Five takeaways from the Patriots’ 26-10 loss to the Chiefs, a defeat that was delayed by a day — and made to feel almost inevitable — after quarterback Cam Newton tested positive for Covid-19…
A lens into the world without Cam
The Patriots held the best quarterback and best offense in football scoreless for nearly three full quarters. Doing so meant coming up with third down stops to stunt two long drives early, forcing free a fumble on another promising march for the Chiefs, and defensively withstanding a massive time of possession disparity in the opening quarter.
Yet the Patriots never led in the game. And, honestly, they never appeared poised to seize control of the contest — save for one fleeting moment when officials missed a call near the end of the second quarter. (More on that later.)
Instead, New England’s quick, unconventional trip to Kansas City turned into something of a voyage into an alternate universe, one where the Patriots got to witness what life would’ve been like if they’d never signed Cam Newton. And it wasn’t pretty.
The Pats validated a lot of what they’re doing right during their visit to Arrowhead Stadium. A defensive secondary running six deep did an effective job against Patrick Mahomes and his cadre of weapons. The front seemed to make some progress, too, particularly against the run and the shorter passing routes.
Offensively, Damien Harris came off injured reserve and ran for 100 yards, part of a ground game that averaged 5.3 yards per haul even without Newton. The offensive line was missing Shaq Mason in addition to David Andrews, and yet still held up sufficiently. N’Keal Harry caught a touchdown pass, Damiere Byrd had 80 receiving yards, and James White returned.
The roster appears to be better than many were giving it credit for a month ago — but, without a legitimate quarterback, it’s nowhere near good enough to compete with legitimate championship contenders the caliber of the Chiefs.
That has long been suspected, but was confirmed in K.C. on Monday night. Without Newton, the Pats hung tough. They competed. They kept it close into the fourth quarter, and initially managed to counterpunch the champs when the Chiefs started to click. Without Newton, there just wasn’t enough power in New England’s punch to make their opponents even wobble.
And if the market hadn’t cooperated this summer, that could’ve easily been the case on a weekly basis.
Don’t doubt Belichick or this team.
A day after Tom Brady threw five touchdowns in leading the Buccaneers to a big comeback win in Tampa Bay, Bill Belichick took his turn to make a statement in the season-long comparison between the two franchise icons. And, even though it ended in a 16-point loss, it was a good night for the coach.
Despite all of the circumstances conspiring against his club, the defeat stood as another testament to the culture he has created, and in conjunction with the first three weeks of the season the performance affirmed the system’s sustainability in the post-Brady era.
Monday night’s final margin was not indicative of how competitive the contest was for most of the affair, and how well prepared the Patriots were for the challenge they encountered from Kansas City. Down their starting quarterback, then flying in on game day, Belichick’s team flexed its mental toughness from the start. They had an effective gameplan, again stymying the Chiefs to a degree that other teams seem to find impossible. And they kept battling through a sequence of setbacks until eventually the dam broke as the third quarter turned to the fourth.
If Devin McCourty or J.C. Jackson had held on to what could’ve easily been interceptions, or if Julian Edelman hadn’t prompted a pick-six the other way with another New England drop, it could’ve been different. As it were, the Pats’ quarterback conundrum didn’t leave them enough wiggle room to overcome such missed opportunities.
At 2-2, they’re already two games back in the AFC East, and destined to be fighting for a wild-card playoff spot. They’re not the same team they were in the Brady years. But the first quarter of the season has shown that, nevertheless, Belichick’s team is no less worthy of respect.
Hoyer was as expected
If the expectations for Brian Hoyer were set by his resume — deserving of a dozen years in the league, but limited enough to start 39 games, and win only 16 of them over that span — then the quarterback’s performance was just as promised.
Hoyer finished 15-of-24 for 130 yards. Expecting anything more than that would’ve probably been unfair to the veteran backup forced to the forefront without even the benefit of a walkthrough, and realistically Pats fans were ready for the errors, too.
No one in New England should’ve been surprised, especially after he’d already sailed two of his first four throws, that Hoyer’s fifth was way too high and subsequently intercepted. Nor should anyone have been shocked that after the offense moved into position for a chip-shot field goal that would’ve tied the game going into halftime, Hoyer took a brutal sack, lacking the situational wherewithal to throw it away, and perhaps also losing track of his team’s remaining timeouts.
