Author Archives: Bob George

Gronk Showed Us the “GOAT” Status Isn’t Limited To Brady, Belichick

Bob George
March 25, 2019 at 10:25 am ET

Well, folks, he did it.  He’s calling it a career at 29.

Listening to his body, Rob Gronkowski put out a message on Instagram on Sunday saying that he is retiring from the NFL after eight seasons, all with the Super Bowl Champion Patriots.  After years and years of this surgery and that surgery, of this shortened season and that shortened season, Gronk is walking away.  One has to wonder if he will become the next biggest movie star, the next biggest YouTube sensation, the next biggest anything he puts his mind to.

But one melancholy element remains.  Gronk will never play for the Patriots again.  Gronk likes to party, but that thought is as sobering as it gets.

Kansas City fans will say Tony Gonzalez.  Charger fans will throw the name Antonio Gates into the fray.  The Cowboys will offer up former ESPN broadcaster/returning tight end Jason Witten.  Heck, Chicagoland will strike back with “Ditka!”  Other teams will throw in their entry for the tight end GOAT.

Patriot fans will yell “Gronk” loudly, strongly, and quite often.

Are they right?

Gronkowski is 104th all time in receiving yards (Gonzalez is 6th, the next tight end is Witten at 21), and is 130th in total receptions (Gonzalez is 2nd, Witten is 4th, Gates is 17th).  So by the numbers, the case is a weak one.  Gronkowski missed a lot of playing time due to injury, and he doesn’t have the longevity of the other gentlemen.

But many NFL experts not only see Gronkowski as a future Hall of Famer, they see him as a first ballot enshrinee.  If that be the case, Gronk enters some very rarefied air, some very select company, and this might help support a ground swell to make him the tight end GOAT.

Gronk is not yet 30.  Only two other former NFL players became first ballot Hall of Famers without ever playing a game into their 30s.  The other two players?  Jim Brown and Gale Sayers.  That right there has to put Gronk in the discussion.

Numbers aside, when healthy, who was Tom Brady’s number one go-to guy over the last two decades?

Troy Brown?  Wes Welker?  Julian Edelman?

Or was it Gronk?

If Gronkowski does indeed become the tight end GOAT in the eyes of the majority of NFL experts, it will have to be based on subjective analysis, not stats-based.  The stats don’t support him.  But watching him play either does, or perhaps does.

Gronkowski was the guy who could always get you that first down.  He could do it even being held by one defender.  Sometimes being held by two defenders.

His athleticism for a guy his size is freakish.  He could physically do things a guy his size can’t normally do.  He was strong, fast and quick.  He had great hands, one of the best pair of hands of the present day and the past decade.  He could make wideout-type circus catches.  He was uncoverable.  He was a matchup nightmare.  He would eat linebackers all day long.  Just listen to Scott Zolak during Super Bowl XLIX:  “A linebacker?  In man-to-man coverage?  All day long, baby!”

Then there’s his blocking skills.  How often do you hear the praises of the blocking skills of Gonzalez, Gates and Witten being extolled?  If you do, go ahead and tweet your claim.  Gronk was one of the best, if not the best, blocking tight end of his day.  And that goes along with all the aforementioned skills he has become legend over.

What the Patriots will miss most is his clutch.  His final catch as a Patriot encapsulates the clutch element of Gronk perfectly.

It was a lob pass down the left seam late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIII.  It went for 29 yards and it put the Patriots at the Rams’ 2-yard line, first and goal.  Sony Michel scored the game’s only touchdown on the next play.

The Last Catch.  Brady laid it in there, as perfectly as the GOAT quarterback usually does.  Gronk had linebacker Cory Littleton draped all over him (but not holding him).  Brady’s pass was pinpoint perfect.  Gronk extended his arms, caught the ball, then fell perfectly so as not to fumble or to have the catch overturned on replay as “not finished”.  The catch set up the first Red Zone play of the game for either team, with 7:03 left in the contest.  In what was the tightest defensive struggle in Super Bowl history, the Last Catch will probably go down as Gronk’s greatest.

The Last Catch is what Joe Average NFL Expert, one with no ties to New England, should look at as Exhibit 1 of why Gronk should be the tight end GOAT.  No, he can’t match Gonzalez, Gates or Witten on numbers.  But Gronk has three Super Bowl rings, three more than any of those gentlemen combined.  Call that Exhibit 2.  Or 1A.

Exhibits 3 through 521 (his career catch total) should cast a better light on Gronkowski.  What we have borne witness to these last eight years has been tight end masterpieces.  Great catch after great catch.  Miraculous catch after miraculous catch.  Clutch catch after clutch catch.  On and on.  You’ve seen them all.  And you’ve loved every one of them.

Replacing Gronk will be impossible.  Had Aaron Hernandez not made some tragic life choices, he might still be around.  The last previous “great” tight end was Ben Coates.  He was replaced.  Someone will come in and play tight end for the Patriots.  But replace Gronk?  Uh-uh.

The Patriots have been blessed with terrific players over the last 20 years.  Ty Law will head for Canton this summer.  Five years from now, Gronk probably will also.

And you the Patriot fan will head there, cheer your heart out for him when he gets his bust, and reflect on his greatness, something you’ve enjoyed so much since 2011.

But you need to calcify what you know.  This is not the last time this next sentence will be typed, allowing for name substitution.

You will never, ever, see a player like Rob Gronkowski ever again.

Historic Defensive Performance For Super Patriots

Bob George
February 4, 2019 at 1:47 am ET

ATLANTA – Eleven years ago, the Patriots missed by one game beating Miami at one of the NFL’s most venerable records.

At Super Bowl LIII, the Patriot defense saluted the Dolphins in quite another way.

In one of the most impressive and historic defensive performances in recent NFL history, the Patriots tied the Dallas Cowboys in allowing the fewest points by an opponent in Super Bowl history.  Way back in Super Bowl VI, the Cowboys held the Miami Dolphins to only a field goal in a 24-3 win.  47 years later, the Patriots held the Los Angeles Rams to only a field goal, never allowing Todd Gurley to take over the game and pressuring Jared Goff all game long.

But most important, the Patriots tied the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most wins in Super Bowl history.  A tight defensive struggle was finally broken up in the fourth quarter, as a late touchdown by Sony Michel and a late field goal by Stephen Gostkowski helped the Patriots to a 13-3 win Sunday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.  The Patriots win their sixth Super Bowl, the 12th title for a New England team since Y2K, and the win firmly established the Patriots as the dominant team of this millennium, and this run by the Patriots the greatest dynasty in NFL history.

Even more important, this game may have turned an important corner in the career of Julian Edelman.  The stout slot receiver for the Patriots caught ten passes for 141 yards, and earned a richly deserved Super Bowl MVP honors.  Moreover, Edelman is now being mentioned as possible Hall of Fame material, along with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Bob Kraft.  Ty Law got into Canton on Saturday, and Edelman is now beginning to receive that kind of love from NFL observers.  And given how clutch he is in postseason games, you have to pause and think about it.

The 13-3 final score represents the lowest combined point total in Super Bowl history.  Both defenses came to play, which makes Edelman’s night even more impressive.  Michel came on late to almost eclipse the 100-yard mark rushing again (he finished with 94 yards rushing on 18 carries).  Rob Gronkowski, in what may have been his last game in the NFL, chipped in with six catches for 87 yards.  Rex Burkhead also contributed late, with 43 yards on seven carries.  Brady was 21 of 35 for 262 yards, an interception and a 71.4 rating.  Edelman outshone them all, and his MVP is beyond debate.

Despite the great game by Edelman, the Patriots won thanks to their defense.  The Patriots’ first two drives ended in an interception and a missed field goal, yet the Rams were totally unable to take advantage of those miscues.  The Rams’ deepest penetration was the Patriot 26.  Their only score came on a 53-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein in the third quarter which tied the game at 3-3 at the time.

The fourth quarter was all Patriots, and they put the game away with a championship sequence that was both offensively and defensively wonderful to watch.

