Some day, when American football is being played by highly skilled androids because human beings have wised up to the fact that the bodies of even the most evolved primates were not built to play the game, children will ask their grandparents what football was like when carbon-based life forms competed against each other and the National Football League tried to mitigate the damage. Their grandparents will then show them a video of Sunday night’s game in Foxboro between the Chiefs and the Patriots, which ended 43–40 when New England’s Stephen Gostkowski kicked a field goal as the final seconds ran out.
There was just one punt, coming from Kansas City with 3:50 left in the fourth quarter. There were 49 first downs and 946 yards of total offense. There was a 96-yard kickoff return and a 75-yard touchdown pass. The quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady combined for 679 passing yards. Seven different Patriots caught passes. Tyreek Hill caught 12 passes for 142 yards. There were 30 total points scored in the fourth quarter alone. Brady broke a tackle and dove through two dudes to score a touchdown. Mahomes played as advertised—cool, poised and capable of throwing a football to Venus off his back foot.
If Chuck Bednarik were still alive, this game would’ve killed him. If NFL football in the year 2018 is designed for more scoring while at the same time keeping players safe from severe bodily harm, then the tape of this game should be stored in a bombproof underground bunker so future historians can study it.
“You learn a ton,” said Mahomes. “First off, you’re playing a great opponent in a great atmosphere and so just to be able to go against the best, you want to compete against them every single day. We got down. We put ourselves in a huge hole. I’m just proud of my team and how we fought to get back in the game. We had the lead at one point and then ended up not coming out with the win. But, that fight, it’s something you can carry forward to the entire season.”
Indeed, it didn’t begin well for Mahomes and the Chiefs. On the very first Kansas City possession, they drove the ball into New England territory only to have Mahomes overthrow two potential touchdown passes. Later, he threw two interceptions; on the first, he got Belichick’ed, failing to see that Patriot linebacker Dont’a Hightower had dropped back into coverage, and on the second, he threw into triple coverage and, after the ball had bounced off three different players, it floated into the hands of New England’s Duron Harmon right before halftime. New England led 24–9 in what was still recognizable as a football game. The real track meet broke out after the break.
“There were a lot of good players on the field tonight,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “You had two good teams and they both competed very hard. It came down to the final play of the game. There were a lot of good players out there on both sides of the ball.”
The teams scored a combined 24 points in the last eight minutes of the game. The most signifying score came with three minutes left and the Patriots leading, 40-33. Mahomes let one go downfield and slightly behind Tyreek Hill, who was just running toward an open space in the New England secondary. Hill leaped, caught the ball, landed in what was almost a dead stop and then simply burst past everyone for a 75-yard touchdown that tied the game. It was a startling display of pure athleticism from both men, and dear Lord, is Tyreek Hill fast.
“I was just looking for a spot and then I just tried to make a play,” Hill said.
Unfortunately, that left three minutes remaining on the clock—far too much time for Brady to do what Brady does. New England’s game-winning drive was a masterpiece of simple efficiency. Rookie running back Sony Michel converted a big third-and-one. Then Brady found James White for 16 yards. And then, Rob Gronkowski got loose on a seam route down the right hashmarks and Brady hit him for 39 yards to the Kansas City nine-yard line. That put Gostkowski in position to win the game.
“Tyreek was running to score and I said, ‘Good. Score quick, because then we’d have enough time,” Brady said. “It gave us a little time to go down and kick the field goal. I was happy we made that third-and-one. That gave us a great opportunity and then we hit some other plays. Gronk got a matchup and he made a big play. He’s been making a lot of those in his career and I’ll keep throwing to him in the biggest moments.”
Of course, while all the pyrotechnics were exploding in Foxboro, a few degrees north in Boston, the Red Sox were managing to even the American League Championship Series with the Houston Astros. Boston started pitcher David Price which, in the postseason, is a lot like the guys in the movie Wages of Fear, driving that load of nitro through the South American jungle. Nevertheless, the 7–5 final score at least demonstrated to the Red Sox that beating Houston wasn’t completely beyond the realm of possibility.
Since the Patriots upset the Rams in the Super Bowl in 2002, Boston’s teams have been on one of the more significant hot streaks in the history of the sports-entertainment industrial complex. Every one of them has won at least one championship and both the Red Sox and Patriots have won more than one. These, of course, were some great disturbances in the historical force. The Red Sox broke an eight-decades long drought, and then won twice more, and easily, too. And the Patriots suddenly became a remorseless machine after spending more than 20 years as the NFL’s premier vaudeville act. (A home game in Alabama?) It was a karmic reversal of the most dramatic kind and, to be entirely honest, Boston fans didn’t necessarily react in a way that endeared them to the rest of the country to all this winning, to borrow a phrase grown popular in recent years.
Between the endless historical maundering about the baseball team’s allegedly haunted past, to the resentment—justified and otherwise—directed toward the football team’s success, there’s a sense that gluttony has bred entitlement. It’s largely unfair, but it exists anyway. And there’s no way to dispel it except to begin losing again, and I’m fairly sure that the city’s teams do not owe that to the country so the fans in all the loser cities can feel better about themselves.
I’m sorry, the president briefly took control of my brain there.
But what this success does is provide several weekends like the one just passed, in which a confluence of important games brings attention flooding into the eastern part of the Commonwealth. And the Celtics, who are the second-favorites for the NBA championship this year, kick things off this week while the Bruins have scored 14 goals in their last two games. Naturally, there’s good and bad in all of this. The morons who threw beer at Tyreek Hill after he scored his astonishing touchdown need to be fired into the sun. But they did it on national television in the only NFL game that was being played at the moment. Too many things can be embodied in a single act of spotlit idiocy.
“I don’t want to get into that,” Hill said. “I’ll just stay away from stuff like that.”
The upside is that you get games like the football game on Sunday night in which everybody brings their best and puts on a fairly amazing show and then gets to talk about it afterwards as though there were something otherworldly about it. With eight and a half minutes left in the game, Kansas City took its only lead of the night, at 33-30, when Mahomes hit Hill with a one-yard pass that he lobbed up in the end zone amid two New England defenders as well as Hill and Kareem Hunt. Was he really throwing to Hill or to Hunt?
“For real,” Hill said.
“A magician,” said Patrick Mahomes with a smile, “never reveals his secrets.” Which is always as it should be.