By: Bob George/BosSports.net
September 22, 2002

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FOXBOROUGH -- Such as life when you're the champs.

What the Patriots didn't get in the first two weeks from two of the supposed better teams in the league, the Patriots definitely got in week three against the Kansas City Chiefs. This game had trap written all over it, and with good reason. The Patriots had such an edge in manpower on paper, but yet watched a far inferior team drag them all the way into overtime before finally prevailing.

You can throw out a ton of clichés on this game, both positive and negative. Teams always save their best for the champs. Don't take any opponent lightly. When you're the champs, you are always the hunted and not the hunter. And, my favorite: THAT'S…..why they play the game.

The Patriots played gracious hosts to the Chiefs in the first half, and it nearly cost them the game. Adam Vinatieri ended things in overtime with a 35-yard field goal, giving the Patriots a 41-38 win and kept their perfect 2002 record intact. But the Patriots allowed the Chiefs to be in a game they had no right to be in. And, perhaps the scariest notion of all, the Patriots won this game largely because the Chiefs failed to win a crucial coin flip.

That said, the Patriots learned two very, very important lessons following this game today.

Never let an outmanned team realize early on that they actually have a chance to win this game.

And approach each game as if you're always an underdog, and play incredibly angry each game.

Had the Patriots lost this game, the game would have been lost literally on the opening drive of the game. That first offensive possession for the Patriots set the tone for the entire game, and it set up everything that followed. For what a great day Priest Holmes had for the Chiefs, he never would have had such huge rushing numbers had his team been in a 17-0 hole and not up 10-0 in the second quarter.

The first quarter was the worst quarter for the Patriots since the Pete Carroll era, and that includes a few stinkers in the 2000 season as well. The Patriots may have put up big offensive numbers, but they put up big numbers in another statistical area: penalties.

On the opening drive, the Patriots should have sliced their way through the Chief defense like a knife through butter. On every play, Tom Brady had about two or three minutes to throw the football. Given the receivers he has, his own ability, and the lousy Chief secondary to throw against, you could expect nothing less.

The Patriots began on their 35. Brady hit Deion Branch for three yards, then had about a half hour to throw but could only find Donald Hayes for two yards. Brady then hit Deion Branch for 11 yards. But then Mike Compton was called for a false start, and on first and fifteen Brady tried a long one down the left sideline to Hayes but overthrew him. Brady found Branch for six, then found Branch on a right sideline route for 14 yards and a first down. Except that Branch was called for pushing off Eric Warfield, and Brady misfired on third down to David Patten.

Second possession. Matt Chatham was called for holding after Kansas City punted. Two plays layer, Kenyatta Jones was called for holding. On third down and 22, Brady sees Troy Brown get open on a slant route. Brady sticks the ball right in there, but it goes right through Brown's arms and a sure first down is quashed.

Third possession. Two Antowain Smith runs make it third and five at the Patriot 43. Brady then gets pressured by Glenn Cadrez, and fires a pathetic pass over the middle that is picked off by Mike Maslowski (who was tendered an offer sheet from the Patriots in the offseason, but the Chiefs matched it). The Chiefs converted that turnover into a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter, when Trent Green found Eddie Kennison for a 14-yard scoring pass in which defender Otis Smith failed to turn around until Kennison's arms were in the air, celebrating.

At this time it was 10-0 Kansas City, and though the Patriots were about to embark on a touchdown drive, more head scratchers from the champs ensued.

The Patriots began that drive at their 14 because Ty Law blocked a Chief punt coverage man out of bounds and was flagged for a personal foul. Brady finally found a rhythm and hit Patten for 14 yards, Brown for 16 and 10 yards, and Kevin Faulk on a pretty right sideline toss for 22 yards and a touchdown. But on the conversion attempt, for reasons known only to either Ken Walter or Brad Seely, the Patriot punter/holder took the snap and tried to sneak in the conversion. He was stopped at the one and it was 10-6 Chiefs.

If any of you find a rationale for attempting a two-point conversion at that point in the game, please e-mail us.

