BOSTON (CBS) — Matt Patricia and his personnel had a night to forget once the NFL season officially kicked off, following up their euphoric Super Bowl banner celebration with an equally spectacular flop on defense in their 42-27 loss to the Chiefs. Led by quarterback Alex Smith, Kansas City burned the Patriots for 42 points and 537 yards of total offense, both record highs in the Belichick era.
Smith had one of the best games of his career, going 28-for-35 with 368 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. He posted a near-perfect 148.6 passer rating. He got 225 of his passing yards in the second half, thanks in part to breaking off some big plays – which was a major problem for the defense both in the air and on the ground.
Momentum really started to shift in the third quarter when Smith hit dynamic wideout Tyreek Hill for a 75-yard touchdown. The defense couldn’t have made it easier for the Chiefs, as Hill was left wide open and could not be caught. Smith attributed the play to good pre-snap adjustments in pass protection.
“Travis Kelce grabbed safety [in coverage] and left Tyreek outside one-on-one and not many people can run with him,” said Smith. “For me, I just put it out there.”
The issues on the Patriots’ side were mostly communication-related, as some of the Chiefs’ biggest plays came simply as a result of completely missed assignments. Safety Duron Harmon acknowledged that their miscues played a big role in the Chiefs’ dismantling of their unit.
“Every time we had a miscommunication, they made us pay. That’s a good football team,” said Harmon. “When you make mistakes and you’re going against a good quarterback like Alex Smith, he’s going to find those broken plays, those miscommunications and [they’ll] make you pay for it each and every time.”
Smith’s other big play, a 78-yard touchdown pass to rookie running back Kareem Hunt, put the Chiefs up just one point in the fourth quarter. But the score was an ominous indication that the Patriots’ big-play problems may not be the case of an isolated incident. Hunt blazed right past Cassius Marsh, whom the Patriots acquired from the Seahawks just last weekend, and the Chiefs ran away with the game from there.
The Patriots also got carved up on the ground, as Hunt had a debut for the ages after fumbling on the first carry of his career. He rushed for 148 yards on 17 carries, including a back-breaking 58-yard run near the end of the fourth quarter that set up the Chiefs’ sixth touchdown and essentially put the game away.
It’s no surprise that the defense only looked worse after they lost linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who left the game with a knee injury in the third quarter. But it’s also not surprising that the oft-injured Hightower got injured in the first place, and the team’s lack of depth behind him at linebacker could be a major concern if the defensive captain has to miss extended time.
Patriots newcomer Stephon Gilmore had as much trouble as anyone, losing sight of Hill on the 75-yard touchdown and appearing to have communication issues with Devin McCourty and the rest of the Patriots secondary. While he was disappointed that the group had so many ugly defensive breakdowns, he knows that all they can do now is move on and try to get better.
“You know, you never want to give up big plays to anybody. But, just learn from them,” said Gilmore. “Like I said, watch the film and go from there.”
After a night like Thursday, it certainly couldn’t get much worse.