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Snap Judgments: Chiefs can’t stop Rob Gronkowski, Pats can stop Tyler Palko

11.21.11 at 11:37 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Though it took some time before the rout was on, the Patriots overcame a bit of early scoreboard confusion and dropped the Chiefs, 34-3, Monday night at Gillette Stadium.

Led by Tyler Palko, who was making his first career start, the Chiefs jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the Pats hit their offensive stride and got a big night out of Rob Gronkowski, who had two touchdowns in the win. The Pats both intercepted and sacked Palko three times, while Tom Brady completed 15-of-27 passes for 234 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The 7-3 Pats will head to Philadelphia next week to face the Eagles.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– Gronkowski had his fourth two-touchdown game this season, and the sixth of his career. Brady found the second-year tight end wide open over the middle in the second quarter, hitting Gronkowski for a 52-yard touchdown, the longest of No. 87’s career. The play was reviewed to determine whether he stayed in bounds when he made Kendrick Lewis miss along the sideline, and was confirmed upon the review.

Early in the third quarter, Brady hit Gronkowski behind the line of scrimmage on third-and-2 for a 19-yard touchdown. Gronkowski now has 20 career touchdowns after racking up 10 as a rookie. The second-year player is just the sixth tight end in NFL history with 10 or more touchdowns in two seasons.

– What didn’t Julian Edelman do Monday night? With the Pats thin on defense, the quarterback-turned-receiver saw time as both a defensive back and even linebacker. He drew a holding penalty on Chiefs tight end Leonard Pope in the second quarter, and on the following play recorded a tackle.

The highlight of Edelman’s night came when he shifted his way to a 72-yard punt return in the third quarter. It was his second career punt return touchdown, and he joined Troy Brown (three), Irving Fryar (three) and Mike Haynes (two) as the only Patriots to return multiple punts for touchdowns.

– Sure, the Pats probably weren’t expecting to allow the first points of the game, but give their red zone defense credit for tightening up when the Chiefs were on the doorstep in the first quarter. After Thomas Jones bounced it to the outside for a 26-yard scamper to set the Chiefs up for a first-and-goal from the 5-yard line, the Pats took advantage of an illegal shift penalty and stopped the Chiefs’ rushing bids to set up a 26-yard field goal from Ryan Succop. The first-quarter field goal provided the only three points the Chiefs would get on the night.

– Though he didn’t throw for a ton of yards on the night, Brady did pass Boomer Esiason for 15th on the all-time passing yards list.

Kyle Arrington added two more interceptions to his total, and now leads the league with seven picks on the season. Both of his interceptions came off tipped balls. He was beaten in the second quarter by Steve Breaston for a 19-yard Chiefs completion, but on the following play, Rob Ninkovich hit Palko as he was throwing, and the result was a semi-catchable ball that Breaston essentially tipped into the hands of Arrington. The cornerback picked up his seventh pick when he secured a ball off the hands of Jonathan Baldwin. Arrington’s seven interceptions are two more than any other player in the league.

There was an injury scare for the corner, as Arrington remained down in the fourth quarter following a 25-yard reception by Dwayne Bowe in which Arrington tackled the Kansas City receiver. Luckily for the Pats, he was back in the game in short order. With Devin McCourty inactive due to a shoulder injury he suffered last week, the Pats can ill-afford more injuries in their secondary.

– Arrington wasn’t the only one to pick off Palko, who was making his first career start. Palko showed his inexperience when he threw into triple coverage looking for Breaston in the end zone in the fourth quarter. Phillip Adams came up with the easy interception, the first of his career.

– Cancer survivor Marcus Cannon was active for the first time as a member of the Patriots, and he got into the game late in the fourth quarter. Cannon was one of the top guard prospects in the draft, but fell to the fifth round after he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma during the combine. It was certainly a feel-good moment for the rookie lineman and the Patriots.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Wes Welker, who entered the night leading the NFL in both receptions (72) and receiving yards (1,006), was not targeted once in the first half. Aside from an eight-yard completion to Deion Branch in the second quarter, Brady’s focus was almost exclusively on the tight ends early on, and he found success in connecting with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Welker was targeted more in the second half, and had a pair of fourth-quarter receptions.

