Pick Six:  Observations from the AFC Championship Game

The Patriots held off the Kanas City Chiefs to maintain the AFC Crown with a thrilling 37-31 overtime victory at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday night. By the end of regulation it didn’t look like either team’s defense could stop the offenses, so New England winning the overtime coin toss, and subsequently taking the ball to start overtime, was a big part of the victory. After running back Rex Burkhead followed blocks from Trent Brown and James Develin to score the winning touchdown, Tom Brady ripped off his helmet and gave a look of excitement and surprise that matched his first Super Bowl response.

Six Comments from the AFC Championship Game

1. The Patriots converted 13 of 19 third down situations during the game, and running back James White was involved in seven on those plays. Taking the handoff out of the shotgun formation, White converted three third down runs in the 1st quarter running counters to the right, following either guard Shaq Mason or Joe Thuney. Early in the 4th quarter, with New England holding a 17-14 lead, White ran a third-and-two counter behind a pulling Joe Thuney but was caught short of the first down line by Chiefs’ safety Eric Berry and corner Charvarius Ward. On the following play, the Patriots went for it on fourth-and-one at the Kansas City 25 and defensive linemen Allen Bailey and Xavier Williams stoned Shaq Mason and right tackle Marcus Cannon, holding running back Rex Burkhead to no gain. On the Patriots’ next drive they again faced a fourth-and-one, and this time Sony Michel broke through the line at right tackle and ran ten yards for a touchdown, making the score 24-21.

2. James White also contributed with two incredible catches to convert third downs in the 2nd quarter. The first of the two came on a play Tom Brady showed terrific pocket presence as the defense closed in around him, before finding White for a circus catch while being covered up by defensive back Eric Murray. Speaking of circus catches, receiver Chris Hogan made a one-handed grab to convert a third-and-eight with six minutes remaining in the game. Similarly, late in the 2nd, receiver Phillip Dorsett got open on a double move against Kansas City corner Steven Nelson, and turned back to make a terrific grab the end zone grab of the underthrown ball.

3. In the overtime portion, Tom Brady completed third-and-10 conversions three times. From the New England 35 yard line he found Julian Edelman who took a big hit from Chiefs’ defenders but held onto the 20 yard completion. Three plays later Brady found Edelman again for 15 yards. Preceding both conversions, CBS’s commentator, Tony Romo, opined before the snap: “Edelman in the middle of the field.” Both receptions came with Edelman behind the line and in motion, meaning the Chiefs’ couldn’t get an effective jam on him at the line. Three plays after Edelman’s second catch, Brady threw a perfect 15-yard post pass to Rob Gronkowski between safeties Eric Berry and Daniel Sorensen.

4. The overtime heroics would not have been possible without a bizarre turn of events in the last minute of regulation. Brady threw high to Gronkowski the ball bounced out of his hands and right to Kansas City cornerback Charvarius Ward around the Kansas City 40 yard line. The play was overturned, and New England was given five yards of field position, because of a neutral zone infraction by Kansas City linebacker Dee Ford. Now facing a third-and-five, Brady found Rob Gronkowski, in single coverage by Eric Berry, for a 25 yard jump ball completion up the left sideline.

5. The Patriots played most of the game in press man defense, and made guarding Chiefs’ receiver Tyreek Hill – who averaged 92 receiving yards per game in 2018 – a priority. Jason and Devin McCourty held Tyreek Hill without a catch but corner Keion Crossen combined with Devin McCourty to give up his single catch for 42 yards. Corner Stephon Gilmore followed receiver Sammy Watkins for much of the game, allowing a long, 54 yard pass play in the 3rd quarter. The game started with Patriots’ corner J.C. Jackson mostly covering tight end Travis Kelce. Jackson – who was playing to the outside of Kelce on this play – gave up an uncontested touchdown on a quick post pattern early in the 3rd quarter. On the following drive, Kansas City ran the same route against Jackson and the rookie cornerback hit Kelce and helped create an incompletion. In the 4th quarter J.C. Jackson started to unravel for the defense: He gave up two pass interference penalties and one holding call – away from the ball – that negated a Patriots’ takeaway. With less than a minute left in regulation, Jackson wasn’t even close in coverage on a 27-yard pass play to seldom used receiver Demarcus Robinson, allowing quarterback Patrick Mahomes to pick up the field position necessary to make a game-tying field goal.

6. The Patriots defense stopped half of Chiefs running back Damien Williams’ ten (10) carries to two or fewer yards, and his one third-down run was stuffed by Malcom Brown’s push at the line of scrimmage. Patrick Mahomes heated up the passing game in the second half, in part by connecting with Williams on five of seven attempts, for 66 yards, and two touchdowns. New England’s pass rush has recently been successfully pressuring with stunts along the defensive line. In the 1st quarter, Dont’a Hightower looped around Adam Butler’s interior push to beat right guard Andrew Wylie for a sack. In the 2nd, Kyle Van Noy and Adrian Clayborn ran a stunt to get past left tackle Eric Fisher for a sack.

Originally published on PatsPulpit.com

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