[The Los Angeles Rams beat the New Orleans Saints, 26-20, in the AF.C. championship game earlier Sunday, and will face the winner of this game in the Super Bowl. See how they did it here.]
A mostly quiet first half ended with the Chiefs going out meekly, as Patrick Mahomes momentarily lost the ball on a strip-sack fumble before he recovered it and simply knelt on the ball to send his team to the locker room, down by 14-0.
While the score is still relatively close, New England has dictated the tone of the game. The Patriots have exploited the Chiefs’ front-seven with a series of short passes and runs — not allowing Kansas City’s top pass-rushers any time to get to Tom Brady — and New England’s defense has mostly contained the Chiefs’ offense.
That has resulted in a huge disparity in playing time, with New England’s offense holding the ball for 21:07 compared to 8:53 for the Chiefs.
There was a brief glimpse of what Mahomes is capable of on two completions in the second quarter in which he was able to deal with the New England pass-rush and find his receivers deep downfield, but that drive produced nothing after a sack pushed Kansas City out of field goal range.
Beyond those two throws, Mahomes’s passes have been off the mark, and Damien Williams has gotten nowhere with the running game. The Chiefs were outgained, 245 to 32, in total yardage.
This year’s Chiefs scored the third-most points in N.F.L. history, so it is hard to declare them out of any game they play regardless of the score. But Kansas City Coach Andy Reid will need to heavily adjust his strategy on both sides of the ball if he wants to get back into the game.
In the one small bit of good news for the Chiefs, they will receive the ball to start the second half.
Second Quarter: Patriots Push Their Lead
The second quarter had nearly ground to a halt thanks to a series of punts, but New England woke up in the final minute of the first half, with Tom Brady finding Phillip Dorsett for a 29-yard touchdown reception that, along with the extra point, has New England up, 14-0.
The Patriots’ latest long drive went 90 yards on eight plays and has left Kansas City with just enough time to run one or two plays — or kneel on the ball — to end the half.
Second Quarter: Brady Intercepted in the End Zone
The Chiefs’ defense, after failing a series of tests to start the game, came up huge on 3rd-and-goal, with Reggie Ragland intercepting Tom Brady’s pass attempt to Rob Gronkowski, thus stealing some momentum back for Kansas City.
Up until that point, the Patriots had seemingly been doing anything they wanted, using runs and short passes to expose a front-seven that is good at rushing the passer but far worse at putting up with the quick hits that the Patriots can accomplish with their small wide receivers and their talented group of running backs.
In all, the drive went 43 yards on 11 plays, but the Chiefs were able to escape, still trailing by 7-0.
New England had gotten the ball back quickly thanks to a fairly inept first drive by the Chiefs’ offense in which Kansas City generated minus-6 yards as a result of a sack of Patrick Mahomes that came after he had his first two pass attempts of the game fall incomplete. The only positive movement of the drive for the Chiefs came thanks to a 5-yard run by Damien Williams — which he followed with a 2-yard loss — and a 5-yard penalty by the Patriots’ defense.
Now Mahomes will get a second chance to show what he can do.
First Quarter: Chiefs’ Defense Challenged Already
It was clear coming in that this game would be a tough test for the Chiefs’ defense, and the unit looked almost helpless on an opening drive by the Patriots in which New England marched 80 yards on 15 plays, punching the ball into the end zone on a 1-yard run by Sony Michel.
The seemingly endless drive chewed up 8 minutes 5 seconds of the first quarter and has Kansas City on its heels.
The Patriots got off to a quick start on an 11-yard run by Michel, and proceeded down the field through a combination of short passes — Rob Gronkowski had two catches on the drive after having just one all game last week — and runs by their three-headed monster at running back (Michel, James White and Rex Burkhead).
In all, Brady threw for 38 yards and the running game contributed 42.
Brady Has Been Here Before
It’s a clash of old and new, with the establishment (New England) facing off against the up-and-comers (Kansas City). The last time they played, back in Week 6, the Patriots came away with the win, but not before Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs made them sweat in the second half.
Here is what to know now:
Mahomes is in his first year as a starting quarterback and is playing in just his second playoff game. Tom Brady, on the other hand, has been a starter for 18 years and is playing in his 39th playoff game. When Brady beat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, Mahomes was only 6 years old.
Both teams have effective running games but not necessarily from the players they expected coming into the year. Kansas City has been powered by the surprise emergence of Damien Williams. New England continues to employ a variety of options at running back, but the group is led by the rookie Sony Michel who has picked up right where he left off in a celebrated career at Georgia.
Despite the cold conditions of Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, there could be a great deal of passing in this game. Not only do both teams feature terrific passing offenses, but they both struggled on the defensive end as well. The Patriots were ranked 22nd in passing yards allowed per game, and the Chiefs were 31st.