Patriots Advance to Fifth Straight AFC Championship Game

The New England Patriots have advanced to their fifth Straight conference championship game, with a 27-20 victory over the previously hot Kansas City Chiefs.  Winning has become something of the norm at One Patriots Place, as the Pats dominated the Chiefs in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.  The win over a KC team that had won 11 in a row, instantly gave Patriots nation some relief and a shot in the arm that their team is back.

New England lost the toss and received the opening kickoff. What happened next could not have been scripted any better for the Patriots.  Brady and the offense went 80 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown.  Brady threw on all 11, and the tempo was set, as he completed eight of those passes, the final being an eight yard score to Rob Gronkowski.  On the drive Brady reconnected with old friend Julian Edelman twice for 24 yards.

Going into Saturday nights game, Gronkowski and  Edelman were the talk of sports radio airwaves all week.  Would Edelman be effected by his injured right foot?  Is Gronk going to play? Can we expect Edelman to pick up where he left off?  After the first drive those questions were answered. While Edelman did have some uncharacteristic drops early in the game he looked to be his normal self.  He makes the offense nearly impossible to defend.  Gronkowski also looked to be just fine after a week of speculation that he would be far less than 100%.  The big tight end hauled in seven catches for 82 yards and two scores.  The offense is dynamic with Edelman and Gronkowski in the fold.   Once again with them both on the field, Patriots fans breathed a little easier on third down.

Kudos to the offensive line, who stepped up big and kept Brady clean for the day. The game plan was simple for the Patriots on offense as they decided that Brady was going to lead them. He did just that throwing for 302 yards and two scores.  Brady was not going to be denied in this one, as his 10 yard scamper towards the endzone showed.  He didn’t come this far just to come this far.

The Patriots defense played well enough all day to win.  It wasn’t dominate but it played a bend but don’t break style that stopped the Chiefs from scoring touchdowns on their two first half drives into the red zone.  The defense came up with a huge momentum shifting play on Kansas City’s first drive of the third quarter.  At the end of a nine yard completion to Kniles Davis, Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones reached his hand in and punched the ball out.  Linebacker Donta Hightower hopped on the ball.  The Patriots then took possession and all but ended the game with a touchdown to make it 21-6.   That was not the defensive stop of the game. The defenses true stop of the game came in the second quarter after a Patriots punt and Chiefs return set KC up with the ball at the New England 36.  The defense force a three and out and New England scored on a 98 yard drive on the following possession.

Reasons to get excited.

Edelman’s return truly sparked the offense as they converted on 50 percent of their third down attempts. The Pats third down offense had been poor at best to finish out the season.  A reported trip to the X-ray room after the game is nothing to worry about.

Offensive line. The big guys played a great game. The return of Sebastian Vollmer helped the line keep the Chiefs aggressive pass rush in check all game long.

Cause for concern.

Third down defense. The Pats could not get off the field at points and it showed as they were on the field for a season high 79 plays.

Injuries.  Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins and Jerod Mayo all left the game with ailments.  Jones appeared to injure his leg.  Collins hurt his back and left the stadium with the back wrapped up. Mayo was ruled out for the game after he apparently has a shoulder injury.

Tell me why?

Josh McDaniels called a great game. His game plan was perfect on the day. Still tell me why the Patriots are passing on second and 11.  Sure the pass was completed but only after it deflected in the air and landed in Edelman’s hand.  McDaniels need to learn how to call run plays at the end of the game.  It will go unnoticed because the Patriots won, but the lack of running the ball to close out games could come back to haunt the Patriots.

New England goes now to its tenth championship game in 15 years.  They will play the winner of Sunday’s Denver vs Pittsburgh game.

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