The Patriots' young, inexperienced fill-in secondary was finally exposed in Kansas City, but New England survived anyway, winning 27-19 at Arrowhead Stadium, thanks to a front seven that might have played its best game of the year.
Sure, Priest Holmes was out of action, but New England was well aware that Derrick Blaylock had rushed for 186 yards against the Saints the week before their prime time matchup, and it focused much of its game plan on stopping him.
The Patriots were aware of what happened in Pittsburgh when they allowed 221 rushing yards back on Oct. 31 and against the Colts when they surrendered 204 on Sept. 9. They knew there were doubters out there despite the team's impressive record and they answered a specific challenge.
The Patriots' coaching staff called out its defensive front seven to stop Blaylock without the need for an eighth defender. Doing so was the crux of the game plan because it allowed safety Rodney Harrison to remain in zone pass coverage behind some cornerbacks who can be exploited.
While the Patriots still struggled in coverage, the front seven held Blaylock to 58 yards on 19 tough chances. "We really had to make them one dimensional," linebacker Ted Johnson said. "When you're playing a 3-4, it's man on man. You don't give them opportunities to make easy plays, especially up the middle. If you do a lot of stunting and put guys in gaps, you play into their hands. The way our scheme is, it's a good scheme if you have tough, stout guys in there and we do. I thought our defensive line did a great job all night. There were a lot of times when I was flowing over to make a tackle and it was already made. When you can play Cover-2 and do that ... that's hard to do."
So did the performance against the league's No. 1 rushing performance answer any questions? Johnson thinks so. "To be a good defense, you have to be good against the run. We're good enough. I don't know where we rank or what our stats are. But it's about winning and it's good enough."It was good enough Monday night. In fact, it was even better than good enough."
Bill Belichick is now the Patriots' all-time winningest coach. The Patriots' win over Kansas City, which improved the team's best ever start to 9-1, also was Belichick's 54th of his career in New England. He passed Mike Holovak, who posted a 53-47-9 record between 1961 and 1968.
Belichick is now 54-26 as the Patriots' head coach and 48-26 during the regular season. He also is the all-time leader in terms of winning percentage with a .675 success rate in four-plus seasons. He still needs four wins to tie Holovak for regular season wins since all of Holovak's came during the regular season. Belichick is also the only Patriots coach with a perfect postseason mark at 6-0.
Raymond Berry is the only other head coach in team history with a winning record in the playoffs (3-2).
RB Corey Dillon lost his second fumble of the season on a first-and-goal play from the Chiefs' 5-yard line. It was also the second time he lost a fumble near the opposing goal line, the first coming in Buffalo back on Oct. 3. Despite the costly fourth quarter turnover, the Patriots went right back to Dillon trying to milk the clock on the next series. He carried seven times for 28 yards to set up a Patriots field goal that staked them to an 8-point lead with 1:46 to play.
"Since I messed it up, I mean give me the opportunity to redeem myself," Dillon said. "I'm disgusted about that. Things happen. Immediately, everybody said we're going to need you to come through and run the ball hard and get us down there and that's basically what I did. That's what I love about this team. No matter what, they believe in me, I believe in them and we fight to the end for each other. That's a good thing and that's what I love about this place."
Dillon ran for 98 yards against the Chiefs, giving him 998 on the season in just nine games. He also caught a 20-yard pass. Of his 26 runs, nine went for 1 yard or less with three resulting in losses of 8 combined yards. Two his runs were longer than 10 yards and 11 were 5 yards or longer.
