T he New England Patriots faced off against Kansas City in a home game that many predicted could be a play-off rehearsal. After a Patriots first-drive touchdown, the Chiefs scored 20 unanswered points, and the New England fans let the players know how they felt with a chorus of boos.
The Patriots are currently in first place in the AFC East with a 99 per cent chance of making the play-offs, with a season of ten wins and only three losses so far.
Yes, the Patriots eventually lost 23-16 but for fans to boo a team that has missed the play-offs only three times in 20 years, it seems like an over-reaction. Their defense held quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offfense to only three points in the second half of the game.
New England have always been a team to find form when they need it most, but this season they have been over-reliant on defense. The offense doesn’t seem its usual self and generally on a Sunday with a 13-point deficit the money would have been on quarterback Tom Brady orchestrating a comeback. But that’s something he hasn’t been able to do this year.
Brady is having one of the worst seasons of his long career. He has his worst completion percentage since 2008 and his lowest touchdown total since 2003. It seems likely such a decline across the board would be down to a player’s age. After all, Brady is now 42.
But that’s not always the case. The most significant difference between Brady this season and in the past has been his ability to find tight ends with passes. After last year’s Super Bowl victory Rob Gronkowski, one of Brady’s favoured targets, retired and wasn’t replaced. If you look at Brady’s career, he has had several years when he has targeted tight ends with more than 20 per cent of his passes. In 2014, 29 per cent of his pass attempts were to Gronkowski alone. But this year Brady hasn’t used the safety net of his tight ends anywhere near as much. He has thrown to the three tight ends on the team only 37 times this season. That puts his percentage for targeting the position at 7.9 per cent lower than every year bar his first as a starter.
With such a big part of the offense removed, is it a surprise that Brady’s statistics are in decline.
Baltimore Ravens travelled to Buffalo and delivered a 24-17 win that guarantees them a play-off spot. With the Patriots loss to Kansas City, the Ravens are now in the much-coveted No 1 spot that brings a bye week at the start of the play-offs and home-field advantage.
The Chiefs’ win in Massachusetts along with the Raiders’ humbling 42-21 defeat by Tennessee means the Chiefs have also clinched a play-off spot. That Titans’ win over the Raiders moved them into a tie for first place in the AFC South after the Texans suffered a surprise 38-24 loss to the Denver Broncos, although the Texans still hold the play-off spot on a tiebreaker.
The San Francisco 49ers travelled to New Orleans where they competed in a shootout, that ended with two score changes in the last minute. Drew Brees led the Saints downfield in the dying minutes to score a touchdown, only for the Niners to reply with a big passing play to George Kittle before kicking a field goal as time expired to win 48-46.
The Seattle Seahawks lost 28-12 to the LA Rams, who are slowly forcing their way back into the play-off hunt. The Minnesota Vikings controlled the Detroit Lions in a 20-7 victory that keeps them ahead of the Rams by one game in their division.
The Pittsburgh Steelers also kept their hat in the ring with a 23-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Despite a win over Ohio state rivals Cincinnati, the Cleveland Browns still sit two games back of the Steelers and, with only three games to go, making the play-offs may be a step too far for them.
The Jets picked up a 22-21 win over the Dolphins with a last-minute field goal, while Tampa Bay beat Indianapolis in a 38-35 shootout.
Carolina suffered a 40-20 loss to Atlanta the week after firing head coach Ron Rivera.