Brady,Edelman, Gronkowski in mid-season form as Pats move on
The Patriots are heading back to the AFC Championship Game for the fifth year in a row due in no small part to the play of their big three on offense. Tom Brady, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski all played huge roles in the Pats 27-20 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the AFC playoffs.
Tom Brady was back on top of his game on Saturday as he was able to stand and deliver the ball with authority. The return of Edelman gave him that short passing game that the Patriots have been able to use in lieu of a running game.
Brady was sharp, completing 28 of 42 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns on the day. His numbers would have been even better had not the Patriots suffered a case of the drops especially in the first half. But most importantly, Brady wasn’t sacked nor turned the ball over.
The Patriots offensive line bolstered by the return of Sebastian Vollmer did a much better job of protecting Brady than they have in the last month, allowing zero sacks and pretty much giving him a clean pocket in which to work in.
The Chiefs defense has been very opportunistic during their 11-game winning streak, with a plus 20 turnover differential. It was one of our keys to the game that the Patriots had to keep from turning the ball over in order to move on…and they did just that.
Brady moved well in the pocket and felt the pressure when he had to was able to slide in the pocket while keeping his focus downfield. He even took off on a scramble down to the one-yard line where he appeared to score. But took it over himself from the one-yard line to put the Patriots up 14-3. That drive covered 98 yards in 11 plays and was a huge boost in momentum.
Brady’s scramble to the one ignited the crowd, and drew this post-game quip from Edelman. “When the Clydesdale gets running, the crowd goes wild.”
Edelman Gronkowski Step Up: Leading into the game, a lot of the talk centered around the return of Julian Edelman and if he’d be able to present the same level of production as well as cut and plant with his foot as we’ve been accustomed to. Also, rumors swirled around Rob Gronkowski as to his health with knee and back issues and he was listed as questionable as well as Edelman coming into the game.
In our Players to Watch pre-game piece, we answered those questions, Gronkowski was in Florida during the bye week relaxing and not at the facility getting treatment and as for Edelman and the “rust” factor, look at the Pittsburgh game in Week 1 after Edelman sat out the entire preseason. He caught 11 passes for 97 yards in that one.
Edelman looked to be the exact player he was when he went down in the Patriots ninth game of the season. He caught 10 passes for 100 yards and was the most dynamic player on the field on Saturday. He was involved from the first snap and was instrumental in setting the tone from the outset as the Patriots took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards in 12 plays to go up 7-0.
Gronkowski didn’t look like a guy who was suffering from knee and back woes and was his normal nightmarish self when it came to matchups. With Edelman and Amendola back in the lineup and healthy, the Patriots went 3-4 wide receivers often, spreading out the KC defense which frequently left Gronkowski in one-on-one matchups.
The big man caught seven passes for 83 yards and two huge touchdowns on the day. His second was a beautiful fake that he and Brady worked to perfection. At the snap Edelman ran a cross and Brady glanced that way, pulling the interior defense with him leaving Gronk alone with safety Eric Berry.
Brady executed a great pump fake and Gronkowski stopped as if on a comeback route. Berry bit hard, charging up to challenge and Gronkowski rolled around him to catch Brady’s pass for a 16-yard touchdown to make the score 21-6.
Of Brady’s 42 passes on the day, 24 of them (57%), were targeted to Edelman and Gronkowski…think #12 was happy to see them back in action?
Jones Makes Key Play Then Leaves Via Injury: With all of the hoopla surrounding Chandler Jones this week, there were questions surrounding him as well and many thought he may lose playing time as a result.
Well that didn’t happen as Bill Belichick, sent Jones out with the normal starting unit of the Patriots defense and Jones had two impact plays. He logged the only sack of the game for either team when he took down Alex Smith who proved to be very elusive all game long.
But the big play was a key turning point of the game. The Chiefs took the second half kickoff and were driving; down 14-6, a field goal or a touchdown puts the Chiefs right back in the game. Knile Davis appeared to pick-up a first down at the Patriots 31-yard line but in bringing him down, Jones stripped him of the ball. The Patriots recovered and went on a 69-yard drive to go up 21-6 in another big shift in momentum.
It was a huge play not only for the Patriots but for Jones as well as quickly made fans forget about his troubles earlier in the week. He later suffered a knee injury and didn’t return. But the good sign was he remained on the bench for the remainder of the game and his status will have to be monitored during the week.
Defense Steps Up in RZ, Back on 3rd Down: It was a mixed bag for the Patriots defense on Saturday. On one hand, they held Alex Smith to just a 58 percent completion percentage as he went 29 for 50 for 246 yards. His 4.9 yards per pass play was very good as well. They also were very good in the Red Zone, holding the Chiefs to a pair of field goals and really only one meaningful touchdown.
The second score was a long-drawn out drive where the Chiefs used horrible clock management (Andy Reid specialty). When they finally did score, the game was essentially over and forced them into trying an on-sides kick with just over a minute to go.
But the defense really struggled on third down all game long, credit Smith with making plays with his feet and being able to extend them and find receivers or scramble to keep the chains moving. KC was 12 of 20 on third down, at one point in the fourth quarter being 10 of 15. Those kind of numbers won’t cut it next week, and Bill Belichick stated in his post-game comments that the team, just couldn’t get the off the field on third down.
Welcome to the Milk Carton Mr. Kelce: Coming into this game, the Patriots knew that KC wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was either going to be either very limited or out. So they decided to put their main focus on taking Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce out of the equation, and did a fantastic job of doing just that.
Kelce aka “Baby Gronk” had torched the Texans the week before with eight catches for 128 yards but no one is better than Bill Belichick at taking away what you like to do best. While all teams do that, what makes Belichick’s method so effective is the manner in which they do that. They rolled different looks of linebackers and safeties on Kelce mixing it up but the onus of their coverage fell on Pat Chung.
Chung did an outstanding job of shadowing Kelce, with help all over the field. Sans Maclin, the Patriots were trying to force Smith and the Chiefs to beat them with Albert Wilson and Chris Conley. Kelce was invisible for the vast majority of the game and he finished with six catches for just 23 yards….Mission accomplished.
Injuries Rear Up…Again: With an injury list too long coming into the game, the last thing the Patriots needed was to lose any more players during the game, but that is exactly what happened.
We mentioned earlier that Jones went down with a knee injury and didn’t return. Jamie Collins left in the third quarter with a back injury and was out for the remainder of the contest and Jerod Mayo also went down with a shoulder injury. He went to the locker room and didn’t return.
Bryan Stork left briefly during the first half with an ankle injury, but after having it re-taped, he returned to the field and played the rest of the game.
With all eyes on the Denver – Pittsburgh game on Sunday to see who the Pats next opponent will be, We’re on the AFC Championship Game…