The Rams began the fourth quarter beginning at their own 7.  Nine plays later, they made it only to their 30, after Gurley was stopped for a one-yard loss on third and 22.  The Patriots got the ball at their own 31 after a Johnny Hekker punt (Hekker had an incredible nine punts in this game, including a 65-yarder which was the longest punt in Super Bowl history).

Brady then finally became Brady, for at least one series.  He hit Gronkowski for 18 yards on a nice right sideline lob toss, then hit Edelman for 13 yards over the middle.  After a seven-yard run by Burkhead, Brady flipped a beautiful lob pass to the left side, right into the arms of Gronkowski to the Rams’ 2.  The pass was lofted perfectly over the head of Cory Littleton and into the arms of Gronk.  On the next play, Michel plowed in from two yards out behind a perfect James Develin block.

Time for the defense to put its rubber stamp on this game.  Goff took over at the 25 and finally found a rhythm, hitting former Patriot Brandin Cooks for 19, Josh Reynolds for 11 and Robert Woods for 17.  But on second and ten at the Patriot 27, Goff hurried a throw to the end zone, underthrew the ball and Stephon Gilmore made the pick in front of his former teammate Cooks.  The Patriots put the game away with 26-yard runs by Michel and Burkhead, bleeding the Rams dry of timeouts, and a clinching field goal by Gostkowski from 41 yards out to ice it.

The Rams got the ball back down two scores with 1:12 left, and drove to the Patriot 30.  With eight seconds left, Sean McVay opted for a field goal, but Zuerlein yanked a 48-yard attempt wide left and victory belonged to the Patriots.

Tuesday’s Duck Boat parade will be the 12th such parade since 2002, and will certainly be just as sweet as all the others.  But in this case, absent of any controversies, this one also has to rank right up there on the sweetness scale.  The Patriots were 3-5 in road games this year, and got pasted early on by Jacksonville and Detroit on the road.  Yet they finished with a blowout win at home against the Chargers, then an epic win at Kansas City to get here, and then holding the powerful Rams to just three points.  The Patriots did their jobs in reducing Goff and Gurley to non-factors.  This effort tops the previous two playoff wins, and ranks among the finest defensive performances in Patriot history, if not the finest.

More than ever, the old adage “it’s not how you start, but how you finish” applies here.  The 2001 Patriots, who also beat the Rams in the Super Bowl, also finished the regular season 11-5.  So did these Patriots.  This finish by what many experts wrote off as not one of the stronger Patriot teams in recent history might make this one just as sweet as the one two years ago.  The Rams were held to only 260 total yards.  Gurley had only 35 yards rushing, Goff had only 229 yards passing and a rating of 57.9.  That is the stuff of legend, simply put.

The Patriots and their fans will celebrate way into the night, and come out in droves to see still another parade on Tuesday.  It’s a tradition around here that never gets old.  National pundits can say what they want about being sick of the Patriots winning again.  Around here, such talk goes in one ear and out the other.  You never get tired of it, and you hope it lasts forever.

Champions again.  Sixth time.  Only three points given up.  It really is time to party, Patriot Nation.

Running Game Key To Patriots Super Victory

Bob George
February 2, 2019 at 8:07 pm ET

ATLANTA – Super Bowl hype is all the same.  Let’s just play the game.

Super Bowl LIII has been sliced, diced, dissected, looked at under a microscope, you name it.  The Patriots will win because of this.  The Los Angeles Rams will win because of that.  Bets are being made on everything from what the first score will be to what the first song will be during the halftime show.

By now, it’s time to declare that enough is enough.  The famous old Boston bartender, Mike McGreevey, had it down pat:  “Nuf ced!”

Nuf’ said.  Time to play football.

The Patriots and Rams will meet for the second time in the Super Bowl.  Seventeen years ago, the Patriots launched their dynasty with an upset win for the ages.  Adam Vinatieri’s walkoff 48-yard field goal gave the Patriots a 20-17 win despite being 14 to 17-point underdogs.  This time, the Patriots are 2.5-point favorites and nowhere near the dogs they were in 2001.

But they face a strong Rams team, one that was for a while the top seed in the NFC until the New Orleans Saints jumped ahead of them late in the season.  Both the Rams and Patriots got to this game with memorable wins over the respective conference top playoff seeds on the road.  The Patriots benefitted from a critical offsides call and a fortuitous coin toss call to beat the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead, 37-31 in overtime.  Meanwhile, the Rams were the benefactor of a blatant non-call of pass interference (and other things) against cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman (although New Orleans had chances to win in regulation and overtime), and a 57-yard walkoff field goal by Greg Zuerlein gave the Rams a 26-23 overtime win at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Now, both teams are here in Atlanta.  Both teams have completed their practices.  Both teams are ready for Sunday night’s 6:30 PM EST kickoff at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

And for the Patriots, it basically comes down to one of the most time-honored clichés in the history of the NFL.

Run the ball.  Stop the run.

If the Patriots can do both, they win the game.

First of all, the Patriots have been showing a propensity for the run not seen since the days of Craig James and Tony Collins.  You can go back further and bring up Sam (Bam) Cunningham, Andy Johnson and Don Calhoun.  The 1978 Patriots still hold the NFL record for most team yards rushing in a season.  In 1985, turnovers helped a great deal, but James gaining 100-plus yards in playoff games made up for the anemic passing yards put up by Tony Eason as the Patriots won three road postseason games on their way to Super Bowl XX.

This year, the Patriots have been featuring rookie Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and James White out of the backfield.  Add to that the blocking skills of fullback James Develin, who is making all of Patriot Nation forget about Sam Gash, and the Patriot running game is the real deal.

The benefits of establishing the run against the Rams is obvious.  You run clock and keep Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and all the Rams’ offense off the field, much like the offenses of the Los Angeles Chargers and the Chiefs in the previous playoff games.  A potent run game opens up the passing game for Tom Brady, especially in play action.  Any way to take physical pressure off Brady, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski helps the Patriots.

Michel has gained over 100 yards rushing in his first two playoff games.  Burkhead was the power back down the stretch and scored two key touchdowns at Kansas City, one of them the overtime game-winner.  White is a proven Super Bowl commodity who can catch passes and provide third down flexibility, either by rushing or receiving.  White was a first down machine two weeks ago at Kansas City, with his first six touches resulting in first downs for the Patriots.

The key man here is probably Michel.  If he can squirt through the line and move the chains, and be around 60-80 yards rushing by halftime, the Patriots will take that and might likely be ahead at the time.

That is, assuming someone named Gurley doesn’t gash the Patriots.

Bill Belichick will take one key offensive player out of the game for the Rams.  That one player will likely be Gurley, or C.J. Anderson if Gurley is either less than one hundred percent or simply ineffective.  But Gurley, with apologies to Goff, is the most dangerous offensive player the Rams have.  Goff is young, the Patriots know Cooks, and the Rams’ tight ends will never be confused with Gronk.  Gurley is the key.

Gurley, who like Michel is a former Bulldog from the University of Georgia, is a dangerous threat out of the backfield in both rushing and receiving.  He is the top draft pick in many fantasy leagues across the country.  He alone can take over a game for the Rams and dictate how Belichick and Brian Flores run the defensive side of the ball.

If the Patriots can sell out and stop Gurley, or Denver castoff Anderson, they believe they can stop Goff and the Rams passing game, or else hold it down so that it doesn’t turn out to be problematic.  Cooks, who spent last season as a Patriot, is fast but brittle, and can be taken out of the game by a physical cornerback.  If Stephon Gilmore draws Cooks in coverage, for example, that won’t be a problem.  If Woods gets the better of J.C. Jackson (assuming Jackson isn’t called for a ton of holding or interference calls), the Patriots will have to adjust like they did against Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX.  In that game, Chris Matthews was torching Kyle Arrington, but all that stopped when they put Brandon Browner on him in the second half.  Belichick will be ready for such adjustments, assuming no defensive back gets benched for this game.

