Twenty-seven thoughts on the Patriots’ loss to the Chiefs …
1. I went on record more than once in the buildup to this anticipated Patriots season with the belief that talk of a 16-0 season was absurd. Even the best teams can’t plan for attrition. Sometimes they can’t overcome a fired-up and ready opponent. The NFL is cruel and brutal, a weekly test of toughness and will. Success and survival are far more reasonable and respectful aspirations than premature projections of perfection.
2. Common sense suggested a 1 would end up in the Patriots loss column at some point this season, and humility should have reminded us that another crooked number or two would probably replace that 1 at some point. Do we actually need a reminder around here that a 12-4 season is excellent and a 13-3 season is superb? Not to wag a finger in the immediate aftermath of a frustrating defeat, but sometimes I wonder.
3. I imagine we’re together on this, though: Never did I expect the Patriots to have that 1 on the loss column before they had one in the win column. Alex Smith (368 yards, 4 TDs) outplayed Tom Brady, rookie Kareem Hunt tallied 246 total yards and three touchdowns, and the Chiefs overwhelmed the Patriots with 537 total yards in a 42-27 victory Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.
4. The Chiefs have had certain successes against the Patriots in recent years, including an ugly 41-14 thumping in Week 4 of the 2014 season. That game was not a harbinger of anything – the Patriots went on to beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. Perhaps this defeat won’t mean much in the long run, either.
5. But right now, there are red flags all over the field. The Patriots looked slow on defense and out of sync on defense, especially after Dont’a Hightower left with a knee injury. Their presumably deep receiver corps was down to Chris Hogan, Brandin Cooks, and Phillip Dorsett by game’s end. Julian Edelman’s absence was felt every time Brady dropped back on third down. This was so far from what was expected that it was jarring.
6. On the night the franchise unveiled its fifth championship banner, it was a performance that made February’s masterpiece in Houston feel like ancient history. Do Your Job felt less like a rallying cry and more like a vague and half-hearted suggestion. They’re going to be fine, better than fine. But it’s going to take some time to get there.
7. Hunt appeared briefly distraught after fumbling on his first NFL carry – not even Stevan Ridley did that – but man, did the kid ever redeem himself. He collected a touchdown reception in the final minute of the first half that cut the Patriots lead to 17-14. That wasn’t close to the end of it – his 78-yard catch-and-run in which he toasted new Patriots linebacker Cassius Marsh gave the Chiefs a 28-27 lead early in the fourth quarter. He added to the lead with a 4-yard run with a little more than five minutes left.
8. Marsh, acquired from Seattle five days ago, appears so far to be the closest thing Pete Carroll will come to revenge on the Patriots. Marsh also ran into Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt, though it was just a 5-yard penalty.
9. Hunt’s earlier score was set up by a brutal pass interference call in the end zone on Malcolm Butler, who was flagged for apparently not getting out of the way fast enough when a Chiefs receiver lunged for an underthrown Smith pass. The shameless strategy of that play – deliberately underthrowing the ball to draw a flag – is the second-most annoying play in sports, just behind an NBA player chucking up a 45-footer after contact to try to get a whistle and three free-throws.
10. Andy Reid is a fine tactician, but he’s been a head coach in the NFL for 19 seasons without mastering the play clock. So it would come as little surprise if he also has issues with when to go for 2. Am I wrong, or should he have gone for 2 when the Chiefs scored with slightly more than 5 minutes remaining to go up 34-27, conversion pending. A 2-point conversion makes it a two-possession game, while a failed conversion still keeps it at 7. A small nitpick since the Chiefs won without much late suspense, but I was bewildered by the call.
11. There were some good signs for the Patriots: The record shows that Mike Gillislee, my pick to succeed Dion Lewis ’15 and Chris Hogan ’16 as the unheralded breakout star of the Patriots offense, scored the first touchdown of the season less than three minutes into said season.
12. That TD, from 2 yards out, left him 17 touchdowns shy of the Patriots’ individual single-season record for rushing touchdowns, set last year by the guy he’s theoretically replacing, blunt-force trauma specialist LeGarrette Blount.
13. I’m not suggesting Gillislee will get close to that. But he’ll score enough to get to know the End Zone Militia crew on a first-name basis. Did I mention he later added another touchdown? Just 16 back of Blount already. Oh, and that third TD, putting the Patriots up 24-21 with 5:01 left in the third? Believe that leaves him just 15 shy of Blount. He’ll be posing with a musket in no time.