REPORT CARD VS. CHIEFS
PASSING OFFENSE: A
- Quarterback Tom Brady completed 65 percent of his passes for 315 yards and averaged 11.4 yards per pass play while posting a 119.9 passer rating. He welcomed back Deion Branch by hitting the diminutive wideout six times for 105 yards and a touchdown, but he also spread the ball out, throwing to eight different receivers in the game. He once again utilized his wideouts, tight ends and backs, throwing at the soft spots in the coverage and he looked sharp doing so in a tough environment at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Patriots converted 8-of-12 third downs, beat man coverage to make a couple of big plays down the field and beat the blitz on several occasions. Brady was sacked just once, on his first snap.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C
- The Chiefs did a good job getting helmets on Corey Dillon and playing physical up at the line of scrimmage. Dillon finished below the 112.5-yards per game average with which he entered Monday night, gaining 98 yards on 26 attempts with a pair of touchdowns. The offensive line was solid, but not great and was typically outnumbered in the running game, leaving only three Chiefs defensive backs in pass defense. Dillon also lost a fumble on the Chiefs 4-yard line, which opened the door for a comeback. Dillon two carries for more than 10 yards and nine that went for 1 yard or less.
PASS DEFENSE: D
- This was the worst performance by a Patriots secondary in recent memory. And spare us about the injury impact of losing starters Ty Law and Tyrone Poole. Every team has injuries. New England could barely get in the way of the Chiefs passing attack, never mind stop it. Trent Green dissected the pass defense, completing 27-of-42 passes for 381 yards with two touchdowns and a huge interception at the hands of Rodney Harrison in the end zone just before the half. He threw to seven different receivers and completed some long passes, including a 65-yard touchdown throw to Eddie Kennison. The Patriots benefited from some drops by the Chiefs and safety Eugene Wilson said that the stadium lights were exceptionally bright and may have bothered Kansas City's receivers.
New England had no answer for tight end Tony Gonzalez, who caught seven passes for 86 yards, or Johnnie Morton, who has 5 receptions for 107 yards. Kennison added three receptions for 99 yards and two touchdowns. The Chiefs were a solid 6-of-14 on third down. Too many breakdowns by New England. Earthwind Moreland got roasted in the game and will have to bounce back quickly.
RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus
- The run defense was the key to the game plan, as defensive coaches challenged the front seven to play the run tough without help from the safeties. It met the challenge, holding Derrick Blaylock to 58 yards on 19 runs with stout, physical play up front. The defensive line was outstanding, led by Ty Warren's seven tackles. New England was tough in short yardage as well. Blaylock didn't gain more than 3 yards on any of his first five carries and had efficient runs (4 yards, a first down or touchdown) on four of his first 16 carries before efficient carries on his last three. He never sniffed the end zone.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
- Bill Belichick credited the kickers with a terrific job of placement kicking to help keep the explosive Dante Hall in check. Hall returned one punt for no yards when he was buried by gunner Dexter Reid and he averaged 26 yards on his six kickoff returns. He never really came close to breaking one. Josh Miller continued to punt well, doing so twice for a net 43.5-yard average with both kicks downed inside the 20 without a touchback. Adam Vinatieri hit field goals of 37 and 28 yards and even made a special teams tackle. Overall, this was a solid day even if the Patriots return game remained quiet.
- The secondary, while short on talent, suffered costly communication breakdowns as the coaches searched almost unsuccessfully for the right combinations, and even Belichick won't make an excuse for such behavior. But overall, the coaches did a nice job preparing for the Chiefs. They convinced the players that Kansas City should be 9-0 and then got the team to focus on the tough, road game. The defensive staff challenged the front seven to stop Kansas City's vaunted rushing attack and it met that challenge with a strong effort. Forced to play almost exclusively zone coverage, Belichick watched in vein as receivers ran wide open past young, inexperienced defenders. Offensively, New England mixed things up nicely, using the pass to set up the run early and the run to set up the pass later.
Other than a fake end around, the play calling seemed strong and the players did a nice job executing Charlie Weis's game plan. He did a terrific job play calling to use as much clock as possible on the Patriots final possession. There were also some other minor mistakes like using a timeout as KC lined up for a two-point conversion. It was as if the Patriots were caught off guard, although the defensive play call on the conversion attempt was brilliant. Willie McGinest buried Blaylock as he released and the Patriots had everybody else covered. It wasn't perfect, but it was solid.
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