So if the Patriots can get a big game from Michel, and a big stop on Gurley, chances are that duck boats will be needed (again) next week.  The fleet was broken out on Halloween to celebrate another Boston area conquest over a Los Angeles team.  It can happen again

If the Patriots run the ball and stop the run.  It’s a cliché that, for the Patriots, can have super consequences.

Beat L.A. Now Patriots Rally Cry

Bob George
January 22, 2019 at 10:44 am ET

May 23, 1982.  The day that it began.

It was a gloomy, overcast Sunday afternoon in Boston.  At the old Boston Garden, the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers were playing Game 7 of the 1982 NBA East Finals.  It was just like the previous year, in 1981.  The Sixers ran to a 3-1 games lead in the East Finals, but the Celtics won Game 5 at home and Game 6 at the Spectrum to force the seventh game at home on a Sunday.

In 1981, Larry Bird’s clutch shooting and a smothering team defense helped pull out a 91-90 win to send the Celtics to the NBA Finals, which they won in six games over the Houston Rockets.  1982 proved to be totally different.  Andrew Toney hit on 14 of 23 from the field for 34 points, UMass’ Julius Erving chipped in with 29 points, the Sixers won every quarter and advanced to the NBA Finals with a convincing 120-106 win.

With about five minutes left in the game, and the outcome decided, something strange happened at the Garden.  The fans could be heard chanting “Beat L.A.!  Beat L.A.!  Beat L.A.!”  In a show of tremendous sportsmanship, the Celtic fans uplifted the visiting Sixers in hopes they would beat the Lakers in the finals.  The broadcasters for CBS, Dick Stockton and Bill Russell, picked up on it and applauded the crowd for being such good sports.

For the record, the Lakers won the title in six games, so the chants didn’t work that year.

Two years later, the Celtics and Lakers staged an NBA Finals for the ages.  It went the seven-game limit, with the Celtics winning Game 7 at steamy hot Boston Garden, 111-102.  All throughout the series, Garden fans kept bellowing “Beat L.A.!  Beat L.A.!  Beat L.A.!”  The following year, the chants came back as these two teams once again battled for the NBA title, but in 1985 the Lakers won the championship with a clinching Game 6 win in Boston.  Two years later, the chants returned, but the 1987 Lakers took the Celtics in six games, winning the clincher out in the LA Forum.

It took nineteen years, but the chant finally returned in 2008.  Everyone in the region celebrated the return of the Celtics and Lakers to the NBA Finals, calling it “just like old times!”  The Celtics won it all in six games, culminating in a 131-92 demolition of the Lakers in the clincher.  Two years later it came back again, but the Lakers took the Celtics in seven games, clinching out west at the Staples Center.

The chant went dormant for eight years, but it came back.  Just not at the Boston Garden, or the TD Garden, but rather at Fenway Park.

Last fall, the Red Sox and Dodgers hooked up in the 2018 World Series.  Games 1 and 2 were at Fenway, and all throughout the games you could hear the “Beat L.A.!  Beat L.A.!  Beat L.A.!” chants.  The Sox won the series in five games, clinching out at Dodger Stadium, but hearing the old Celtic chant at a different venue was delightfully different and fun to listen to.

Now, a little over three months later, the chant gets to come back.  It’s too bad that it won’t be at Gillette Stadium, but rather at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in two weeks, as well as various sports watering holes around greater Boston and all throughout New England.

The Patriots and Rams will play in Super Bowl LIII in two weeks.  Since first meeting in the Big Show seventeen years ago, the Rams left St. Louis and moved back to the second city of their existence, as well as the city still most identified with this franchise.  The Rams have now been back in Los Angeles for three seasons, and even though the local, indigenous Rams fans are still outnumbered by fans of the visiting team, thus far the Rams have been a huge hit in Los Angeles, with a palatial new stadium just a little over a year away.

And with the Rams being back in LA, it’s time for Patriot Nation to join Celtic and Red Sox fans and belt out maybe the most celebrated chant in the history of Boston sports:

“Beat L.A.!  Beat L.A.!  Beat L.A.!” 

The nice thing about this time to bring back the chant is that it’s quite possible that much, if not most, of the nation might be on the side of the Patriots.  Even though the USA in general is sick of the Patriots returning for still another Super Bowl, the nation might be more upset at the Rams thanks to the penalty that wasn’t called on Nickell Robey-Coleman for clobbering Tommylee Jones way too early as he was trying to catch a sideline pass from Drew Brees.  Suffice it to say that everyone in the Big Easy and the entire Bayou State will be huge Patriot fans over the next two weeks.  But this missed call, which the NFL office admits was a mistake, might shift the nation towards being in favor of the Patriots.

Add to that the tenuous state of local sports fans in southern California, and it’s largely possible that in two weeks in Atlanta, you might have a very pro-Patriot crowd.  And if that’s the case, you the Patriot fan who gets to go to the big game needs to hunker down with Celtics fans and learn this chant.

That’s being facetious, of course.  You already know the chant.  Yelling it with the proper passion might take a little practice, especially if you are not a basketball aficionado.

The Super Bowl won’t be at Gillette, but rather at a neutral site.  Yelling this chant in the Garden or Fenway is one thing.  But at a neutral stadium, it will be a different environment.  And if you do get a stadium filled with Rams haters or indifferent fans who are there just because of who they know or what their placement on the Forbes list of the richest Americans is, Patriot Nation has to take the lead here and teach the crowd this wonderful chant.

Therefore, when those of us who will have to watch the Super Bowl at home and can’t be there to join the Patriot throng in being de facto cheerleaders are either sitting at home or at a party watching the game on TV, we need to hear it.  We need Jim Nantz and Tony Romo to recognize it and say something, not that they will know its origins.  We need Rams Nation (if such a group of fans actually exists) to hear it.  It has to be there.  And it has to be strong.

This is a most delightfully unexpected need to chant this again.  Celtics and Red Sox fans know what to do.  Time for Patriot Nation to get their pipes ready to yell it, loud, strong and often.  It’s arguably the most famous chant in the region.

“Beat L.A.!  Beat L.A.!  Beat L.A.!”  Like we said, just like old times.  It’s now the Rams’ turn.

Patriots Survive Chiefs, Make Super Plans

Bob George
January 20, 2019 at 11:36 pm ET

KANSAS CITY – It was perhaps the most wonderful déjà vu in Patriot history.

Routine?  Matthew Slater called heads.  Coin came up heads.  Ballgame.  Seen this before?

The Patriots took command of the AFC Championship Game early, dominating the Kansas City Chiefs early on on Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium.  But a foolish end zone interception by Tom Brady kept the Chiefs in the game, and in the end the teams had a fourth quarter for the ages.  Young Patrick Mahomes and Brady acted like gunslingers, and the game predictably went to overtime.

Slater called the coin toss right, just like in Super Bowl LI.  Brady took the Patriots down the field, like two seasons ago in Houston.  With some incredible third down conversions along the way, Rex Burkhead (not James White) ran it in from two yards out four minutes and fifty seconds into overtime, giving the Patriots a 37-31 win and the right to face the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII in two weeks.

The Patriots head to their third straight Super Bowl, and fourth in the last five years.  Despite losing the turnover battle, you the Patriot fan never really thought the game was lost.  Your pulse might have quickened during the fourth quarter and overtime, but you never lost faith.  That is because you have seen this before, many times.

Brady is the type of player who can shake off two interceptions and still have enough to deliver a garrison finish.  Brady led the Patriots to touchdowns on their last three drives that didn’t include a kneeldown.  He was able to find his receivers with regularity, and despite some bumps along the way, was able to defeat a tough home opponent in one of the hardest places for a road team to win in the NFL.

Before we go any further, major props have to go out to the next great star of the NFL, Patrick Mahomes.  Ten to fifteen years from now, one might be talking about Mahomes like they talk about Brady now, or at least somewhat in that context.  Despite completing less than 50% of his passes at the end of the game, he did manage to rally his team from down 14-0 and 17-7 to make the game a classic in the fourth quarter.  He ended up with three touchdown passes, two more than Brady, and the only reason he didn’t wind up in the winner’s circle is that he never got to touch the ball in overtime.

