By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There are some losses that are constructive, ones that can show a team its flaws and ultimately prove to be a valuable learning experience. Last year’s loss to the Seahawks would qualify as one such defeat.
Then there are losses that are just no-good, miserable experiences for everybody involved. Thursday night’s prime-time dud would fall into that category. It might actually define that category.
To be sure, the night did not appear destined for catastrophe through three-plus quarters. The Patriots held a six-point lead heading into the fourth, and it was a one-point game with under six minutes to play. But that proved to be a facade; eventually all of the mistakes made throughout the night came crashing down like an avalanche for the home team.
So the banner celebration, the clown towels, the festive atmosphere, the
very stupid 19-0 talk, it all ended in a crash-and-burn scenario that played out on national television. There are reality checks, and then there are reality checks. And all the talk of the Patriots having an air of invincibility around them should rightfully come to a swift end.
With that established, we waited six months for a real football game, so we’re not just going to throw it in the trash without combing through it. So here are the leftover thoughts from the Chiefs’ 42-27 win over the Patriots.
–I’m just going to be honest with you: There were some things this week that kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Were they the reason the Patriots lost? No, I don’t think so. BUT, there was some distinctly un-Patriot-like activity taking place, going back to early in the offseason really.
Back in February, Tom Brady told Peter King, “I have the answers to the test now. You can’t surprise me on defense. I’ve seen it all. I’ve processed 261 games, I’ve played them all. It’s an incredibly hard sport, but because the processes are right and are in place, for anyone with experience in their job, it’s not as hard as it used to be. There was a time when quarterbacking was really hard for me because you didn’t know what to do. Now I really know what to do, I don’t want to stop now. This is when it’s really enjoyable to go out.”
His first real game after making that comment saw him completing 44.4 percent of his passes, the second-worst such mark of any start in his career when he’s thrown at least 22 passes.
Then there was “Do Your Job Part 2,” which sounded like the title of a potty training video for toddlers. But the special aired nationally on NBC and showed the Patriots coaching staff celebrating their genius. And, sure, you come back from a 28-3 deficit in the Super Bowl, you’re allowed a victory lap. But it was strange to see the self-satisfaction in someone like Matt Patricia for having the smarts to send Dont’a Hightower after Matt Ryan with Devonta Freeman in pass protection. If that was really a weakness the Patriots wanted to attack, they could have done it in the first 50 minutes of the game, and they wouldn’t have needed a Tevin Coleman injury to get it. It certainly lacked the wow factor of the first “Do Your Job” special, which showed the Patriots practicing the exact play that ended up being the one where Malcolm Butler won the Super Bowl.
During the pregame banner celebration, the Patriots gleefully put “ATL 28 NE 3, 2:12 3RD QTR” on all the stadium’s video boards.
It was all just a little bit much. Is it why they lost to the Chiefs, giving up 537 yards in the process? Well, no. The sport of football is not quite that simple. But for a team that preaches “ignore the noise” and “do your job,” it was perhaps a little noisier than usual.
Football is a humbling game. The most humbling game. The Patriots as an organization were provided a blunt reminder of that on Thursday night.
–Of course, if the Patriots could have just converted a few short-yardage plays, then we’re not talking about any of that. After Mike Gillislee was stuffed on a pair of fourth-and-1 runs up the gut, and James White was stuffed on a third-and-1 that forced the Patriots to settle for a field goal, everyone who’s watched Tom Brady run the QB sneak with near-perfect results over the last 15-plus years wondered where the heck the sneak was. (Yes, they used that foul language. I’m sorry for repeating it here but it’s my duty as a journalist to tell the truth.)
Let’s take a closer look. Over the years, when Brady comes to the line and sees some big boys covering up his center, he almost always checks out of the QB sneak and calls for the other play at the line. That’s why it’s so successful; if it has a bad chance of succeeding, he just doesn’t run it.
That’s all well and good, but if the QB sneak isn’t going to work, why on earth would a run up the gut work any better? It might work … but if the middle is clogged, why not try something else?