Sebastian Vollmer was little more than a miniature traffic cone for Tamba Hali. He barely deterred the pass-rushing Penn State product on his second-quarter sack of Brady, which brought the Pats back to their own 6-yard line and forced them to punt on fourth-and-21. There were more instances in which Vollmer was beaten with ease, but none as glaring as Hali’s sack.

– Speaking of sacks, the Patriots allowed more than they would have liked. The Chiefs entered the game with just nine sacks on the season, but they were able to pick up three on the night. In addition to Hali’s second-quarter sack, both Amon Gordon and Wallace Gilberry were able to get to Brady behind the line of scrimmage. Brady fumbled on Gilberry’s sack, with Allen Bailey recovering at the Kansas City 27 in the second quarter. The play was the Pats’ lone turnover of the night.

Read More: Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady, Tyler Palko

Halftime analysis: Patriots 10, Chiefs 3

11.21.11 at 10:07 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Two quarters are in the books here at Gillette Stadium, and the Patriots hold a 7-3 lead on the Chiefs. Here are a couple of quick notes on the first half:

‘€¢Patriots quarterback Tom Brady finished the first half 8-for-16 for 133 and one touchdown, while Rob Gronkowski had three catches for 77 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Kansas City’s Tyler Palko was 10-for-14 for 111 yards and one pick, while Thomas Jones had seven carries for47 yards.

‘€¢The Patriots opened with some interesting wrinkles on defense, including the presence of wide receiver Julian Edelman as a defensive back on several snaps in the first half. (Edelman played four snaps at the position a week ago in the win over the Jets.) The Patriots also utilized Jermaine Cunningham as more of an outside linebacker (he had spent more time at defensive end) throughout portions of the first half, a surprise for someone who had been buried on the depth chart as of late. Edelman was a bit of a mixed bag, making a couple of nice tackles but getting steamrolled on a couple of other plays. (He did a nice job drawing a hold on a running play, getting Kansas City tight end Leonard Pope flagged, which negated a big run for the Chiefs.)

‘€¢The defensive highlight of the first half came with just over two minutes left in the second quarter and Kansas City driving. New England cornerback Kyle Arrington stepped into front of a Palko pass for Steve Breaston and returned the ball to the New England 46-yard line. It was Arrington’s sixth pick of the season, which leads the league. (On the play, Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich flattened Palko, which may have affected the throw.) That set the stage for New England’s last drive of the half, an eight-play, 51-yard drive that ended with a 21-yard field goal from Gostkowski to make it 10-3 at halftime.

‘€¢Overall, the Patriots were able to hold the Chiefs to just three first-half points, yielding a 26-yard field goal with 1:30 left in the first to make it 3-0. Tyler Palko and the rest of the Kansas City offense wasn’t afraid to take some shots, going downfield on occasion, and even shaking things up with a modified Wildcat on one play. That daring extended to special teams, where the Chiefs tried a surprise onside kick after taking a 3-0 lead. (Of course, that sense of daring was certainly debatable, as Kansas City coach Todd Haley decided not to go for in on fourth and one in New England territory earlier in the half.)

‘€¢Meanwhile, the New England offense was sluggish early, as the Patriots first two series ended with punts and the third was halted when Brady was sacked and fumbled the football, giving the Chiefs the ball at their own 27-yard line. The Patriots finally got on the board with 4:18 left in the first half on a 52-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Gronkowski where Gronkowski was able to beat linebacker Derrick Johnson and stay inbounds down the Kansas City sideline for the score. (It was the longest touchdown catch of Gronkowski’s career.)

Patriots-Chiefs Live Blog

11.21.11 at 7:23 pm ET
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Patriots-Chiefs Live Blog

Read More: Tom Brady, Tyler Palko,

Inactive analysis for the Patriots

11.21.11 at 7:20 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots announced that the following players were inactive for Monday’s game against the Chiefs: quarterback Ryan Mallett, safety Patrick Chung, cornerback Devin McCourty, running back Kevin Faulk and linebackers Dane Fletcher, Jeff Tarpinian and Brandon Spikes.