The Patriots broke out of the box and dominated early.  They took the opening kickoff and did exactly what they had to do.  Brady led the Patriots on a 15-play, 80-yard drive that consumed nearly seven minutes, with Sony Michel finishing it off with a one-yard touchdown run.  The Patriots got the ball back six plays later and once again made with the ball control, driving from the Chiefs 44 to the one-yard line, and we’re now into the second quarter.

On the verge of putting the Chiefs down and shutting up the crowd early, Brady made an uncharacteristic mistake.  On the third play of the second quarter, facing third down and goal at the Kansas City one, Brady play faked to Michel and tried to hit Rob Gronkowski with a lob pass in the end zone.  He underthrew the ball and it went right to linebacker Reggie Ragland.

Give the Patriots credit.  The interception wound up being benign other than holding down the score.  Following a 29-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Philip Dorsett in the final minute of the first half, the Patriots went into intermission up 14-0.  This was the first time a Chiefs team coached by Andy Reid was shut out at home in the first half.

Mahomes started right in on the Patriots just after halftime.  On the third play of the third quarter, Mahomes hit Sammy Watkins for a 54-yard bomb after he ran by Stephon Gilmore.  One play later, Mahomes hit Travis Kelce on a slant route to make it 14-7.  The Patriots were able to notch a 47-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski to end the third quarter up 17-7, but Mahomes was full of confidence and seemed primed to stand toe to toe with Brady the rest of the way.

The fourth quarter will go down as one of the most exciting quarters in recent NFL postseason memory.  On the second play of the quarter, following a 33-yard dump pass from Mahomes to Damien Williams (the replacement for the disgraced Kareem Hunt), Mahomes found Williams from one yard out to make it 17-14 Patriots.  The Patriots got the ball back and drove from their 24 to the Kansas City 25, and faced fourth down and less than a foot.  Rather than kick a safe field goal, Bill Belichick went for it and Burkhead was stuffed for no gain.

The Patriots held the Chiefs three and out, and Dustin Colquitt punted to Julian Edelman.  The ball bounced in front of Edelman, then he went to pick it up and appeared to muff the punt.  The Chiefs recovered the muff, but after replay referee Clete Blakeman ruled that Edelman didn’t touch the ball as it skipped by him, something Edelman contended immediately.  The Patriots received a lucky break as they kept the ball at their own 28.

But two plays later, the Patriots gave the ball back.  Brady tried to hit Edelman in the left flat, and the high pass deflected off Edelman’s fingertips and into the arms of linebacker Daniel Sorensen.  On second down, Mahomes hit Williams with a screen pass to the left, the entire Patriot defense bit right, and Williams had a 23-yard touchdown pass and the Chiefs led for the first time, 21-17.

But back came the Patriots.  75 yards and ten plays later, Michel ran it in from ten yards out to put the visitors up again, 24-21.  But Mahomes led the Chiefs back on the next drive, parlaying two iffy penalties on J.C. Jackson and a 38-yard bomb to Watkins into a two-yard run by Williams to make it 28-24 Chiefs.

The Patriots likely let Williams score.  They got the ball back with 2:04 left, and Brady had all three timeouts.  He used up all but 39 seconds, hitting Edelman and Gronkowski for 25 yards each, and Burkhead finished it with a 4-yard touchdown to put the Patriots back up, 31-28.

39 seconds was enough for Mahomes, even with one timeout.  He hit Spencer Ware for 21 yards, then Demarcus Robinson for 27 yards, the first catch of the night for both men.  On second down and ten at the Patriot 21, with 11 seconds left, Reid opted right then to go for the tying field goal.  Harrison Butker nailed the 39-yard field goal to send the game to overtime.

If you liked the overtime of Super Bowl LI, this one was much more difficult and much more stressful to watch.  Three times Brady faced third and ten, and three times he converted.  At the Patriot 35, he hit Edelman over the middle for 20 yards.  At the Kansas City 45, he hit Edelman again on a crossing route for 15 yards.  At the Kansas City 30, he hit Gronkowski for 15 yards.  Perched at the Chiefs’ 15, Burkhead covered the final 15 yards on three carries, for ten, three and two yards for the win.

Brady finished 30 of 46 for 348 yards, one touchdown and two picks.  Edelman led the team with 96 yards on seven catches.  Despite Burkhead having the fourth quarter of his life, Michel finished with 113 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

The Patriots now get a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI with the Rams, who beat the New Orleans Saints in overtime at the Superdome, 23-20 on a walkoff 57-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein.  The Saints were victimized by a horrid non-call of either pass interference or a personal foul on Nickell Robey-Coleman, after he slammed into New Orleans wideout Tommylee Lewis before the ball arrived late in regulation.  Sean Payton fumed in his postgame presser after the NFL admitted the official blew the call.  But it’s still the Rams and the Patriots in two weeks.

The Patriots opened as one-point dogs, but shortly thereafter they went up to 1 ½-point favorites.  It should be a great game, perhaps as thrilling as their first matchup 17 years ago.

The Patriots won only for the second time ever at Arrowhead Stadium, and it took overtime and a gargantuan effort by Brady to pull it off.  It is a well-deserved AFC Championship for the Patriots, albeit “still another one” for the dominant NFL franchise.

And the Patriots should always keep a roster spot for Slater, even after he cannot play anymore.  Oh, those correct coin toss calls.  Money.

Kraft Anniversary Historic Event For Patriots

Bob George
January 19, 2019 at 10:05 pm ET

KANSAS CITY – To fully appreciate the Patriots, you have to know the entire history.  All 58 years.

For all of you who only know the Patriots as a Super Bowl machine, you need to crack your books.  Just now joining the “must read” club is The Pats, a new book by Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson.  These are the same guys who about 15 years ago penned the classic Red Sox Century, a terrific look back at the Olde Towne Team, featuring a provocative different look at Babe Ruth’s departure from the Red Sox in 1920.  If you recall, several updates of that book had to be released, as the Red Sox broke The Curse just after the original was released, and like the movie Fever Pitch, the ending suddenly had to be re-written.

In The Pats, Stout and Johnson divide Patriot history into two distinct segments:  Before Parcells and After Parcells.  Many fans may not agree, but rather the line of demarcation should be Before Kraft and After Kraft.  Others may have different opinions.

Monday, January 21st marks the 25th anniversary of Robert Kraft, who at the time owned Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxborough Stadium, purchasing the Patriots from James Busch Orthwein.  Fearful that Orthwein would move the Patriots to his hometown of St. Louis, Kraft used his ownership of the stadium and the lease he made the Patriots sign as leverage to buy the team.  He paid $172 million for the team, stupid money at the time which sent his late wife Myra into a fit of anger.  Today, according to the Boston Globe, the Patriots are the sixth richest sports franchise in the world, worth $3.8 billion according to Forbes magazine.

This might raise the question:  Was Kraft’s purchase of the Patriots the seminal moment in team history?

Rather than answer that question from the typewriter of just one person, let’s instead throw several candidates for this honor at you, and let you the reader decide.

January 21, 1993 – Bill Parcells hired as Patriots head coach

At the time, the Patriots were the worst they have ever been in their history.  The only other time period that compares is 1967 to 1973, where the Patriots won a total of 28 games, an average of four wins a season.  It began with the disastrous switch of head coaches from Mike Holovak to the erratic Clive Rush, and ended with the advent of the Chuck Fairbanks era.  But the early 1990s was a Patriot black hole, make no mistake.

From 1990 to 1992, the Patriots won a grand total of 9 games, an average of three per season.  And unlike the previous seven-year dark age era which was based on a 14-game season, this dark ages era was played with 16-game schedules.  The Patriot win percentage in these three years was .188.  One year of former defensive coordinator Rod Rust, then two years of former UMass head coach Dick MacPherson.  Patriot football was simply putrid.  Awful.  Ugly.  Make that dawg-ugly.

