Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Patriots have their way in rout of Chiefs

 Quarterback Tom Brady paced a slow-starting offense by completing 15 of 27 passes for 234 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

"I don't think it could have gotten much worse than what we did in the first half," said Brady, referring to his club's tenuous 10-3 halftime advantage. "But I thought we came out strong in the second half and took control in the third quarter."

Both of his scores went to Rob Gronkowski, his strapping 6-6, 265-pound tight end.

The first of those, a 52-yard catch and run, represented the longest reception of Gronkowski's two-year career and gave the Patriots a 7-3 edge with 4:18 left in the opening half. The second was a 19-yard strike 4:33 into a game-breaking 17-point third quarter. It was the fourth time this season Gronkowski scored twice in a game.

Gronkowski now has 20 touchdowns in 26 career games, making him the fastest to reach that mark among tight ends in NFL history. Mike Ditka had been the leader, needing 31 games to net his first 20 scores.

"Whatever, man," Gronkowski said. "When I get the ball, I just don't want to go down. I try to do something with it, just like a running back does."

Before kickoff, Kansas City lost starting quarterback Matt Cassel for the rest of the season when it was forced to place him on injured reserve with what coach Todd Haley has described only as a "significant" hand injury.

New England's defense ruined the starting debut of Cassel's replacement, Tyler Palko, by intercepting him three times. The first two occurred on tipped balls that cornerback Kyle Arrington alertly swiped, giving him a league-leading seven pickoffs this season.

"He's been very opportunistic," coach Bill Belichick said. "He's been around the ball a lot and when you're around it, those are the types of plays you make."

The last interception, by reserve cornerback Phillip Adams, came in the end zone early in the fourth quarter.

Palko was not drafted out of the University of Pittsburgh four years ago. He was cut two years ago by the California Redwoods of the United Football League. He finished 25-of-38 for 236 yards and a meager 49.9 passer rating compared to Brady's 109.2.

"Any time you turn the ball over in this league, you don't give yourself the chance to win the football game," Palko said. "And three interceptions are inexcusable. I don't care if they were tipped or what not. The ball left my hand and I'm accountable for the passes."

In strengthening its hold on the AFC East to two games by capitalizing on earlier losses by the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, defending division champion New England (7-3) also enjoyed a big night on special teams.

Julian Edelman punctuated that effort with an electrifying 72-yard punt return up the middle that helped stretch the Patriots' margin to 24-3 at 9:04 of the third quarter.
New England finally got going later in the period and Brady found Gronkowski open over the middle for a big play that revived the fans who had been booing a short time earlier.

Gronkowski caught it in stride on a crossing pattern over the middle. He then turned up the field and managed to keep his feet inside the Kansas City sideline all the way to the end zone for the longest reception of his career.

Officials reviewed the play to see if Gronkowski stepped out of bounds and upheld the touchdown call, giving New England its first lead after the 85-yard drive.

Palko caught the Patriots off guard in the first period and Kansas City led 3-0 after one.

Palko completed five of six passes for 39 yards in the period as Kansas City outgained New England 103 to 33.

Thomas Jones had a 26-yard run during Kansas City's scoring drive, which started at its own 45 after a 25-yard punt return by Javier Arenas. The Chiefs got to the 5 on Jones' run, but went backward from there. It started with an illegal shift penalty, followed by a 1-yard gain by Jones and then a disastrous draw by Palko.

Andre Carter smothered Palko the moment he tucked the ball and started forward, dropping him at the 15 and forcing the Chiefs to settle for Succop's field goal 1:30 left in the first.

The Patriots sputtered on their first two drives, going three-and-out on the first and running five plays before punting again on the second. Brady, who was called for intentional grounding on third down on New England's first possession, was 2-for-7 in the period.
"We held the gunners and our internal guys did a good job blocking their players," Edelman said. "As a punt returner, you have to make someone miss and then get back to your return side, so we executed the play really well."

Stephen Gostkowski tacked on field goals of 21 and 19 yards.

Kansas City, which fell to 4-6 with its third consecutive loss, held its own for most of the opening half. The Chiefs led 3-0 after a 45-yard drive led to Ryan Succop's 26-yard field goal with 1:30 left in the first quarter.
Through the first four offensive series, it appeared that the Patriots offense had reverted to its punchless form from several weeks prior. Back-to-back losses to the Steelers and Giants raised the obvious questions about the defense, but there were also the uncomfortable issues surrounding a suddenly impotent Tom Brady-led offense. Receivers weren't getting open, the line wasn't blocking and Brady looked hurried and indecisive in the pocket.

Against the Chiefs on Monday night, it appeared to be more of the same. Brady was sacked three times early on (including a lost fumble),  the passing game had been ineffective and Kansas City's defense, coached by former Pats assistant Romeo Crennel, was making Brady look out of sorts.

The Chiefs, who had to start journeyman quarterback Tyler Palko after placing Matt Cassel on injured reserve, led 3-0 after the first quarter. And then, in the time it took Kansas City to blow a defensive assignment, tight end Rob Gronkowski was motoring down the sideline for a 52-yard touchdown. And that, as they say, was that.
New England's defense stood tall after that, waiting for the offense to find its stride. "This is all about having each other's back," said defensive end Andre Carter. "It's all about team concept."

The loss of Cassel is the latest in a series of major injuries to cripple the Chiefs. They were already without two of their top offensive players, prolific running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki, as well as Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry.

The teams met for the first time since Sept. 7, 2008, when Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Brady moved ahead of boyhood idol Joe Montana into sole possession of seventh place on the all-time list with his 118th career victory. He is only one win behind Johnny Unitas.

New England rebounded strongly from a 24-20 loss to the New York Giants in its previous game here. That setback ended a 20-game regular-season home winning streak.
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