The biggest names missing are Chung and McCourty, which will leave the Patriots thin in the secondary. This is the second consecutive week that Chung (foot) will sit out, while McCourty suffered a shoulder injury when he collided with teammate Sterling Moore in the first half of last week’s game against the Jets and did not return. Expect more snaps for Moore and James Ihedigbo at safety. (The Patriots do have some depth at the safety spot with Sergio Brown and Ross Ventrone, the latter of whom was re-signed to New England’s active roster earlier on Monday.)

The Patriots will also be without three linebackers in Fletcher, Spikes and Tarpinian. Fletcher (thumb) and Spikes (knee) have already been out for an extended stretch, while Tarpinian (illness) has struggled over the last week to stay on the field. Gary Guyton was banged up last week with a shoulder problem, but should get more work this week because of the injury situation.

Two names on the offensive side of the ball who could get more reps because they’re active are wide receiver Taylor Price and running back Shane Vereen. Both have been used sparingly this season, as Price has struggled to see the field because of a hamstring problem while the rookie Vereen has been squeezed out because of a numbers game. (With Faulk on the sidelines Monday night, it likely gave Vereen the opportunity to at least dress for the game.)

Read More: Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher, Devin McCourty, Gary Guyton

Setting the scene: Patriots-Chiefs

11.21.11 at 12:23 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Clear skies and temperatures in the low-to-mid 30s are expected for kickoff tonight (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) as the Patriots look to take a stranglehold on the AFC East against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Tonight will be the chilliest game of the season to date, falling below the 40 degrees in Pittsburgh on Oct. 30, and the previous coldest Gillette game of the season, a not-so-frosty 54 on Nov. 6 for the Pats-Giants.

The last time these two teams met on Monday night was back in 2004. While most of New England was still reveling in the end of a certain 86-year-old curse three weeks earlier, the Patriots went into Kansas City and won for the first time ever at Arrowhead and for the first time in Kansas City since 1964 by virtue of a 27-19 win. Corey Dillon had a pair of TD runs in the win.

And obviously, no one forgets the last time the two teams met overall. It was Opening Day 2008 and the only game Tom Brady would play in that season. He dropped back to pass near midfield in the first quarter when safety Bernard Pollard rolled into his left knee, tearing up his ACL and requiring reconstructive surgery.

Matt Cassel came on to lead the Patriots to a 17-10 win and 11 wins in the ’08 season before falling just short of the playoffs.

The Patriots enter the game with a 6-3 mark and can take a two-game lead over the Bills and Jets for the division lead, with the Jets and Bills both losing earlier in the Week 11. The 4-5 Chiefs have been the definition of an up-and-down team this season. After losing their first three games, they rebounded to win their next four and apparently seemed destined for a title defense in the AFC West.

But what seemed a easy two-game homestand against the Dolphins and Broncos turned into a nightmare as they lost 31-3 to the previously winless Fish and 17-10 to the Broncos. They need tonight’s game desperately, just to remain one game behind the 6-4 Raiders in the AFC West.

Adding injury to insult, they lost Cassel indefinitely to a hand injury that required surgery last week. As a result, UFL castoff Tyler Palko – a lefty out of the University of Pittsburgh – gets his first NFL start.

There’s little doubt the Chiefs will try to establish the run more than any team the Patriots have faced this season. They enter the game fifth in the AFC in rushing at a clip of 124.4 yards per game. The quartet of Thomas Jones, Le’Ron McClain, Dexter McCluster and Jackie Battle will rotate their touches and attempt to take the load off Palko. Check out Chris Price’s “10 Matchups” for more insight to the contest.

The Patriots have already ruled out linebackers Dane Fletcher (thumb) and Brandon Spikes (knee) while Devin McCourty (shoulder) is doubtful. The Patriots listed 13 others as questionable for the game.

Other things to watch tonight:

Brady enters the game with 3,032 passing yards and needs just 295 more to set a new NFL record for most passing yards in the first 10 games of a season. Drew Brees has the top two marks of all time with 3,326 this season and 3,251 in 2008.