Vinatieri hit a 37-yard field goal as time expired in the half to make it 10-9 at intermission. The Patriots had been a great second half team in 2002, as both regular season games and two of the preseason contests featured offensive explosions by the Patriots after halftime. As things would turn out, Brown would go on to set a Patriot record with pass receptions in a game (16), he and Brady would reach career highs in yardage (Brady 410, Brown 176), and the Patriots would put 29 second half points up on the board.

But the penalties, sloppy play and lousy execution by the Patriots in the first half gave the Chiefs confidence. The Chiefs put 28 points of their own on the board in the second half, and turned what should have been a cakewalk for the Patriots into a heap big nailbiter.

Holmes gaining 180 yards rushing (on 30 carries) is not a huge deal, given that he is the defending NFL rushing champ. But if the Patriots had been up 17-0 instead of down 10-0 early on, it would have forced Green and the Chiefs to throw the ball more in the second half instead of featuring Holmes on most of their offensive plays, and thus have avoided the garrison finish this game had.

Using primarily a ton of fake reverses where the wideout would circle behind the quarterback and Green would slip Holmes the ball before the wideout got there, Holmes found a confused bunch of Patriots who could do nothing at all to stop it. Holes opened up everywhere for Holmes, up the middle as well as off the tackles. In fairness to the Patriots, things might have been different had Tedi Bruschi and Roman Phifer not both been scratches for the game. Ted Johnson, the team's best run-stuffing linebacker, led the team with eight tackles and five assists, but really could not put the clamps on Holmes like he has been known to do with other great backs.

When the teams hit their stride in the fourth quarter, it was 17-17 and still a taut battle. In the final period of regulation, both teams erupted for three touchdowns. The Patriots cashed in two Chief turnovers, as rookie Daniel Graham caught his first NFL touchdown from 18 yards, and Patten hauled in a pretty 38-yard scoring toss. Smith later rumbled up the middle for a 42-yard run and a score. This should have been enough to put the Chiefs away on most any day.

But giving the Chiefs confidence early on hurt the Patriots dearly. Green found Otis Smith playing Kennison way too soft and hit him with a 15-yard scoring toss to make it 31-24 Patriots. On their next possession after the Patriots made it 38-24, the Chiefs drove 59 yards in only 1:33, capped off by a 6-yard scoring run by Holmes thanks to a crushing block by Willie Roaf.

The Chiefs finally stopped the Patriots on a three-and-out, and took over at their own 46 with 2:30 left. A 17-yard pass to Tony Gonzalez and a 12-yard pass to Dante Hall got the ball to the Patriot 9. On the final play of regulation, Holmes dove from the one to send it to the extra session.

It was evident all game long that the Patriots left their "A" game in New Jersey, especially on defense. For a team that put the clamps on men like Jerome Bettis, Amos Zereoue, Curtis Martin and Lamont Jordan thus far this season, it could be reasonably expected that the Patriots could at least have done a better job on Holmes. It was suggested that the Chiefs may have exposed a flaw in the Patriot defense, but a case can be made that had Bruschi and/or Phifer played, Holmes might not have had the day he had.

The biggest telltale sign of where the Patriots were mentally was in the huge number of penalties committed, a defining stat of the Carroll era. The Patriots were flagged 12 times for 100 yards, huge even by Carroll's standards. It is a testament to the Patriots' superior edge on paper that they were able to overcome this glaring problem and still manage to prevail.

Championship teams somehow find a way to win, and today the Patriots did just that. But one has to wonder what would have happened if the Patriots had lost the overtime coin toss. The Patriots looked no more hardy in stopping Holmes than the Chiefs did in stopping Brady.

But win they did. Lessons learned, severe test number one is out of the way.

The biggest problem for the Patriots going into San Diego next week is that they might be favored again. They need to pretend that Charger Nation thinks the Patriots still play like its 1963. Then they'll be okay.

For as the Chiefs showed everyone today, any team can win on any given Sunday.

Sigh. Here's to this writer not having to write any clichés next week.


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