The matchup featured two of the best lines in football — a Chiefs front that produced more sacks than any other team in the league, and a Patriots offensive line that protected its quarterback as well as any other. It prompted popular belief that Sunday’s AFC Championship Game could be largely dictated by a battle up front.
And it was.
And so was the opposite one.
In their 37-31 overtime win Sunday, it was the Patriots’ pass rush that disrupted the flow of the Chiefs’ offense. New England had four sacks, some of them directly costing Kansas City an opportunity for points.
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The Chiefs, on the other hand, left Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s jersey spotless. The league’s top pass rush did not sack Brady once. Heck, it didn’t even knock him down.
On the game-winning overtime drive, the Patriots converted three third-and-long situations. Brady was unbothered on all three plays. The Chiefs finished the game without leading sack man Chris Jones, who was injured late.
“They made plays. We probably could’ve gotten a little more pressure with our front guys,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “When Chris goes out, he’s a big part of that with the other two guys there of putting pressure on. I don’t think that helped us a bunch.”
Throughout the week, the Chiefs talked of the importance of pressuring Brady, who is known for a quick release aided by his ability to identify defensive coverages. They were right. Indeed, it was factor. Without pressure, Brady completed 30 of 46 passes for 348 yards. He did throw a pair of interceptions.
The Chiefs failed to protect Mahomes with the same consistency. Or much at all in the first half.
It wasn’t just the quantity of the Patriots’ sacks. It was the timing, too.
The Patriots had three of them in the first half — two from edge rusher Kyle Van Noy — including one that zapped Kansas City’s most promising first-half drive. In his prototypical method of trying to buy more time, Mahomes scrambled into his own backfield. But he couldn’t elude Trey Flowers, who wrapped him up 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The sack took the Chiefs out of field-goal range, preserving the Patriots’ first-half shutout.
Mahomes spent most of the evening working to evade the constant pressure. The Patriots had nine quarterback hurries — eight more than the Chiefs. They often brought an extra blitzer to disrupt the timing of the No. 1 offense in the NFL.
The pressure was a bit surprising, given the numbers. The Chiefs allowed only 26 sacks this season, the fifth fewest in the NFL. The Patriots’ rush was their weakness on defense, too. They recorded only 30 sacks, tied for the second fewest in the NFL.
But for one night at Arrowhead, it was effective enough.
“The blitzed about every down,” Reid said. “Played man coverage. They were able to get home there a little bit on some of their gains. We made a few adjustments at halftime and came back and pressured them earlier. That’s my responsibility. I’ll take that.”