Until tonight, I don’t think I’d ever seen a team completely dominate the first 25 minutes of a football game before eventually losing by 30-plus points.
Yeah, the final score would indicate otherwise, but the Kansas City Chiefs clearly outplayed the New England Patriots in the first half of their Monday Night Football matchup at Foxboro. A team that came into the game with a league-low nine sacks all season was somehow getting to Tom Brady, while the offense, led by a quarterback making his first career start, was moving the ball successfully both through the air and on the ground. They were using the hurry-up to make a depleted, inexperienced New England secondary look foolish.
But the Chiefs kept getting stalled in New England territory, settling for a field goal once and a curious punt after a bluff on fourth-and-one another time. As a result, they held only a 3-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
And that’s when Brady and the Patriots remembered that this wasn’t a preseason game.
After starting 3-for-9, Brady rediscovered his favorite two targets. On New England’s first scoring drive of the game — which came late in the second quarter — Brady completed three passes to Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski for a combined 70 yards. The series concluded with the longest (and coolest) touchdown of Gronk’s career.
That was followed by a late-first half field goal and then 24 unanswered second-half points. The game felt over when Gronkowski scored again on New England’s first drive of the third quarter. That gives Gronkowski 10 touchdowns on the year and 20 scores only 26 games into his NFL career. He’s now only one touchdown behind Calvin Johnson this season.
It’s usually always a good thing when your team wins 34-3, but I’m betting Bill Belichick isn’t overly satisfied with his team right now. For a solid chunk of Monday night’s game, the Pats were outplayed by a team that had been outscored 48-13 in back-to-back home losses to the Dolphins and Broncos. Plus, KC was playing its first game without regular pivot Matt Cassel, who was placed on injured reserve earlier in the day.
Belichick’s team was almost fooled by a suprise onside kick (an illegal touching penalty saved the day) and wasted a short field after said kick (Brady fumbled for the fourth time in as many games). On the series after that fumble, Brady was sacked twice, as his receivers failed to get open and the pocket kept collapsing. He simply faced too much pressure.
And it’s quite jarring that, despite the onslaught on the scoreboard, New England amassed only 46 more net yards than the Chiefs did.
One reason why the Chiefs might have been able to go toe-to-toe with the Pats for longer than expected? Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who knows that New England team quite well after serving as Belichick’s defensive coordinator several years ago. You have to wonder if that was a factor, because Brady didn’t look right.
And yet the problem goes beyond Monday night’s game. The Pats have been notoriously slow starters as of late, especially on offense. They have just five first-half touchdowns in their last six games. They’ve led only three of those games at halftime, but they’ve won four of them (they came back against Dallas).
In New England’s defense, the defense has stepped it up despite the negative headlines. The secondary has improved, and it adjusted to hold the Chiefs to just three points despite not having Pro Bowl cornerback Devin McCourty. How bad are things in the defensive backfield? Antwaun Molden started at corner on Monday night — Molden is so bad that he was cast aside in the offseason by a Houston defense that was historically terrible in pass protection last season.
The front seven, which is finally starting to get consistent pressure and has benefited greatly from Jerod Mayo’s return to health, has saved the day.
Two questions that I’d have for Belichick if I were at his post-game press conference:
1. Why were Brady and the offense on the field with a 24-point lead late in the fourth quarter? And if you were just trying to get Wes Welker’s games-with-a-reception streak extended, do you regret that decision? After all, Matt Light was injured on that late completion to Welker and was seen in a walking boot after the game. Maybe that’s karma. Bad form to keep the starters out that late in a blowout.
2. If you were thinking about milestones and streaks, why not give the ball to Vince Wilfork on the 1-yard line in the final moments? Headed into this week, at least one former Miami Hurricane had scored an NFL touchdown in 149 consecutive weeks, but that streak died Monday night, and Wilfork was The U’s last hope. (Update: Wilfork claims he didn’t notify Belichick that he was the only man who could extend the streak because he found out too late.)