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."

Van Noy sees playing-time bump as he learns Patriots language

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Van Noy sees playing-time bump as he learns Patriots language

When Kyle Van Noy was traded to the Patriots in late October, he had a lot to learn. He needed to understand the layout of his new team's maze-like facility. He needed to adjust to a new locker room. He needed to adapt to a new home. 

He also had to become fluent in a new language.

The former Lions 'backer was inactive for two weeks before he was comfortable enough with the Patriots system -- and the coaching staff was comfortable enough with him -- to get on the field. He played 29 snaps against the Niners in first game with his new club, then saw 28 plays against the Jets. On Sunday he saw his role expand as he played 40 of a possible 51 plays, which was more than Shea McClellin (38) or Dont'a Hightower (33). 

"Kyle has done a great job of working really hard to acclimate to what we’re doing, and he has had to learn really fast as far as the system, the communication, the language," said defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on a conference call Tuesday. "It’s like when you go to a different system, offensively or defensively, a lot of times it’s just learning the vernacular and the verbiage . . . That’s a big part of it. Then getting more familiar with that kind of terminology and the communication is critical because there’s a lot of calls and adjustments, things like that that we’ve got to do on the field."

Van Noy was making some of those calls himself on Sunday as he wore the green dot on his helmet when Hightower was on the sidelines. Even with the added responsibility, Van Noy was able to play freely enough that he put together what might have been the best game of his three-year career. 

Used at the end of the line of scrimmage as well as in a more traditional off-the-line linebacker role, Van Noy was effective in defending both the pass and the run: He stuffed three Rams rush attempts, he recorded a quarterback hit that led to an incompletion, he drew a holding call, and he recorded an athletic interception when he tracked a wobbling Jared Goff pass that floated over the middle after Jabaal Sheard hit Goff's arm as the rookie released his throw.

After several of his stand-out plays, Van Noy was visibly excited on the field and later on the sidelines. It was the culmination of six weeks of work, learning as much as he could from a coaching staff that was eager to teach him. 

"He’s extremely prideful in his work and his approach to the game," Patricia said. "He’s very cerebral. He’ll ask a lot of questions. He really wants to understand what we’re doing and why, which is great. We’re trying to give him those answers and insight into kind of where some of this either came from or developed or situations like that so that’s really good."