KC-NE grades: Pats win with passing game, defense
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from New England’s 27-20 divisional-round win over Kansas City on Saturday:
Kansas City Chiefs
-Quarterback Alex Smith (+1.4 PFF game grade) took more shots downfield than usual, but struggled with accuracy as he completed just two of his seven attempts of 20-plus yards. Otherwise, he played the short game decently, taking care of the ball for the most part and making several impressive plays on the ground when the pocket broke down (44 yards rushing). Part of the problem was that the team settled for field goals early, while the Patriots scored touchdowns. Four drops by his receivers didn’t help, and neither did the team’s struggling rushing attack; apart from a 17-yard run, Charcandrick West (-1.2) averaged just 2.75 yards on his other 16 carries.
–While the Chiefs managed to get 33 snaps from a hobbled Jeremy Maclin (+0.3), the main beneficiary of his injury was Jason Avant, who logged a season-high 59 snaps and in that time compiled a +2.2 receiving grade. He moved the chains on three of his four catches, each of them coming on either third or fourth down, and he had a fourth conversion that was nullified by penalty. This was a vintage performance from the veteran, who showed an impressive ability to extend away from his body and make difficult hands catches to keep Chiefs drives alive.
–An injury that turned out to be more crucial was the one that kept LB Justin Houston (+0.1) out for the majority of the game. He played just eight snaps, none of them in the second half, and without him the Chiefs only managed to pressure Patriots QB Tom Brady seven times. Last week the defensive line picked up the slack a bit with big games from Allen Bailey (-1.0) and Dontari Poe (-0.4), but the pair totaled just two pressures in 69 combined rushes on Saturday. It was similarly bad on the outside with Dee Ford (-1.6) and Tamba Hali (-0.8) shut down by New England’s tackles and a quick release from Brady — he spent an average of just 2.19 seconds in the pocket.
CB Sean Smith (+2.5)
QB Alex Smith (+1.9)
LT Eric Fisher (+1.8)
CB Marcus Peters (+1.4)
WR Jason Avant (+1.3)
New England Patriots
–Overall, this was a solid performance from QB Tom Brady (+2.6). His ball location was shaky on his first couple of throws, but he recovered and led the Patriots’ initial touchdown drive, capping it off with a back-shoulder touchdown pass to star TE Rob Gronkowski (+1.2 receiving). And outside of two fourth-quarter passes that could have been picked, Brady avoided risk and mostly stayed within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage — only nine of his 41 aimed passes traveled over 10 yards in the air. He targeted Julian Edelman (-0.3) early and often in the receiver’s first action since Week 10. The two connected on 10 of 16 targets for 100 yards, though Edelman did show signs of rust with two dropped passes.
–Even though it lost Darrelle Revis to the Jets in free agency this offseason, New England’s secondary didn’t miss a beat during the regular season, and that success continued against the Chiefs Saturday. Safety Patrick Chung (+3.1) led the group with five defensive stops and limited TE Travis Kelce to 12 yards on six targets against him. Devin McCourty (+1.3) picked up a stop in run defense and impressively forced a third-down incompletion with 7:45 remaining in the fourth quarter, getting a helmet on the ball on an intended pass to WR Chris Conley. Cornerback Malcolm Butler (+0.6 coverage grade) and safety Duron Harmon (+0.8) also chipped in positive coverage grades, but unfortunately that success didn’t extend to CB Logan Ryan (-1.6), who yielded eight catches for 101 yards and a 142.1 passer rating in 10 targets.
–Another standout on New England’s defense was DT Alan Branch (+4.2), who only played 40 snaps but made a constant impact in run defense and added a pair of pressures to go with his five tackles and four defensive stops. Neither Kansas City RG Jah Reid (-2.0) nor center Zach Fulton (-1.3) had any success keeping Branch from squeezing the point of attack and shedding to the running back, which he did often.
DT Alan Branch (+4.2)
LT Sebastian Vollmer (+3.8)
LB Dont’a Hightower (+3.6)
S Patrick Chung (+3.1)
RT Marcus Cannon (+2.3)