Key play: On third and 7 in the red zone, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady connected with tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was isolated in man coverage, for an 8-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Key stat: The Patriots’ first 11 offensive plays in the game were all passes out of the shotgun.
Key play: A roughing-the-passer penalty on Dezman Moses kept the Patriots out of a third-and-8 situation on their second touchdown march.
Key stat: The Chiefs averaged only 3.1 yards per pass in the first half, an indication of their lack of dynamism in the passing game.
Key play: Facing fourth and 3 at the Patriots’ 15, quarterback Alex Smith found Jason Avant for a 4-yard gain. The Chiefs scored a touchdown on their next play.
Key stat: Brady completed 75 percent of his passes by the end of the third quarter.
Key play: The Chiefs weren’t out of it until the end. They still had a chance to get the ball back late in the fourth quarter trailing 27-20, but Brady’s pass — which deflected off Tamba Hali’s hand — for a first down to Julian Edelman sealed it.
Key stat: The Chiefs actually outgained the Patriots 378-340 and were better on third downs (60 percent to 50 percent).
The Chiefs were without Spencer Ware, who was active for the game but did not play. His presence was missed, but the Chiefs still did a fine job of running the ball, finishing with 135 yards in 32 carries for a respectable 4.2 average. Charcandrick West led the charge, rushing 17 times for 61 yards. Quarterback Alex Smith continued to use his legs as a weapon, with nine rushes for 44 yards. Knile Davis even got into the act, rushing six times for 30 yards.
The Chiefs’ passing game was anemic in the first half, as Smith completed only 10 of 21 passes for 65 yards. Smith eventually got it going in the second half, especially when he completed five of six passes on a touchdown drive that gave the Chiefs life when trailing 21-6. But with Jeremy Maclin hobbled, and Travis Kelce effectively taken away, the passing attack didn’t have enough juice to beat the defending champs in a road playoff game. Smith, who was only sacked once, finished 29 of 50 for 246 yards. Pro Bowler Kelce was held to only 23 yards in six catches.
The Patriots’ entered with one of the league’s worst rushing offenses, and that held true to form Saturday as the Chiefs did a nice job being stout at the point of attack. New England rushed for 38 yards in 14 carries, a miserable 2.7 per-carry average. Steven Jackson led the Patriots with 16 yards in six carries.
The Patriots came out throwing — their first 11 offensive plays were all shotgun passes. They looked nothing like the team that slogged through the loss to Miami in the regular-season finale, and the Chiefs could never really get a bead on them. They didn’t intercept Brady once — a rarity for one of the league’s most opportunistic units — and they didn’t even sack him, either. Brady got the ball out quickly and baffled the Chiefs with his execution. That’s what elite quarterbacks do.
Kicker Cairo Santos made two first-half field goals, and Dustin Colquitt dropped two of his three punts inside the 20. Knile Davis had a 34-yard kick return, and Frankie Hammond had a 19-yard punt return. But the coverage units allowed a 22-yard punt return by Danny Amendola that set up a late field goal that helped the Patriots take control of the game once again.
The final score wasn’t really indicative of the outcome. The Patriots seemed to be in control most of the way. Specifically, the Patriots seemed to be a step ahead of defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, with Brady completing 66 percent of his passes. The Chiefs’ offense was fairly effective, despite a hobbled Maclin, and though the play calling occasionally got bit too cute, that’s worth something. But people will specifically pick nits with Andy Reid’s clock management, and with good reason. In the first half, the Chiefs wasted two timeouts on the first drive of the game, which ended up costing them on the final drive of the half when they had to spike the ball deep in Patriots territory to stop the clock. That cost them a down they could have used to get an additional crack at the end zone. Reid made a good call in the third quarter when he went for it on fourth down deep in Patriots territory instead of kicking a field goal, which led to a touchdown. Still, his clock management down the stretch — when he didn’t call one of three timeouts on their final scoring drive, allowing precious seconds to tick off the clock —deserves criticism.
Player of the game: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was slinging it all day, completing 28 of 42 passes for 302 yards, with two touchdowns and zero turnovers. The Chiefs just didn’t have an answer for him.
Reason to hope: The Chiefs won their first playoff game in 22 years, so they unquestionably took a step forward in year three of the Andy Reid-John Dorsey regime.
Reason to mope: The fact the Chiefs couldn’t take advantage of a seemingly banged-up Patriots team that was dealing with a distraction this week (i.e. the Chandler Jones situation) should be a bummer for Chiefs fans. There were times when it really did seem like their year.
Looking ahead: Here comes the offseason. There should be some staff turnover, with offensive coordinator Doug Pederson reportedly leaving to take the Eagles’ head coaching job, while key players such as inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, safety Eric Berry, outside linebacker Tamba Hali, cornerback Sean Smith and nose tackle Jaye Howard are slated to be free agents. Should be an interesting few months, to say the least.
Terez A. Paylor, firstname.lastname@example.org