Then, as if out of the blue, comes this two-time Super Bowl champion head coach, back from a three-year hiatus for health reasons.  Orthwein hired Parcells and gave him the keys to the car.  All football decisions were his and his alone.  He wouldn’t have coached here if he didn’t have that power.  We’ll get back to that power in a bit.

Parcells lasted four seasons, took his team to the playoffs twice, and wound up taking them to Super Bowl XXXI.  But most of all, he put the Patriots on the NFL map.  The Patriots became a somebody after three decades of being a nobody (save for perhaps the 1976 and 1985 seasons).  Even after Pete Carroll succeeded him, the Patriots have been a somebody.  The riches would wait just a few more years.  But it all started with The Tuna.  From that moment on, being a Patriot fan was permanently different.

January 21, 1994 – Bob Kraft purchases the Patriots from James Orthwein

Exactly one year after Parcells was announced as the new Patriot head coach, Orthwein had to attend another major press conference.

Kraft, owner of the stadium, as well as CEO of Rand-Whitney, a major paper corporation in the region, purchased the Patriots and thus ensured that the team would remain in New England and not move to St. Louis.  The move at the time was hailed by all Patriot fans, who were genuinely scared that the Patriots were heading to the Gateway Arch, and the new indoor football palace they were building.  St. Louis would eventually get the Rams for a few years.  The Patriots are still in Foxborough, thanks to Kraft and his incredible vision of just about everything.

Kraft had to go through a learning curve.  He turned into a meddling owner, never got along with Parcells, hired Bobby Grier to handle the personnel, overruled Parcells in the 1996 draft by taking Terry Glenn over a defensive stud Parcells wanted, and eventually watched Parcells move to New York to take over the Jets.  The Carroll years were painful for Kraft.  He watched the Jets turn into a playoff team, all the while stealing Curtis Martin from the Patriots with a free agent offer that is now illegal, and he watched Grier botch draft after draft with mostly horrible picks that busted.

Today, Kraft is perhaps the most powerful and influential owner in the NFL.  Himself worth billions (he is tied with five other people, one of them fashion icon Ralph Lauren, as the 281st richest person in the world at $6.2 billion), his Patriots continue to establish the greatest single dynasty in the history of the NFL.  31 playoff wins, ten Super Bowls, five Super Bowl wins, a palatial stadium and surroundings, all of this thanks to the man who torqued off his wife when he overpaid to buy this team 25 years ago.

January 28, 2000 – Bill Belichick hired as Patriots head coach

“I resign as HC of the NYJ.”

No wonder Bill Belichick hates press conferences.  He probably still remembers his final presser with the Jets with as much fondness as he does when someone asks him if the Patriot quarterback position will be re-evaluated.  Belichick scribbled that anything-but-eloquent note on a piece of paper and handed it to Jet president Steve Gutman.  Eventually, Parcells and Kraft brokered a deal where Belichick would come to the Patriots as head coach in return for a 2000 first round pick (and several other lower picks).

In greater Boston, where this trade is concerned, it eventually cancelled out the awful Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater trade of 1972.  Go ask older Red Sox fans to explain that one to you.  It’s a perfect comparison, trust me.

Belichick is now widely held as the greatest head coach in NFL history.  This includes such immortals as George Halas, Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll, Tom Landry, Bill Walsh and Don Shula.  Those ten Super Bowls and five wins are all on his watch.  The only record Belichick still might need to go after is Lombardi having a better win percentage in the postseason.  But that’s about it.  He has survived two football scandals to remain at the pinnacle of NFL head coaches.

This team once had Phil Bengston, John Mazur, Ron Meyer, Rust and Rush as head coaches.  Belichick alone cancels all of them out completely.  In the long continuum of history, how fortunate Patriot Nation was to have been gifted with such a great head coach.  The Celtics had Red Auerbach, but Belichick probably tops him too.

September 23, 2001 – Mo Lewis slams into Drew Bledsoe, knocking him out of the game, and Tom Brady replaces Bledsoe at quarterback

Many people think this one gets the nod as most seminal moment.  Read the rest of the article and think a bit.  But this one deserves all the historical props that it gets.

The previous year, on April 16, 2000, the Patriots selected quarterback Tom Brady out of Michigan in the sixth round (the 199th pick) of the draft.  ESPN went so far as to make an hour-long documentary of this draft, calling it The Brady Six, referring to the six quarterbacks taken in the 2000 draft before Brady.  By the way, the six are Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger and Spergon Wynn.  In that show, Brady broke down in tears when he recalled that day, thinking he would go undrafted.

When he showed up at Patriot camp, he went right to Kraft, introduced himself and said, “I’m the best choice you will ever make!”  Still, Brady needed a break to get in the lineup and supplant the franchise quarterback at the time, Drew Bledsoe.  Lewis’ hit provided that break, although Bledsoe played one more series before some prescient doctor took him out and ordered him to the emergency room at MGH.  Bledsoe had a collapsed lung and was bleeding internally, and he was very lucky to not have died that night.

Brady took over, lost that game to the Jets 10-3, then took off on a career where he, like Belichick, is now being called the best ever.  Not just best ever quarterback, best ever player in NFL history.  He owns a litany of regular season and postseason passing records too long to list here.  He is a four-time Super Bowl MVP and five-time champ.  And at 41, he shows no signs of slowing down.  You may still wish Jimmy Garoppolo was here, but Brady has truly done nothing to make you regret that trade.

January 19, 2002 – Referee Walt Coleman overturns call of fumble on field during home playoff game versus Oakland, rules incomplete pass instead

Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2.

This previously obscure rule launched what is now known as the Patriot dynasty.  It is anecdotally referred to as the “Tuck Rule”.  Late in the fourth quarter of the 2001 Divisional playoff, played in a blizzard in what became the last game ever at Foxborough Stadium, the Patriots, trailing 13-10, were driving towards a tying field goal.  Near midfield, former Michigan chum Charles Woodson came on a safety blitz and knocked the ball out of Brady’s hand, just as his arm was going forward but just before he tucked it away into his chest.  Greg Biekert fell on the loose ball, and the Raiders had a won game.

But it being a turnover in the last two minutes of a half, Coleman had to review it.  Coleman saw the play and uttered a cuss word.  He then later came out and said, “After further review, the quarterback’s arm was going forward…” and the crowd went bananas.  The Raiders lost their composure and never recovered.  What they thought was a sure win turned into an overtime loss.  A few plays later, Adam Vinatieri began his trek to Canton with an impossible line drive 45-yard field goal to tie the game, then won the game in overtime with a much easier 23-yard field goal.

The tuck rule has since been rescinded.  But one has to wonder how things would have turned out for the Patriots had the Raiders won the game.  Instead, in wonderful payback for that bad call in 1976 involving the Patriots against Oakland, the Patriots went on to win Super Bowl XXXVI that year, and four more since down and through the years.

There’s our candidates for the most seminal moment in Patriot history.  Sit back, ponder, and decide.

Or, let’s see if the Patriots can win two more games this winter.  Then decide again.

Patriots Up Against It In Hostile Kansas City

Bob George
January 16, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

All week long, you might listen to Patriot fans and think the game this weekend is in Denver and not Kansas City.

Recently, the Patriots have learned how to win in the Mile High City.  But a check of the history books tells you that life for the Patriots is much worse some 565 miles to the east on I-70.

The Patriots will have to travel to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday to take on the top seeded Kansas City Chiefs in the 2018 AFC Championship Game.  Chiefs fans are among the most loud, rabid and inspired fans in the NFL.  The fans make for one of the more hostile environments for a visiting team to have to withstand.

And the Patriots are among the most vulnerable opponents that come to this place.

Even though the Patriots won the tiebreaker with Kansas City by virtue of a 43-40 win at Gillette Stadium in Week 6, the Chiefs got the top seed thanks to a 12-4 record with the Patriots finishing only 11-5.  The Patriots took care of the other 12-4 team handily on Sunday, defeating the Los Angeles Chargers 41-28 on Sunday in the Divisional round.  The other 12-4 team is now on deck.

