s very good now, reliable and tougher in traffic than expected for a player who was an open-field highlight reel in college. What’s encouraging is that he’s already more than good enough, and the places where he can get better are apparent and fixable.
8. The defense? Mixed bag, and that’s generous. Any time you give up 40 points, it is by definition a lousy night, even against a mesmerizing Chiefs offense that right now looks like a melding of the 1980 Chargers, the 1999 Rams, and the Eagles of Super Bowl LI. The McCourty twins had to have set an NFL record for most times one family got burned in coverage in a single game. The Patriots have long prided themselves on not allowing big plays, but the Chiefs managed a bunch Sunday, including Tyreek Hill’s 75-yard touchdown in the final minutes that capped a one-play, 75-yard drive to tie the game at 40. The Chiefs left points on the field, too, with Mahomes forcing a pass that Duron Harmon picked off in the end zone right before halftime.
9. There were some good things. Stephon Gilmore continues to play like an All-Pro. Trey Flowers – who changes the tenor of the defense when he’s in there – was in the Chiefs backfield all night. And Dont’a Hightower, who had an impressive catch of an interception in the first quarter, looked quicker than he has all season. Overall, the Patriots are just below the middle of the pack statistically – they’re 20th in the league in yards allowed per game (379.3) and 19th in points allowed (24.7). This has to improve if they’re going to get where they want to go, but it remains to be seen how they will go about it.
10. When Stephen Gostkowski was lining up what would be a winning 28-yard field goal, Al Michaels introduced him as the Patriots’ “fabled” kicker. I wouldn’t go that far – I wondered if Michaels had Adam Vinatieri on the brain there for a split-second – but Gostkowski does deserve more credit than he gets for being such a steady and productive successor to Vinatieri over the past 13 seasons (yes, it has been that long). Vinatieri is nine points from tying Morten Andersen (2,544) for the most points in NFL history. Gostkowski, at 34, is 875 points behind Andersen, but if he can kick into his 40s, he has a great chance of cracking the top-three scorers in NFL history.