Patriots pull away from Chiefs

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Patriots pull away from Chiefs

FOXBORO -- Last Sunday nights thrashing of the Jets put the Patriots on a clear path to the AFC East title and, perhaps, one of the top two seeds in the conference. With a less-than-imposing schedule the rest of the way, the Pats challenge is simple: Take care of business.

Which is as good a description of their 34-3 victory over the Chiefs Monday night as anything else you might want to say about it.

Scoring, summary, statistics

Facing a beat-up opponent with a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start, there seemed little chance the Patriots would lose or even be seriously challenged Monday night, and they werent. The Pats sacked Tyler Palko three times, picked off three of his passes, and generally coasted to a victory that increased their record to 7-3 and moved them into a tie with Baltimore and Houston for the best record in the conference.

"We got good contributions from our offense, our defense, our special teams," said coach Bill Belichick. "It was a good, solid team victory."

And yet, impossible as it may seem judging by the final score, the Chiefs not only kept it close, but actually had the edge in play for most of the first half.

A 26-yard field goal by Ryan Succup with 1:34 to play in the first quarter put Kansas City ahead, 3-0, and the Chiefs protected the lead with an aggressive, blitzing defense that had Tom Brady and the Patriots offense stopped in its tracks. A strip-sack of Brady by Wallace Gilberry forced a fumble that ended New Englands only successful drive in the first 22 minutes of the game, and one particularly fruitless three-and-out included two sacks of Brady that resulted in a fourth-and-21.

"We couldn't do anything in the first half," said Brady. "We had a hard time moving the ball; at every position, we didn't really execute well."

But the Pats found their rhythm at last on their fifth possession, which started on their own 15-yard line with 7:36 left in the half.

Passes of 13 and 9 yards to Aaron Hernandez helped get New England out from the shadow of its goalposts, and Brady moved the Pats to their own 48 in five plays. The Chiefs then blew a coverage and left Rob Gronkowski wide open in the middle of the field. He caught the ball at the 35-yard line, broke to the right sideline, avoided a tackle attempt by Lewis Kendrick at the 10, and scampered into the end zone to put the Patriots ahead, 7-3.

Kyle Arrington, the NFLs interception leader, stopped the next Kansas City drive with the first of his two picks on the night and returned it 28 yards to the New England 46 with 2:01 remaining. Brady efficiently drove the Pats to the K.C. 3 before missing on a short pass to Danny Woodhead on a third-and-goal, and Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 21-yard field goal that gave New England a 10-3 halftime lead.

The Pats increased their lead to 17-3 with a nine-play, 85-yard drive after the second-half kickoff that culminated in another Brady-to-Gronkowski touchdown pass, this one of 19 yards and featuring a) another Gronkowski broken tackle this one against Donald Washington at the 20 and b) a Gronk somersault into the end zone.

"He's tough, he runs hard, obviously he's great with the ball after he catches it," Brady said of his second-year tight end. "He's a tough matchup, and he made some big plays for us tonight."

From there, it was just a question of how big the margin of victory was going to be. The answer was 31 points, thanks to a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown by Julian Edelman that made it 24-3, a 19-yard field goal by Gostkowski that pushed it to 27-3, and a four-yard TD run in the final minute by Shane Vereen for the 34-3 final.

One other interesting sidenote: A leg injury to starting left tackle Matt Light late in the fourth quarter sent him to the sideline and, in Lights absence, cancer survivor Marcus Cannon made his NFL debut. He played right tackle, with Sebastian Vollmer moving over to the left side.

With the victory, the Pats now hold a two-game lead over their two closest division rivals, the Jets and Bills. The odds of them relinquishing first place seem as long as the odds of an upset loss Monday night; after all, their remaining games are against the Eagles (4-6), Colts (0-10), Broncos (5-5), Redskins (3-7), Dolphins (3-7) and Bills (5-5). That 20-40, .333, combined record of their opponents gives them the easiest schedule in the NFL the rest of the way.