But the game will be at Arrowhead Stadium, and not Gillette Stadium.  Arrowhead has been around for quite some time, built back in 1972.  It is the fifth oldest stadium in the NFL.  It is known for its loud crowds, and the Patriots have some dubious history in that sense.  On the Patriots’ most recent visit to Arrowhead (September 29, 2014), the crowd helped establish a record which was verified by Guinness as the loudest crowd to ever watch a game at 142.2 decibels (thanks, Wikipedia).  It remains an ominous place to play for any visiting team.

The Patriots lately don’t play on the road in the playoffs all that much.  They have not won a road playoff game since 2006 at San Diego, they have not won a road AFC title game since 2004 at Pittsburgh.  They lost at Indianapolis in 2006 and lost at Denver in 2013 and 2015.  The Patriots were 3-5 on the road in the 2018 regular season.  Having the game at Kansas City helps the Chiefs greatly.

For some weird scheduling reasons prior to the current four-division alignment, the Patriots rarely played at Arrowhead.  But when they did, the Chiefs almost always won.

Since a 31-24 win by the Boston Patriots at old Municipal Stadium in 1964, the Patriots are 1-8-1 in Kansas City, with a 1-5 record at Arrowhead.  Other than a 27-27 tie in 1966, the Patriots went from 1964 to 2004 without a win in western Missouri.  The teams played every year from 1964 to 1970, then scheduling took a weird turn.

Despite Arrowhead being built in 1972, the Patriots would wait 20 years before playing their first game in this stadium.  They first went there in 1992 and lost, 27-20.  They returned there in 1995 and lost, 31-26.  Four years later, they lost, 16-14.  That made the Patriots 0-3 all time at Arrowhead.

But in 2004, the Patriots broke through and finally won for the first time in 40 years in Kansas City.  On a Monday night game in November (on this writer’s birthday, no less), the Patriots went into Arrowhead and came away with a 27-19 win en route to a win in Super Bowl XXXIX at year’s end.  Though his name does not appear in the defensive stats, the game is most noteworthy for one of the starting cornerbacks being Earthwind Moreland, one of the several replacements for the injured Ty Law.  But the real heroes of the game for New England were Tom Brady (119.9 passer rating), Corey Dillon (98 yards rushing and two touchdowns), Deion Branch (105 receiving yards and a touchdown), and Rodney Harrison (interception of Trent Green).

They lost the next year, 26-16, which now brings us to the most recent visit there.  Oddly, it was nine years later, in 2014.  It was also the aforementioned highest decibel game ever.

This was Week 4 in 2014, and the Patriots suffered one of the more demoralizing and one-sided losses of the Brady-Belichick Era.  Jamaal Charles scored three touchdowns, and the Chiefs annihilated the Patriots, 41-14.  Most every football expert declared the Patriot dynasty over.  That season ended with the Patriots defeating the Seattle Seahawks, 28-24 in Super Bowl XLIX.  Reports of the demise of the Patriots were delightfully premature.  The Patriots have not been back to Arrowhead since.

That game is even more well known for the following week, and the most famous press conference in the life of Bill Belichick.  The phrase “We’re on to Cincinnati!” became a catch phrase, as the coach answered literally every question with that statement.  The writers relentlessly pressed the coach to explain what went wrong in the Monday night debacle.  Belichick stood his ground.  By the way, the Patriots clobbered the Bengals, 43-17. 

Feeling discouraged?  Time to cheer you up a bit.

If there is any solace as to having to return to this house of horrors for the Patriots, it should be stated that the Chiefs have more playoff baggage than the Patriots do losses in this loud place.  Not many fans might realize that this is an historic game for the Chiefs in the context of heritage and franchise legacy.

First of all, the Chiefs are hosting the first AFC Championship Game in franchise history.  This also includes the ten years they were in the AFL.  The Chiefs went to Super Bowls I and IV, and in both cases had to win on the road to get to those games.  Their 1962 AFL Championship (as the Dallas Texans) was won at Houston.  That’s 58 years, and they are now finally hosting their first conference title game.

Since winning Super Bowl IV (23-7 over the Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans), the last such game before the merger, the Chiefs have only a smattering of playoff appearances, and very few playoff wins.  The Chiefs are 5-16 in all post-merger playoff games they have been in.  At Arrowhead, they are 3-7 all-time in playoff games.  The fact that the Chiefs won Saturday against Indianapolis represents a major moment in franchise history.

In the 49 years since Super Bowl IV, the Chiefs have made the playoffs only 17 times, including this year.  The first year, 1971, featured the historic double-overtime loss to Miami in the Divisional round, the first home playoff game in team history, and the last game at old Municipal Stadium.  They would not make the playoffs for another 15 years, losing a Wild Card game to the Jets.  Their next home playoff game would wait 20 years.

1990 began the best postseason run since the Chiefs entered the NFL.  They made the playoffs in seven of eight seasons.  1993 was the pinnacle, playing in their only other AFC Championship Game until this Sunday.  But they lost at Buffalo, 30-13, as the Bills were in the middle of their four straight Super Bowl seasons.  The last two of these seven playoff seasons were the most gut wrenching, as in 1995 and 1997 they were the top playoff seed.  But they went one and done at home both times, losing 10-7 to the Colts in 1995 and 14-10 to Denver in 1997.  Marty Schottenheimer, one of the worst postseason coaches in history, was the Chiefs’ head coach for all these eight seasons.

In 2003, the Chiefs were the two seed.  And again they went one and done at home.  Under head coach Dick Vermeil, they lost to Indianapolis 38-31.

Under Andy Reid, the Chiefs are 2-4 in the postseason, including a 27-20 loss to the Patriots at Foxborough in the Divisional round of 2015.    This game marks the only previous time these two teams have ever met in the postseason.

When the Chiefs were in the AFL, they were 5-2 in the postseason (1-0 as the Dallas Texans, the 1962 AFL Championship at Houston, which also went to double overtime like the 1971 Miami playoff game) under head coach Hank (“65 toss power trap!”) Stram, and 1-1 in Super Bowls.  Suffice it to say that the AFL Chiefs did a bit better than the NFL Chiefs in the postseason.

They lost the inaugural Super Bowl to Green Bay in 1967, 35-14.  Stram vowed that the Texans/Chiefs would win more games than any other AFL team in history, and he proved correct.  But they were put down by Packer head coach Vince Lombardi after the first Super Bowl, saying that the Chiefs didn’t measure up to the better teams in the NFL.  Lombardi was alive to see the Chiefs win Super Bowl IV, but if he were alive today, he’d take the postseason record of his Packers over the Chiefs any day.

Kansas City has opened as a three-point favorite over the Patriots.  Given the Patriots’ poor record in this city and stadium, and given the Chiefs’ checkered playoff history, something has to give.  It should be an entertaining game for all football fans, and an emotional roller coaster for the fans of both teams.  Either the Patriots will become the first team since Buffalo to go to three straight Super Bowls (again, when they went to their four straight), or the Chiefs will make it back to the Big Show for the first time in 49 years.

Nothing better than dueling curses.  It helped the Red Sox against the Angels in 1986.  Let’s hope the Patriots get similar help in 2019.

Total Domination As Patriots Set Up Showdown Against Chiefs

Bob George
January 13, 2019 at 7:23 pm ET

FOXBOROUGH – It’s too bad that the Patriots took their foot off the gas pedal in the second half, or else they may have dropped 60 on the Los Angeles Chargers.

Perhaps Bill Belichick is saving some points for next week’s AFC Championship Game, and they will need all they can get against the Kansas City Chiefs on the road.  But in what was the final home game for the Patriots for the 2018 season, it was a total domination of a 13-4 team who was a perfect 9-0 in road games.  The Chargers looked totally beaten at halftime, and only because the Patriots seemed to want to relax in the second half was the score as close as it was.  The Patriots earned a trip to their eighth straight AFC Championship Game with a 41-28 win on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, leaving the Chargers frustrated and humiliated in their wake.

