The battle between Patrick Mahomes and Bill Belichick created a classic

Bill Belichick finally broke the machine known as Patrick Mahomes. Then, at halftime, the machine got well, and the game was on.

On Sunday, we witnessed one of the best regular-season NFL games in some time. The clash between the 5-0 Kansas City Chiefs and the 3-2 New England Patriots was one of the best-played games our league has had in some time.  There is going to be a lot written and even more said about why this game was so unique. But just like every game in the NFL, you can simplify the game down to two things; red zone success and explosive plays.

Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick has generally believed in the same thing on defense for years; limit the big plays and get stops in the red zone. Usually, these two work hand in hand. The Patriots don’t allow explosive plays often as they like to force offenses to work the entire field. They would prefer to give up a 12-play drive that ends in a field goal rather than a quick score, even if it means getting their offense back on the field. Their defensive philosophy has always been to allow underneath routes to prevent big plays and eventually, they will score touchdowns while their opponents are kicking field goals.

Historically, offenses dink-and-dunk their way down the field on New England. However, the Patriots usually tighten up in the red zone. For the past two decades, New England has been consistently good in the red zone on both offense and defense. That’s been the key to their success every year since Belichick arrived.

On Sunday, the Patriots did what you would expect them to do in the red zone. Kansas City had five trips inside the 20-yard line but managed to score just two touchdowns. The Patriots forced the Chiefs to kick field goals from the 6,12 and 24-yard line.

How did they have so much success against the Chiefs in the red zone? It was fairly simple. The Patriots are primarily a zone team in the red zone. They want to force quarterbacks into either throwing into tight windows or dumping the ball underneath to running backs.

However, that’s not in Mahomes’ DNA. He wants to hold onto the ball to extend plays as he is one of the few gunslingers the league has at the quarterback position. Instead of taking the short, safe throw, Mahomes usually opts for the more aggressive play in the red zone. New England knew that and did everything in their power to keep Mahomes in the pocket as they stayed disciplined in their zones.

Against other teams, this style of play has worked. But New England’s veteran defense knew to stay home as Mahomes would typically try to force a throw. That ended up costing them dearly on a drive later in the game.

The biggest mistake the Chiefs had all day was on a red zone trip before halftime. On 3rd and 9, the Chiefs had one more play to score, or they would have been forced to kick a field goal. We like to call these “four-point” plays. But instead of Mahomes “killing” a busted play and living to accept the three points, he threw a costly interception. Let’s take a look at this game-changing play in New England.

Initially, the Patriots brought three rushers, but linebacker Dont’a Hightower blitzed after jamming tight end Travis Kelce at the line of scrimmage. Belichick knew that Kelce is the Chiefs’ best red zone weapon, so they did everything in their power to limit his effectiveness all day. Aside from just jamming him at the line of scrimmage with Hightower, the Patriots used two defenders to bracket him down the field. But even that couldn’t prevent Mahomes from trying to fit the ball into his tight end.

Mahomes is known for his backyard style of football, and the Patriots played it perfectly. They cut the field in half for Mahomes, and he forced a pass into double coverage to Kelce. A brutal way to end the half.

Usually, when a team has this little success in the red zone against the Patriots (or any other team for that matter), the game is a blowout. That’s even truer when you consider the Patriots had 500 yards of offense and just one turnover. There is no room for error. However, this game wasn’t a blow-out. It was anything but, due to the extraordinary talent of Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense.

The biggest reason why the Chiefs were able to stay in this game was that they were able to do something against New England that very few teams have ever been able to do; consistently hit big plays down the field. Being able to churn out explosive play after explosive play against New England doesn’t happen. That is in part because of how the Patriots have designed their defense. However, Andy Reid has figured out a way to exploit them through the air.

Consider this. Since 2010, the Patriots have allowed two completions of at least 50 yards in a single game just twice. The first occurrence was in Week 1 of 2017 against Kansas City and then once again on Sunday night. In both games, the Chiefs scored 40 points or more points. Let’s take a look at both of those plays.

The Patriots have a fundamentally sound defense. When things happen on schedule and in rhythm, they are usually able to contain the top offenses in the NFL. However, when a play breaks down and chaos sets in, it often leads to mistakes for New England. In part, that occurs because they don’t just aren’t as talented on defense as most other teams across the NFL. Their defense lacks overall speed, and it comes back to bite them. They rely so much on the scheme winning that when the scheme fails, there isn’t much to fall back on.

Mahomes’ ability to extend plays and hit receivers/windows that most other quarterbacks dream of making put a lot of pressure on the Patriots’ defense. On Kareem Hunt’s 67-yard touchdown throw, the Patriots played Cover-2 coverage that was designed to keep the ball in front of safeties. But in typical Mahomes’ fashion, he was able to extend the play with his mobility and then out-throw the coverage. That arm talent and movement skills from Mahomes resulted in a game-changing touchdown throw down the sideline to his running back.

Later in the game, Mahomes was able to hit on another throw down the field that should have never have turned into a touchdown. New England was playing a single high safety for most of the game with the idea that Duron Harmon wouldn’t let anyone get behind him. To the Patriots’ credit, they forced the Chiefs to throw the ball in the middle of the field. That didn’t matter to Mahomes.

Mahomes delivered the ball where he needed to, and Tyreek Hill did the rest. This is an example of Belichick putting his players in the right position, but just not having the overall athleticism to make the play. But in their defense, not many players can stop Hill in the open field. As good as the Patriots’ scheme is on defense, it can’t always account for the generational type of players. There are just going to be times where the Patriots will have to tip their cap to their opponent because there is nothing they can do to stop them.

Sunday’s game was a contest between a team with extreme levels of athleticism, talent and creative playcalling versus a technically sound, veteran defense. The Patriots won this battle, but this rivalry between Patrick Mahomes and Bill Belichick is just getting started. With the way the AFC is beginning to shape up, we could see these two teams meet in the playoffs. That would be a joy to all fans that love high-level football.

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