14. Gillislee’s second impression wasn’t quite as … well, impressive. In between his touchdowns, Eric Berry and the Chiefs defense stopped Gillislee without much suspense on fourth and 1 from the Kansas City 10-yard-line with 9:34 left in the first quarter and the Patriots already up 7-0. He was again stopped on fourth and 1 early in the fourth with the Patriots down 28-27.
15. Imagine I was thinking the same thing you were before both failed fourth-down situations: Perfect time for a Brady sneak. As Al Michaels pointed out before the play, the Patriots quarterback has converted 91 percent of his sneaks on third- or fourth-and-1 over his career. I can’t remember anything close to 9 percent of them failing, but I do wonder whether they’ll call the play less as he gets older.
16. In case you were wondering, Michaels and Cris Collinsworth brought up Chris Hogan’s lacrosse background for the first time with 1:27 remaining in the first quarter. I swear every broadcaster who called a Patriots game last season mentioned it within the first 10 minutes of action. It’s the new Say-did-you-know-Stephen Neal-was-a-collegiate-wrestler?
17. Michaels delivered the early front-runner for Wise-Guy Announcer Line of the Year: “The Patriots have better Buffalo players than Buffalo has.’’
18. Rob Ninkovich acknowledged during his debut appearance on CSN that he hasn’t closed the door on playing again. Sounds to me like he’s going to be on that break-glass-in-case-of-emergency, we’re-here-if-you-need-us shadow roster that in the past included in-season veteran additions Junior Seau and Rosevelt Colvin.
19. Rookie Deatrich Wise picked up his first career sack in the second quarter, tagging the fallen Smith after an ill-fated scramble. At some point this season, I hope to recognize Wise in his No. 91 jersey rather than initially wondering what Jamie Collins is doing out there. I’m hoping to get it straight before the bye week.
20. Travis Kelce is the second-best tight end in the AFC. He’s supremely talented. But he’s the obnoxious, look-at-me frat-oaf that fans outside of New England mistakenly believe Rob Gronkowski to be.
21. Trey Flowers thwarted a budding Chiefs drive early in the second quarter, sacking Alex Smith on third and 6 with the Patriots leading 10-7. Dating back to Week 8 last year and including the playoffs, he has 10.5 sacks in his last 13 games. Those who didn’t notice his 2.5 sacks in Super Bowl LI are going to notice him this year.
22. For all of the flashy new weapons at Brady’s disposal – not to mention the return of a favorite longstanding weapon in Gronkowski – it was kind of cool that ol’ reliable Danny Amendola was Brady’s top receiver in the first quarter of the new season, with 3 catches for 48 yards. He ultimately led the Patriots with 6 catches for 100 yards before departing with a head injury.
23. One of these days I should probably concede that letting Wes Welker go and signing Amendola, who seems to win more of Brady’s faith with each passing season, was, contrary to my caterwauling at the time, the absolute right thing to do.
24. Charlie Weis, new to CSN’s Patriots studio programming this year, referred to the Patriots as “we’’ four times in one sentence during his halftime analysis. He hasn’t worked for the Patriots since 2004. Someone needs to tell him his “we’’ rights have expired.
25. Stephon Gilmore was closer to Orchard Park, N.Y., than he was to Tyreek Hill on the Chiefs burner’s go-ahead 75-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.
26. When Brady failed to connect with Brandin Cooks on a short third-down sideline pattern in the second quarter, Collinsworth speculated that it was a missed throw. I’m not sure. Brady put his hands to his helmet and looked skyward after the pass, and maybe he was frustrated with himself. But that sure looked like the reaction we’ve been seeing for 17 years when a receiver isn’t precisely where he is supposed to be.
27. Cooks is a dynamo, but it might take some time for him to show it in full force. Even at, oh, medium-force, he’s a unlike any weapon the Patriots have had in recent years. He had two enormous plays in the third quarter, drawing a downfield 26-yard penalty on a hopeless Chiefs defensive back that set up Gillislee’s third touchdown. He also drew a flag that was declined on a 54-yard catch that preceded a Stephen Gostkowski field goal by a couple of plays.