A fourth-and-1 play can be the essence of football. Offense vs. defense, muscling for a precious yard.
Twice in last week’s NFL opener the New England Patriots attempted to gain that yard from an I-formation power handoff. Twice they were denied by the Chiefs.
There were many offensive highlights for the Chiefs last Thursday, but those two stops provided critical pivot points in their 42-27 victory.
The statement plays occurred in the first and fourth quarters. The first prevented a possible Patriots’ breakaway, the second stunted a comeback attempt.
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Together they spoke to a defensive toughness the Chiefs look to add to their reputation as a takeaway team.
“We always preach a tough mind-set,” outside linebacker Justin Houston said. “Our job is to get the ball to the offense. I think we did a good job there.”
On a night in which the Chiefs did not record a takeaway, the fourth-down stops essentially were turnovers, and those plays changed the game’s tone.
The Patriots rolled to a touchdown on their first possession, recovered a Kareem Hunt fumble on the Chiefs’ first snap and worked to the 10.
On fourth and 1, the Patriots passed up a short field-goal attempt and kept their offense on the field, not an unusual call from aggressive coach Bill Belichick. A New England touchdown on the possession could have been a decisive blow to the Chiefs.
But running into the wall of the Chiefs defense, running back Mike Gillislee found no opening. The first to arrive was safety Eric Berry, who had snaked through a crease to wrap up Gillislee.
With the emotional boost, the Chiefs turned and marched on a 90-yard drive to tie the game.
The Patriots opened the fourth quarter by reaching the Chiefs’ 40, where they faced another fourth and 1. This time, New England brought in fullback James Develin as a lead blocker for Gillislee.
But the result was the same. The Chiefs, leading 28-27, stuffed the play, with Houston crashing inside to make the biggest impact.
Two plays that went for no gain had the Chiefs bouncing off the field and the Patriots searching for answers.
“Obviously they were big plays in the game,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “We don’t feel good about coming off the field after missing an opportunity on fourth down when (Belichick) gives us an opportunity to go for it.”
Berry and Houston came up huge on those plays, but the defensive interior also had to hold its ground in those moments and Allen Bailey, Chris Jones, Bennie Logan, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and company didn’t get pushed off the ball. Linebacker Frank Zombo also was active on the second stop.
The statistics say the Chiefs defense had a good game against the Patriots. They held Tom Brady to 16 of 36 passing and had the Patriots’ passing game out of sync. Berry did a superb job covering tight end Rob Gronkowski, in what will be Berry’s only action this season after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in the fourth quarter.
Houston came up with two of the team’s three sacks, and Derrick Johnson delivered two tackles for loss.
But the team efforts on the fourth-down plays defined one of the Chiefs’ biggest victories in the regular season.
“You want to have moments that create momentum,” Johnson said. “That was a moment that created momentum with the fourth-down stops.”