But these are the Patriots. You can imagine how they respond to such talk.

"I don't think we're really where we hope to be at this point," said Brady. "But we have our whole season ahead of us. And hopefully we can come out, have a good week of practice and move forward."

Mayock: Under-the-radar tight ends, defensive backs could interest Patriots

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Mayock: Under-the-radar tight ends, defensive backs could interest Patriots

Until the tidal wave of free-agent moves comes crashing down in March, it's not exactly clear what anyone's needs are in this year's draft. But that won't keep us from guessing with the NFL Scouting Combine taking place this week in Indy.

From a Patriots perspective, they may need a tight end to provide some Rob Gronkowski insurance, especially if Martellus Bennett leaves town for the highest bidder. Defensively, they might be looking at big bodies up front or linebackers. They could also choose to dip into one of the deeper position groups in this year's class -- defensive back -- if they're taking a strict best-player-available approach. 

No matter which spots they're thinking about in this year's draft, the Patriots have a pretty well-defined set of likes and dislikes when it comes to prospect traits. That's what allows someone like NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock -- who held a marathon two-hour conference call with reporters from around the country on Monday -- to make an educated guess on the types of players Bill Belichick will be thinking about in late April. 

At tight end, Mayock thinks Alabama's OJ Howard is a perfect match for New England. He can catch. He can block. He's an athlete. He came up in Nick Saban's program. The only problem is there seems to be very little chance Howard is available at pick No. 32. 

The good news for the Patriots? It's such a deep tight end class, Mayock rattled off a handful of other names who could potentially find themselves in a huddle looking at Tom Brady in 2017. 

"As you drop down and look at the other tight ends after [Howard], there's some really good pass-catching tight ends that would be more like an [Aaron] Hernandez," Mayock said. "You start talking about David Njoku of Miami, he's an absolute freak, and he's also tough enough to learn how to block. Again, I don't know if he gets to the Patriots [at No. 32].

"Evan Engram and Gerald Everett are the two guys that are kind of the move wide receiver tight end. They can play in the slot. Jake Butt had an ACL at Michigan at the end of his season, but he's one of those in-line blockers. Tough guy. Good enough athletically to catch the ball short and intermediate.

"This is a great tight end class. You can get second and third-round tight ends that make a lot of sense. I think down the road a little bit, Michael Roberts from Toledo is a big guy that needs to block better, but he's got some pass catching skills. New England's going to have their choice of a bunch of different tight ends in this draft and get them in the first three rounds."

Defensive back is another area where the Patriots may be able to wait to find an impact player, Mayock suggested. One of the first names that popped into Mayock's mind when it comes to what intrigues Belichick was a safety who played his college ball in the area.

"I think a guy that would have to be interesting to New England is Obi Melifonwu from Connecticut," he said. "Six-foot-4, 219 [pounds], and he's probably going to run sub 4.5 [40-yard dash]. If he runs in that range, I think teams are going to start looking at him as a corner and a safety.

"The reason I think New England, with Matt Patricia, I think they're the best matchup group in the league. Look what they did with Eric Rowe from the Eagles, what they did with [Kyle] Van Noy -- two guys that were kind of cast-offs. They brought them there for matchup reasons. That's what they do. I look at Melifonwu, he looks like a guy that could cover a tight end one week and go out wide and cover a big wideout the next week. I think he'd be interesting.

"[Another] a really good football player that nobody talks about is Lorenzo Jerome of Saint Francis. And what he runs this week is going to be important. But I think he can play both safety positions, and he's really, really a good football player. Like him a lot . . .

"Other names: Des King, who is a corner from Iowa that I think is going to be a nickel or safety, and I think New England always has success moving those guys around a little bit . . . I like Des King; I like Kevin King from Washington who is a corner that can play some free safety; and I like Chidobe Awuzie from Colorado, who (is a corner that) I think might be better off as a safety."

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