If the Patriots play next Sunday night like they did today, they have a chance to make it to Super Bowl LIII.  Tom Brady was surgical in the first half, Sony Michel did a lot to justify his first-round selection, Julian Edelman and James White looked like Super Bowl LI all over again, and the defense was mostly dominating except for a few long plays to Keenan Allen and going into autopilot in the second half.

The Patriots scored touchdowns on the first five drives of the game, a franchise first for a postseason game.  They scored field goals on their first two drives of the second half.  Ryan Allen did not punt until the fourth quarter.  The only drive prior to that which failed was at the end of the first half, when Phillip Dorsett failed to get out of bounds to stop the clock on fourth down, and the Patriots, with no timeouts left, could not get a field goal attempt off in time (which would have been a 49-yard attempt).

The Chargers made a comeback in the second half and wound up outscoring the Patriots 21-6, but this only served to mask the outcome.  The Patriots held a 41-14 lead with 12:23 left in the fourth quarter, and school was out.  The Patriots treaded water the rest of the way, and the game was over quick but took forever to complete.  But make no mistake, this win was all Patriots, and the Chargers, seemingly unafraid to play on the road and expected to give the Patriots a tough game, were simply obliterated in every way.

The Patriots outcoached, out-physicalled, outsmarted the Chargers.  Game plans on both sides of the ball worked perfectly.  Offensively, the Patriots mixed up the run and the pass perfectly.  Defensively, the Patriots pressured Phillip Rivers all game long, never allowed him to get into a rhythm, and even found a way to shut down the running game.

Brady was in his typical Canton-esque form, hitting on 34 of 44 passes for 343 yards, one touchdown and a passer rating of 106.5.  White tied the record set by Darren Sproles with 15 pass receptions (for 97 yards), most ever in a postseason game in NFL history.  Edelman had 151 receiving yards on nine catches, with many of those yards after the catch and some of those yards gained with sheer strength and will.  Edelman now has 98 career postseason catches, second most in NFL history behind Jerry Rice.

Ironically, Rob Gronkowski had only one catch for 25 yards.  But Gronk had a hand in the running game, and had seal blocks on two of the touchdowns scored.  Michel had a marvelous game, rushing for 129 yards on 24 carries (a 5.4-yard average), and three touchdowns.  As a team, the Patriots rushed for 155 yards and a 4.6-yard average.  This attack helped Brady greatly in the passing game, as it served to neutralize the pass rush threat from Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.  Michel will be badly needed next week at Kansas City if the Patriots are to have a chance to pull out a win there.

Defensively, the Patriots held Rivers under 50% passing, sacked him twice, and held Allen to only two catches.  Rivers was 25 of 51 passing for 331 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, and an 81.4 passer rating.  Ty Williams and Mike Williams had an aggregate ten catches for 162 yards, as they used their height (both guys are six-foot-four) to snag some difficult catches.  Allen’s two catches were a 43-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter on blown coverage by Stephon Gilmore, and a 32-yard catch in the fourth quarter which was almost a touchdown, falling a yard short of the end zone.

Rivers was able to find some yardage in the second half, as he able to throw two of his three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.  By then, the Patriots were just guarding against the big play, hoping no one got hurt, and pretty much just sat on the lead until the Chargers ran out of time.  Offensively, the Patriots did basically nothing, just some benign runs to help kill clock.

Twice the Chargers attempted onside kicks, and twice Nate Ebner covered them perfectly to help seal the win, which was really a non-issue at halftime.

By going soft in the second half, the Patriots maybe did themselves a favor looking ahead to next week at Kansas City.  The last thing Belichick would want to do is to show Andy Reid anything he can gameplan against with his team leading by more than four scores.  The first half, however, should give Reid plenty to pore through as he tries to come up with a game plan to get his Chiefs to their first Super Bowl since the 1969 season.

It’s now eight AFC Championships in a row for the Patriots, extending their current record.  When asked about that record in his postgame press conference, Belichick said that he basically didn’t care about that record or any previous Patriot team, just this current one.  He was also blunt about preparing for Kansas City, saying only that they are the top team in the conference, being the one seed, period.

We’re on to Kansas City.  When last the Patriots played at Arrowhead, all we heard was that we were on to Cincinnati.  This time, the Patriots want to say “We’re on to Atlanta.”  Or, since it’s the second game next Sunday, “We’re on to (the NFC champ).”

The Patriots will be underdogs against the Chiefs.  You want the Patriots to be dogs rather than faves anyday.  Let the anticipation begin.  It should be, and can be, a game for the ages.

After a Crazy Weekend, Patriots Are on To The Chargers

Bob George
January 7, 2019 at 8:44 am ET

Bad news for Patriot fans:  They won’t be facing the Houston Texans next week.

Good news for Patriot fans:  They won’t be facing the Baltimore Ravens, either.

The Patriots badly likely wanted the Texans next week in the Divisional Round game next Sunday at Gillette Stadium.  The Patriots have never lost to Houston at home, regular or postseason.  But the Texans showed why they were the best opponent for the Patriots Saturday at NRG Stadium, as they fell meekly to the six-seed Indianapolis Colts, 21-7.  The Colts head to Kansas City next Saturday to take on the top seeded Chiefs, and the winner of Sunday’s other Wild Card game would go to Foxborough next week.

As the road team won on Saturday, so did the road team win Sunday.  Avenging a pre-Christmas home loss, the Los Angeles Chargers went into M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and put down the Ravens, 23-17.  The Chargers jumped out to a big lead against a mistake-prone Lamar Jackson, and were able to withstand a late charge by the Ravens despite John Harbaugh’s refusal to replace Jackson with former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco.

So, instead of a team with a good history of winning at Gillette Stadium in the postseason, it’s the Chargers who come to Foxborough this Sunday.  Both the Chargers and Patriots finished the regular season 11-5, but the Patriots are the higher seed because they won their division whereas Los Angeles lost a divisional tiebreaker with Kansas City and are the five seed.

The Patriots have a better history with the Chargers, both in the regular season and the playoffs.  The Patriots are 22-14-2 against the Chargers all time, but most of the Charger wins against the Patriots came in the AFL days when the Chargers were in San Diego and the Patriots were in Boston.  The Patriots won ten straight games against the Bolts from 1973 to 2001, and the Patriots have currently won seven of the last eight meetings between the two teams, including four straight at present.

In the postseason, the Patriots are 2-1 against the Chargers, with all three games coming in different locations.

The only postseason win by the Chargers over the Patriots was a long time ago, in the 1963 AFL Championship Game at Balboa Stadium on the campus of San Diego High School.  Keith Lincoln had 329 yards from scrimmage including 206 rushing yards, two touchdowns, and the Chargers bludgeoned the Patriots, 51-10.  The 1963 Chargers sent a challenge to the then-NFL champion Chicago Bears for a one-game playoff, and told them to name the time and place and use the official NFL ball.  George Halas and the Bears denied the challenge, and there are several observers from back then who think the Chargers would have won that game and have become the New York Jets five years early.

The next postseason meeting between these teams was a 24-21 win by the Patriots at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego in 2006.  This game remains to this day the last time the Patriots won a road postseason game.  Stephen Gostkowski kicked the game-winning field goal, which helped Patriot Nation forget all about the recently departed Adam Vinatieri, for the moment.  But this game is best remembered for the fourth quarter interception of Tom Brady by Marlon McCree, but Troy Brown stripped McCree of the ball and recovered the fumble.  This led to Brady hitting Reche Caldwell for a four-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 21-21 just prior to Gostkowski’s game winner.  The Chargers were the top playoff seed in the AFC that year, and both McCree and then-head coach Marty Schottenheimer have never been able to live down this loss to this day.

The teams met the following season, as the 17-0 Patriots met the Chargers on a gloomy Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.  The Patriots earned their 18th and final victory of the season, with a 21-12 win over the injury-depleted Chargers.  Injured LaDanian Tomlinson spent most of the game sulking on the sideline wrapped in a parka, and both Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates were also nursing injuries.  The Patriots advanced to Super Bowl XLII with the win, but saw their chance at a perfect season go up in smoke in Arizona two weeks later against the Giants.