Brady looks to get back on the winning track at Gillette after losing a regular season home game for the first time since 2006 in his last outing, a 24-20 defeat to the Giants.

Read More: Bernard Pollard, Bill Belichick, Brandon Spikes, Corey Dillon

AHL team to pay Rob Gronkowski’s fine if he participates in pregame ‘puck spike’

11.21.11 at 11:08 am ET
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Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski‘s excitement quickly turned to dismay following a third-quarter touchdown in last week’s 37-16 win over the Jets. Gronkowski spiked the ball in front of a Jets defender after a 5-yard touchdown reception gave the Patriots a 23-9 lead and was immediately penalized by the referees for his celebration. On Friday, the NFL announced it would fine Gronkowski $7,500 for the celebration.

The wallet hit sparked a reaction from more than just Gronkowski himself. On Saturday, the AHL’s Worcester Sharks announced they would reimburse Gronkowski for the fine if he agreed to participate in a ceremonial “puck spike” before the Sharks’ Feb. 24 game against the Providence Bruins at the DCU Center in Worcester.

“The Sharks would be more than happy to reimburse Gronkowski to spike the puck before a Worcester Sharks game,” Sharks president Michael A. Mudd said in a statement. ‘€œSharks fans are Patriots fans and I know that they would enjoy watching Gronkowski show us how to properly spike a puck at center ice and sign some autographs. I hope Rob takes us up on the offer.”

The Sharks consider the P-Bruins their biggest rivals and said having Gronkowski at that game would be fitting considering his spike came in a game against the rival Jets. It is not just Worcester fans who might appreciate having a Patriots player at the game. The Sharks roster boasts four New England natives, all of whom are from Massachusetts: Ben Ferriero, John McCarthy, Brian O’Hanley and Sean Sullivan.

Read More: Rob Gronkowski, Worcester Sharks,

Nuggetpalooza: Patriots vs Chiefs!

11.21.11 at 9:30 am ET
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Tonight the Patriots, who over the last eight days have made great strides toward winning the AFC East, face the struggling Chiefs, who won’t have the services of their starting quarterback, Matt Cassel. Here are some numbers to get you ready:

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* – Do you realize that this is the first team that the Patriots have played this season against a team with more losses than wins? That’s right, they’ve played three teams that were at .500: The Jets in Week 5 and Dallas in Week 6 were 2-2, and Miami was technically at .500 in the season opener. All the others were over .500 when they faced the Pats: San Diego (1-0), Buffalo (2-0), Oakland (2-1), Pittsburgh (5-2), New York Giants (5-2), and the Jets (5-3).

Note this: The 9-game streak without playing a team with a losing record is the longest by a Patriots team in a single season and the longest in the NFL since, well, last season, when the Browns didn’t play a team with a losing record until Week 12.

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* – The last time that the Patriots lost at home to a team with a losing record in Week 5 or after was way back in Week 10, 1999, when they lost to a 2-6 Jets team, 24-17. They’ve won 25 such games in a row since then.

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* – The Chiefs have pitched second half shutouts in each of their last two road games. It’s the first time they’ve done it in consecutive road tilts since they allowed no points in three straight second halfs on the road in 1997.

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* – The Patriots’€™ defense has allowed their opponents’€™ to gain a first down (i.e.a gain of 10+ yards) on 26% of opponents’€™ first down plays, on pace to be the highest/worst percentage since at least 2000:

25.7% – Patriots, 2011
22.6% – Rams, 2003
22.5% – Lions, 2008

Only one Patriots defense has ended a season above 20% (2001).

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* – Over the season’€™s first six weeks, the Patriots converted 13-of-32 (league high 40.6%) in 3rd-and-6+ situations. Since then, they’€™ve gone just 3-of-23 (13%), the third worst mark in the NFL in that span. Only Detroit (7.7%; 2-of-26) and Denver (11.8%; 4-of-34) have been worse.

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* – The Patriots have not thrown a pick on their opening possession of a game since 2009. The Chiefs have picked off their opponents on their opening possesion a league leading three times this season. Kansas City’€™s defense only had three such picks over the previous six seasons combined.

——————————————————————————————————— Read the rest of this entry »

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