Here’s a look at the first time the Patriots went for it on fourth-and-1:
Here’s the other fourth-and-1:
And here’s the third-and-1 that led to White getting stuffed:
They certainly could not have run a sneak on the fourth-down plays, given the defense, and they couldn’t have run one out of the shotgun, either. It’s worth noting that the shotgun run on third-and-1 came after the Patriots hurried to the line. They got a defensive look that probably should have worked. But this happened:
That is just losing the play. K.C. was better.
–As I sat in two hours of traffic on the way to Gillette (this state has some problems if the entire highway system shuts down for every weeknight football game, but that’s a story for another day), I listened as my pals Felger & Massarotti gently extinguished any and all excitement or happiness fans might have been feeling. But in their rants they said time and time again that Patriots fans need to “get over” Roger Goodell and the nonsense in DeflateGate because “it’s over” and “YOU won the Super Bowl.”
Another point they made over and over again throughout the day is that the team has terrible depth at linebacker, and on both the defensive and offensive lines.
Ergo, the impact of “DeflateGate” is not over.
The harshest penalty wasn’t a four-week vacation for Brady. That might have ended up helping in a unique way. The harshest penalty was the stripping of a first-round draft pick.
And looking back to the 2016 draft, the six picks that came after the Patriots were skipped were:
Robert Nkemdiche, DT
Vernon Butler, DT
Germain Ifedi, T
Emmanuel Ogbah, DE
Kevin Dodd, LB
Jaylon Smith, LB
There’s no guarantee that Belichick would have drafted any of those players (knowing Belichick’s M.O., it’s doubtful) but the point is that the effect of losing a first-round pick lasts for years. When you consider that Belichick is batting about .850 with his first-round picks, there’s a rather high chance that he would have drafted a player who could help the team. The stripped fourth-round pick in this year’s draft could’ve helped too. And given the lack of depth across the roster, it looks like they could use it.
So no, it’s not really “over.” The drama and day-to-day news updates are over. The battle is over. But the effects are unquantifiable, and some resentment will linger for years.
–It wasn’t just the short-yardage plays that hurt the offense; the plays that set up those third and fourth downs were not very Patriots-like. The first quarter fourth-and-1 was preceded by a completion from Brady to Dan Amendola on a quick slant on second-and-6. Amendola gained 5. The third-and-1 was preceded by James White catching a toss out of the backfield, stiff-arming a defender to the turf, but getting forced out of bounds a yard short of the sticks on a second-and-5. The fourth quarter fourth-and-1 was preceded by another pass to White that gained just one yard on a third-and-2.
Could/should White have gone for the first down instead of the stiff arm?
Looks like it. (Though doing that to a grown man must feel good.)
This was expected to be a weakness in the absence of Julian Edelman, who was/is a master of gaining the exact yardage needed to move chains and keep drives moving. The effects have been felt immediately.
–Brady’s worst pass of the night? His first one.
Dwayne Allen wasn’t Brady’s first read as he ran an out-and-up on the left side. Eventually, Allen sprung free … like, all the way free. Like, Rob Gronkowski-vs.-Pittsburgh free. Brady saw him. He let it rip, with this as his target:
Brady threw it about 3 feet over Allen’s head:
Yowza. Brady has made a decent living for himself by being nearly perfect on 25-yard passes like that one.
It didn’t matter, because the Patriots marched down the field to score a touchdown. But it was perhaps an early indication that Brady would not be at his very best.
–I’ll forever be bamboozled, bewildered, and any other B-word in the dictionary by Alex Smith letting loose and uncorking deep balls in front of my face. I just … this man has been throwing nothing but 5-yard darts for years. YEARS. And he can capably throw deep balls? Huh? What? No? Yes? Why? Really? How?
I’ve seen a lot of crazy things in my lifetime. Alex Smith going Peyton Manning on the world was among the craziest.
–Excuse me while I pull my slacks up over my navel, triple-check the content of my pocket protector, and adjust my thick-lens glasses up the bridge of my nose. But I’m going full tattletale for a moment.
In the offseason, Troy Vincent released a video explaining all the new rule changes. It was hilarious. But the league made very clear that taunting opponents is not allowed. This was the image they used to make that point:
Now — sorry, I should have warned you to look away if you’re under the age of 18 or if minors are present — look at what Tyreek Hill did in this game:
Oh no! Horrific!