As mistake prone as the Ravens were on Sunday, the Chargers were also.  Leading 23-3 in the fourth quarter, the Chargers let the Ravens back into the game with some bad defense, allowing Jackson to get some confidence and hitting some long gainers.  Jackson hit Eric Crabtree with two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to make the game close, but the Ravens fumbled the ball four times, the last of which by Jackson late in the game sealed the issue.  The Chargers did a good job of flustering the rookie quarterback out of Louisville, but in the end Jackson never should have been in a position to snitch a win late in the game.

If the Chargers do not put away the Patriots if they have a chance next week, Brady won’t be as forgiving as Jackson and the Ravens.

The Chargers present a formidable opponent, but the Patriots perhaps stand a better chance of dealing with them than the Ravens’ defense.  The Chargers were a terrific road team in 2018, going 7-1 on the road with the only loss against the cross-town rival Rams at the Coliseum.  All year long, the San Diego expatriates played their home games at StubHub Center (since renamed Dignity Health Sports Park) in the LA suburb of Carson, the home of MLS’ Los Angeles Galaxy.  The very small stadium is a magnet for visiting fans, so their home games are also virtual road games.  Like the Ravens, the Chargers won’t be afraid to play the Patriots on the road.

But the Ravens have a history of parlaying that lack of fear into playoff wins.  The Ravens are 2-2 at Gillette Stadium in the postseason, and should have been 3-1 but for a missed chip shot field goal.  The Chargers do not have this sort of history or expectations.  Houston would still have been a better opponent.  But the Patriots instead get an opponent without a long history of postseason success, and a team still looking for its first Super Bowl win.

The biggest challenge for Bill Belichick will be how to deal with the powerful Charger defense.  Under defensive coordinator/former Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley, the Charger defense ranked ninth in the league against the run, pass and overall.  The Patriot offense will be largely healthy heading into this game, and one has to wonder if Rob Gronkowski will finally get the protective blanket taken off him and be allowed to do what he normally does.  Chances are that the Patriot rushing attack, good in recent weeks, will not be what takes the Patriots to the AFC Championship Game.

Whatever the case, the Patriots need to win, hope that the Colts upset the Chiefs out in Missouri, and then play host for still another AFC Championship Game.

In any case, it’s not Houston, but it’s not Baltimore.  One more week, and it’s playoff time once again on the Boston Post Road.

It’s ‘All Systems Go’ For the Patriots With The Postseason Up Next

Bob George
December 30, 2018 at 11:44 pm ET

FOXBOROUGH – Off year for Tom Brady and the Patriots?  Not just yet.

If this were Cape Canaveral, it’s still all systems go.  If Admiral David Farragut coached the Patriots, it’s still damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.  If Mark Twain were the Patriot head coach, he would proudly proclaim to you that all the rumours of his death are greatly exaggerated.

In other words, all is still okay with the Patriots.  Nothing has changed as January and the new year are just around the corner.

All the Patriots had to do to lock in the two seed and secure their annual first round playoff bye was to beat the 4-11 Jets at home.  That turned out to be no problem at all, as the Patriots dispatched the Jets 38-3 on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.  The Patriots finished 8-0 at home in 2018, Tom Brady completed career pass number 6,000, and Bill Belichick stuck it to his former team with a late touchdown that was delightfully unnecessary.

The Patriots went into this game still alive for the top playoff seed.  They needed both Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers to lose, but both won.  The Chiefs took care of the lowly Oakland Raiders, 35-3 at home to clinch the top playoff seed.  The Chargers went into Denver and clobbered the Broncos, 23-9.  The AFC playoff seeds are, in order, Kansas City, New England, Houston, Baltimore, Los Angeles and Indianapolis.  The Texans and Ravens, who both won on Sunday, will host Wild Card games next weekend.

What Patriot fans will most likely root for is for both home teams to win.  Houston would then come to Foxborough, and Baltimore would head for Kansas City.  The Patriots have always done well against the Texans at home in the playoffs, while Kansas City has had problems winning playoff games, especially at home, since their one and only Super Bowl win in Super Bowl IV, the last Super Bowl before the merger.  Baltimore could then come to Foxborough and the Patriots would still get the AFC Championship Game at home.  Going to Kansas City to play that game could be problematic for the Patriots, and a home date with the Ravens could also be dicey, but that discussion can wait.

The Patriots head into the postseason with few health issues, and their two gimme wins over Buffalo and the Jets went off as expected with no surprises.  Devin McCourty saw an independent neurologist during the second half of the game, with no reports at press time as to his condition.  Otherwise, the Patriots sustained no serious injuries, Brady enjoyed a comfortable day at the helm of the offense, the defense seems to be getting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and even though beating the Jets at home by five touchdowns is not a major accomplishment, the Jets did not roll over and play dead and gave the Patriots their best effort for most of the game.  But they are vastly inferior to the Patriots on paper, and Todd Bowles was predictably fired as Jet head coach later Sunday evening.

Brady’s numbers were glittering.  He finished 24 of 33 passing for 250 yards, four touchdowns, and a passer rating of 133.8.  Julian Edelman, James White, Phillip Dorsett and Rex Burkhead all caught touchdown passes.  Chris Hogan enjoyed his return to offensive relevancy with a team high six catches, while Edelman had 69 yards receiving to lead the team.

The Patriots as a team had 131 yards rushing and averaged 4.4 yards per carry.  Many of those rushes were jet sweeps, which explains why Edelman and Dorsett each had two carries and averaged ten yards per carry between them.  Sony Michel only averaged 3.6 yards per carry with 50 rushing yards.  Cordarelle Patterson missed the game due to injury.

The Patriot defense forced three fumbles, and sacked rookie quarterback Sam Darnold four times.  Darnold was held to only 167 yards passing and a 74.6 rating.  Darnold turned out to be the best running back on the Jets, as he had one scramble for 28 yards but Elijah McGuire was held to only 41 yards and a 2.3 average.

This game lacked any noteworthy moment or defining element other than Brady’s milestone pass completion and the playoff seeding ramifications.  The only portion of the game worth talking about is the final offensive possession of the fourth quarter with Brady at quarterback.  With the game seemingly secured at 31-3 about midway through the final period, the Patriots took over at the 36 after forcing a three and out by the Jets.  Brian Hoyer was expected to take over at this point, but Brady came out instead.

Two of the first three plays were double-digit rushes by Michel and Edelman, the latter a jet sweep to the left.  On third and four, Edelman ran another jet sweep left for a first down.  With the ball at the Jet 27, Burkhead ran for 8 yards, then Dorsett gained 7 yards on a bubble screen.  After an illegal shift penalty on Hogan, White took a dump pass and scampered 12 yards to the Jet 5.  Brady then faked a jet sweep to Edelman and found Dorsett all by himself in the end zone.  This drive seemed to have “HC of the NYJ” written all over it.  Hoyer should have been in at quarterback and the Patriots should have just killed clock.  Hoyer did play the rest of the game after this score.

Make no mistake, this game was all Patriots.  Nothing went wrong for the home team, and the Jets were easy prey despite not laying down and playing dead like some road non-playoff teams can do at this time of the year.  The Jets did in the end “get on the bus”, but they should be commended for playing like professionals all game long until they ran out of gas in the end.

The Patriots now take their perfunctory week off, wait for their next opponent (which will be the first game on Sunday afternoon, January 13), and let prep begin and wounds heal.  The coaches will start to pore through all film of any prospective opponent (which is anyone other than Indianapolis), and all players will nurse their owies and get physically ready for the playoffs.

The Patriots head into the playoffs as, if you may have forgotten, defending AFC Champs.  The Patriots have a shot at being the first team since Buffalo to go to three straight Super Bowls (they went to four straight).  But their immediate focus will be their Divisional opponent.  Whatever happens, the Patriots are still only two wins away from another big show.

So rest easy, Patriot Nation.  Another year, another bye week.  Party carefully Monday night, have a great 2019, and know that at One Patriot Place, all things are normal.