In Hoyer’s defense, Tom Brady did the same thing in December 2018 — leaving the door open for the Dolphins to later execute what became the Miracle at Miami. But he loses the benefit of the doubt when two series later he again loses awareness in the middle of the pocket, and gives away hard-earned points by taking a sack, this time accompanied by a fumble.
Those two big failures undid the good, which included a couple of quality third-down throws to N’Keal Harry and Julian Edelman, plus another Newton-esque conversion with his legs. He looked especially comfortable when slinging it into receivers running laterally, and the offense generally looked functional under his command, but ultimately those major mistakes were too much for Belichick and Josh McDaniels to endure any longer.
And it should be too damning to earn Hoyer career start No. 41 if Newton can’t go next weekend.
Give Stidham the start.
There’s a lot still up in the air, much of it to be determined by incubation periods and stringing together asymptomatic days. But if the Patriots do indeed play the Broncos on Sunday, as scheduled, it should be Jarrett Stidham behind center if Newton isn’t yet activated from the NFL’s Covid list.
The numbers (5-for-13, 60 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) were ugly over the course of the quarter-plus after Stidham entered the game in Hoyer’s place — though the stats didn’t quite match up with the way he played. He threw two interceptions, but the first most certainly wasn’t his fault (bouncing off the hands of Julian Edelman), while the second was simply underthrown. He had Damiere Byrd open down the field, and the throw was so far short that Byrd almost came to a stop while waiting helplessly for it to come down, but the flaw was in the execution. The read was right, and he has the arm strength.
In the scope of mistakes made by Patriots quarterbacks Monday night, it was easily the most forgivable. He was trying to make a deep throw in desperate circumstances. It wasn’t trying to force it into the tight end in the middle of the field, or taking a point-sacrificing sack. Those mistakes were on Hoyer — ironically, given that they’re the variety expected more of a second-year reserve than an experienced veteran.
The biggest counterpoint against starting Stidham against Denver would be the hypothetical steadiness of Hoyer. However, that couldn’t be counted on Monday night. His floor doesn’t appear to be any higher than Stidham’s — and it’s Stidham who clearly has the higher ceiling. Stidham also gives the Pats a better chance to run something closer to the offense they’ve started building around Newton, giving his athleticism.
There’s no great solution if Newton is out again, as Monday night showed. But in order to get to the bye week at 3-2, the Pats’ best bet this week is to get Stidham ready to beat the Broncos.
Another year, another game-changing missed call
Give the Patriots credit. They responded with an excellent offensive series that should’ve produced a game-tying field goal. They didn’t let it deflate them. They held tough for a full quarter thereafter — and it was likely inevitable that the Chiefs offense would spring to life.
But it’s still hard not to wonder how the game might’ve played out differently had a brutal call not cost the Patriots a turnover that would’ve put them in prime position for points late in the second quarter.
And, with that, it’s just as hard not to think that Monday night’s mistake marked the second straight season in which a referee’s brutal mistake cost the Pats in a tight contest against the Chiefs.
Last year the referees’ errant whistles called plays dead when Stephon Gilmore, then Harry, each had clear paths to paydirt. Monday night it happened again, when Chase Winovich crunched Patrick Mahomes, who coughed up possession on his way down, and Shilique Calhoun caught the loose ball before the pigskin or the quarterback actually hit the ground.
Call it a fumble recovery. Or call it an interception. Either way, it should’ve been a turnover — not a sack, as it was called. And the Patriots should’ve taken over in the red zone, assuming 5-foot-10, 185-pound Tyreek Hill could’ve prevented the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Calhoun from running it back all the way and giving the Pats a lead at intermission.
Again, there was a lot of football played thereafter. The Patriots hurt themselves plenty over the course of that subsequent play, and the Chiefs eventually awoke. New England needed to play better than they did in order to escape from Kansas City with a victory — but they also needed a break or two to go their way.
So when a break gets taken away from them, it’s hard not to wonder what might’ve been.
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