FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Was that better? Do you feel good now?

After scuffling through their final six games, the New England Patriots finally resembled the team that won its first 10 games and was considered the best in the NFL. Not coincidentally, two of their biggest offensive stars provided the biggest lifts in a 27-20 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC divisional round playoff game Saturday at Gillette Stadium.

Julian Edelman returned after missing the final seven games with a broken foot and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. And Rob Gronkowski showed that even at less than 100 percent, he’s better than 99 percent of the players on the field.

Their efforts helped the Patriots secure a trip to the AFC championship game for the fifth consecutive year.

“Having them changes everything,” said Matthew Slater, New England’s special teams captain.

Edelman caught a team-high 10 passes for 100 yards and, as Tom Brady’s security blanket, kept a couple of drives going with third-down conversions.

Gronkowski, hindered all week in practice by a knee injury, caught seven passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns. And for good measure, he caught and cradled the onside kick the Chiefs attempted after they pulled within a score with 1:18 remaining.

“It was good, it was good,” said wide receiver Danny Amendola about getting those two back. “Get some guys back, run around and make some plays. We were happy to get the win.”

It wasn’t perfect by any means – Edelman continually bemoaned the two passes he dropped – but this performance was certainly better than anything the Patriots displayed recently.

And it started early.

On the first drive, the Patriots went 80 yards in 11 plays, with Brady coolly finding the openings in Kansas City’s defense. Boom-boom-boom. Brady to Edelman for 11 on third-and-10. Brady to Edelman for 13. Brady to Amendola for 16. Brady to Gronkowski for 32 on third-and-8. Brady to Gronkowski for 3.

Then, on third-and-7, Brady to Gronkowski for an 8-yard touchdown, a perfectly thrown back-shoulder pass to the left where Gronkowski leaped to catch the ball against an overmatched Sean Smith.

That drive established everything and showed that Edelman was ready to play and Gronkowski was ready to roll.

“You always want to get a fast start, especially being together with everyone, Julian, Danny, everyone back out there on the field,” said Gronkowski. “We were all just clicking on that drive and it was great to get a touchdown. That’s how you want to start.”

It certainly put the fan base at ease, and probably got the Chiefs thinking they were in for a long night.

The Pats put together a 98-yard drive in the second quarter. And Brady hit Gronkowski from 16 yards in the third.

It would be Edelman who put the exclamation point on the night. With New England facing a second-and-12 in the final minute, he caught a pass that deflected off Kansas City’s Tamba Hali for 12 yards for a clinching first down.

Edelman didn’t make much of his return.

“It felt good,” he said. “Any time you can go out with teammates and get a win in the divisional round against a good football team, it feels good.”

He said he felt good physically – “You get bumps and bruises, it’s part of the game,” he said – and wasn’t restricted in anything he did. Asked if he had an X-ray after the game on his foot, he said he didn’t. Pressed – a reporter apparently saw him going into the X-ray room – he said to ask Coach Bill Belichick.

For him it was simply a return to the game he loves. For others it was a return to the offense the Patriots expect.

And that’s trouble for everyone else.

 


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