Where do we start?
Thursday night’s NFL Kickoff Game wasn’t the traditional “everything that can go wrong goes wrong” game for the New England Patriots, but they certainly didn’t do themselves many favors in the 42-27 drubbing by the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Patriots didn’t turn over the ball, but key players suffered injuries, they let up big play after big play, and, to add insult to injury, New England couldn’t stop the run. A team has to play pretty poorly to lose despite winning the turnover and penalty battles. The Chiefs coughed up a fumble and were penalized 15 times for 139 yards(!), while the Patriots committed just six infractions for 55 yards.
While the postgame sentiment and mood likely would have been similar regardless of the outcome based on how poorly the Patriots played, New England probably would have emerged victorious if not for key injuries to wide receiver Danny Amendola and linebacker Dont’a Hightower. The Patriots were outscored 21-10 after Hightower left with a knee injury. They were leading 27-21 before Amendola left with a concussion. The Chiefs then went on a 21-0 run to finish the game. The wheels didn’t truly come off until the fourth quarter.
Big plays killed the Patriots more than the Chiefs’ rushing attack and just as much as injuries. The Patriots came out of the gate in a pseudo-dime defensive alignment with safety Jordan Richards playing linebacker, daring the Chiefs to run. And run they did. Rookie running back Kareem Hunt carried the ball 17 times for 148 yards with a touchdown. The Chiefs overall averaged 6.9 yards per carry on 27 attempts.
The Patriots probably could have kept up if that’s all the Chiefs were able to do offensively. Unfortunately for the Patriots, who clearly trusted their high-priced secondary entering the game, the Chiefs also fired off huge plays to carve through the Patriots’ defense. The Patriots allowed six total plays of 40-plus yards in 2016. They let up three Thursday night alone.
Let’s take a closer look at those plays.
It’s difficult to tell exactly who was to blame on Tyreek Hill’s 75-yard touchdown. Safety Devin McCourty took responsibility for the big play, but it certainly looks like he expected Stephon Gilmore to continue carrying Hill down the sideline, which the cornerback didn’t. While it appears the Patriots were in a Cover-2, sometimes it’s difficult to tell exactly what coverage New England is in and what responsibilities each defensive back has within those coverages.
Regardless of who was at fault, the Patriots will need to have better communication and clean up these kinds of mistakes moving forward.
New addition Cassius Marsh, who probably shouldn’t be 1-on-1 with running backs downfield regardless, simply got flat-footed as he covered Kareem Hunt into the flat. When Hunt turned upfield, the defensive end was toast.
So, so much went wrong on Hunt’s 58-yard run. Linebacker Elandon Roberts got pancaked, cornerback Malcolm Butler got cut down, linebacker Kyle Van Noy was too slow to the sideline and safety Patrick Chung got blocked out in his attempt to set the edge. McCourty was the last line of defense but had to cut back upfield to catch Hunt and push him out of bounds before he could reach the end zone.
A couple other plays stood out that could have saved the Patriots from defeat:
— The Patriots had the ball on the Chiefs’ 4-yard line, leading 24-21 with 58 seconds left in the third quarter. Brady tossed the ball to running back James White, who ran to the left end. Center David Andrews couldn’t get to the second level in time to block Derrick Johnson, and White was stopped by the linebacker for a 6-yard loss.
— On the next play, Brady was pressured from his right and began to scramble. He had the entire field to his right to continue rolling up but instead turned upfield. Once he was a yard past the line of scrimmage, Brady chucked the ball to White and was flagged for an illegal forward pass. The Patriots had gone from the Chiefs’ 4-yard line to the 14 in two plays.
The Patriots also had varying degrees of success in short-yardage situations. Mike Gillislee scored three touchdowns on the goal line but couldn’t convert on two fourth-and-1 situations.
One more observation of note is White lacked field awareness to find the first-down marker twice. The Patriots were forced to kick a field goal at the end of the first half when White stepped out of bounds with a yard to go. They went for it on fourth-and-1 and failed to convert when White dove a yard shy of the first down early in the fourth quarter. It’s anecdotal, but those are plays in which a wide receiver like Julian Edelman likely would have gotten the first down.
A few more notes:
— Rob Gronkowski didn’t look like himself. Perhaps it was him being covered by Eric Berry, perhaps he’s still getting used to playing slimmed down or maybe it’s the three back surgeries taking their toll. Berry was a tough matchup, but Gronkowski usually beats even the best players for a few big plays.
— Brady still looks to be getting used to life without Edelman. A 16-of-36 performance is unforgivable, however.
— It’s possible we hyped up the Patriots’ running back corps and wide receiver Chris Hogan too much. Dion Lewis was the only running back to break a tackle, and Hogan was having trouble separating.
— The Patriots’ third-down pass rush was a bright spot. Trey Flowers recorded two sacks, giving him 11 1/2 in his last 13 games. Rookie defensive tackle Adam Butler had one sack, and undrafted defensive tackle Adam Butler also brought pressure.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images