Of course, who cares? Fifteen yards on the kickoff, big whoop. BUT, I just find it funny that the league sends out specific rules with a meticulous video, and they don’t apply on the first game of the season. It’s a good representation of officiating in the NFL.
–Strange footballism: The Patriots were stopped at the line on a third-and-1 on the final play of the first quarter. But they wanted a measurement. Rather than bring the chains out and measure, the officials moved the chains and the whole apparatus down to the other end of the field for the start of the second quarter before measuring. Wouldn’t it make more sense to measure the spot where you actually spotted it? Shouldn’t we have something more technologically advanced than chains and sticks in 2017? Those are questions I’m asking at his moment here in this story.
–If you’re looking for a subtle positive takeaway, get it from Deatrich Wise. The young man looks the part, and he generated QB pressures on third downs on three straight drives. He looks like a football player.
utterly idiotic 19-0 talk coming to an abrupt end, it was fitting that the ghost of Asante Samuel took the time to haunt Patrick Chung’s body for a moment:
–The most damning part of the Patriots’ defensive performance was that the Chiefs didn’t walk into Gillette planning to go off for 500-plus yards. They wanted to run some trickery with Kelce at quarterback. They wanted Smith to throw about a half-dozen shovel passes. They ran a freaking option play.
The Chiefs came in trying to work in some goofy play-calling in an effort to chip away and maybe score some points. They ended up being able to connect on two bombs for touchdowns of 75-plus yards and breaking several big runs (including a 54-yard run by Hunt) on a defense that absolutely fell apart.
–Sorry, I know the roles are usually reversed, but rules are rules. I have to do it:
–Speaking of goofy plays … is Chris Hogan a running back now? With Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead and James White all available out of the backfield, Josh McDaniels felt like handing the ball to Hogan three times. He entered the game with four career rushes for 13 yards.
To be fair, the first one worked for 13 yards. But the next two went for four and zero yards.
Perhaps an example of the coaching staff getting creative when creativity was not needed. It probably won’t be featured on “Do Your Job Part 3.”
–The NFL promised fewer commercial breaks and a faster pace of play this season. Maybe I’m the only one who felt this way, but I believe this game did actually not flow very smoothly. A near-four-hour game on opening night was a great start to this new endeavor.
–If you’re a connoisseur of kickoffs, you probably noticed Stephen Gostkowski’s line drive boot late in the third quarter. The kick never made it more than 15 yards off the ground …
… landed on the 3-yard line, popped up to De’Anthony Thomas, and ended up leading to a tackle on the 13-yard line.
I’m always interested by the different looks the Patriots give on kickoffs. Gostkowski’s pretty versatile in that regard.
–There’s been much discussion around here for two weeks regarding who will handle punt return duties. I argued that it should be Amendola, provided the coaching staff tells him to wave his arm, take the fair catch, and live to see another play.
That did not happen. Amendola went full Deathwish Danny™ in his punt return role, willing to run into a Mack Truck if it meant he’d be able to gain another yard. Unsurprisingly, it proved costly.
It didn’t help that Brandon Bolden and Cassius Marsh took penalties on consecutive plays for running into the punter, thereby forcing Amendola to withstand three consecutive beatings. He didn’t step on the field after that, and who knows how long he’ll be out?
In the past, the Patriots have managed Amendola carefully until late in the season, allowing him to ramp up his workload in the closing weeks of the season so he can be a key playoff contributor. With Julian Edelman lost and Malcolm Mitchell placed on IR, the Patriots had little choice but to lean on Amendola early. Still, a fair catch strategy to limit the hits he sustained probably would have been a little smarter.
–Speaking of smart, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce boasted about his increased maturity level in a pregame interview. Then during the game he used the football as a weapon to hit an opponent in the junk. Sports are great and terrible.
–There wasn’t toooooo much in the way of silver linings. Dont’a Hightower is reportedly not seriously injured, so that could be a positive. Brandin Cooks looked good both catching the ball and drawing penalties. Really, nothing to feel great about. But if you’re down in the dumps, I suppose it could be considered good news that despite the stunning whooping the Patriots were handed, an no matter how powerful Roger Goodell may be, there’s nobody that can take away any of those Lombardi Trophies. That won’t help much for 2017, but, well, for Week 1, that might be all you’ve got.