By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — If you came away from that game pointing the finger at the quarterback, you need to re-evaluate how you watch the game.
I mean it. Tom Brady is not the problem.
That is not to say that 100 percent of Brady’s reads or passes were perfect. Nobody’s ever perfect, and even Brady’s never been perfect. As is always the case with any athlete in any competition, there are a handful of plays Brady would want back from Sunday.
That was a day, though, which Brady spent running for his life, doing his best to duck, dodge and weave the relentless Chiefs pass rush that treated the interior of the offensive line — and third-string center James Ferentz — like mere speed bumps en route to forcing Brady off his spot.
That’s been the norm for Brady lately. He spent the majority of Week 12 against the Cowboys doing his best Neo impression in the pocket, trying desperately to buy enough time for someone — anyone — to get open. He had some time to throw in Houston, but still spent a good portion of the night doing the limbo to try to keep plays alive. And against the Chiefs, life managed to somehow get tougher for Brady, as a clean pocket was harder to find than a competent official on the field.
Just look at a sampling of the pressure Brady faced throughout the day:
Clean pocket? Brady generally made tremendous throws.
Receivers getting open quickly? Easy completion.
Under siege in the pocket? A few plays were made. But overall, not so good.
This isn’t rocket science.
It’s a similar look to — coincidentally — the start to the 2014 season, an opening month that reached a low point with a 41-14 loss to … the Chiefs. Everyone was writing off Brady back then, saying he was toast at age 37, and reporting that the team was going to make the switch to Jimmy Garoppolo “sooner than later.”
Well, yeah. About that.
Brady looked like doo-doo in 2013 and the start of 2014 because he was getting bum-rushed up the middle on a regular basis. When you’re a pocket passer … that’s going to create some challenges.
And once Dave DeGuglielmo stopped starting the tuba player at guard and began starting Bryan Stork (the GOAT) at center, protection improved. Lo and behold, so did Brady. The QB was sacked nine times in those first four games, throwing four touchdowns and two interceptions with a 79.1 passer rating. He was sacked just 12 times in the remaining 12 games, throwing 29 touchdowns with seven interceptions and a 103.0 passer rating. He had a decent little postseason, too.
Protect the quarterback … and he gets better. Funny how that works, innit?
As for this year, it’s unclear if they’ll be able to solve their issues. Losing David Andrews hurt a ton. Losing Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen and James Develin and Trent Brown has proven fatal to the once-dominant run game. Losing Gronkowski as a receiver has stung, too.
That much is clear, but it’s also been clear for a while now. It’s probably time to really patch up those holes, or this season will come to an end the way the 2013 campaign did, with Brady throwing passes to the Matthews Slater and Mulligan, as well as to Austin Collie and Now You See Me, Now You Michael Hoomanawanui.
It wasn’t until the 2013/14 Patriots were “on to Cincinnati” that things began to click, leading to four Super Bowl appearances (and three Super Bowl wins) in a five-season span. And if you look ahead to next week, wouldn’t you know it, they’re on to Cincinnati once again.
Perhaps there is some hope after all?
We don’t have that answer yet. We do have leftover thoughts from the Patriots’ 23-16 loss to the Chiefs.
–If you had told me that this game was going to end with not one but two defensive stands by the Chiefs, I would have slapped you right square in the kisser. That is all. Just wanted to say that.
–Officiating was a big story. Perhaps you’ve heard? Yet outside of the obvious mistakes, I was particularly perplexed by a couple of instances of excessive incompetence.
To wit: After Patrick Mahomes connected with Travis Kelce for a gain of 19 yards, a flag flew for holding on Kansas City. Referee Jerome Boger then … checked multiple times with Bill Belichick to see if the coach wanted to accept or decline the penalty. Accepting the penalty would’ve made it first-and-20 for KC from the New England 48. Declining the penalty would’ve made it first-and-10 for KC from the New England 19-yard line.
Does this look to you like a man who has any idea what he is doing?
Boger also penalized the Chiefs 5 yards for an illegal use of hands penalty, instead of 10 yards.
Boger also called defensive holding on a play that involved no instance of holding.
Here’s a “hold” by No. 93 Lawrence Guy:
Oddly, Boger also incorrectly applied defensive holding rules on the Patriots when he officiated the Panthers-Patriots game in 2017.
That was also the Patriots’ last home loss.
I don’t know and you don’t know how this game would’ve ended up if competent officials were working the game. But there’s no excuse for that “performance” from Boger and Co.
–Patrick Mahomes was not at his best. He was shaky early (again). A hand injury hurt his accuracy. He absorbed some heavy body blows that might have limited him, too.
But man oh man, this throw? With pressure barreling down on his face? To convert a third-and-19??? Woof.
That was a big time throw, and it was plays like that which allowed Mahomes to become the first quarterback under 25 years old to beat the Patriots in Foxboro since 2000.
–Mahomes was also extremely valuable as a “receiver” on Kelce’s touchdown run. Granted he was half jogging, but Mahomes’ route forced John Simon to at least take a step toward the flat, because he had to respect the possibility of a pass to the quarterback. (Philly Special, ever heard of it, bro?)
That one step toward the flat opened just enough space for Kelce to navigate a path to the end zone.
TRAVIS KELCE READ OPTION TOUCHDOWN…RUN!?!? pic.twitter.com/qVIbHAQFck
— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) December 8, 2019
That’s a good play.
–Is the quarterback still going to get killed on the radio and on television because he doesn’t throw to the undrafted rookie more often? A drop at the sticks on third-and-7, and a drop in the end zone in a game where points are precious?
He said all the right stuff after the game …
More Meyers, asked about catch on White trick play: "Honestly the fact that I was even out there in a clutch situation like that … I just felt like the coaches believed in me. And I appreciate 'em for that, to put me back out there. .. Felt good, but I know I gotta be better."
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) December 9, 2019
… but this is the NFL. Saying the right things and having a great attitude matter very little compared to actually making plays.
–If you’re searching for a positive, you should find it from the defense. Yes, Jonathan Jones caught a mouthful of rubber pellets while face-planting and giving up the long touchdown to Mecole Hardman. But the Chiefs’ only other touchdown came after they took over at their own 42-yard line after the blocked field goal.
By holding them to just a field goal in the second half, the Patriots’ defense limited the Chiefs to just 23 points. That was their second-lowest point total in any game this season. They were averaging 29.8 points per game when Mahomes has started.
Throw in the potential for a Stephon Gilmore scoop-and-score that got ruined by incompetent officiating … and I think you have to consider that an encouraging afternoon for the defense, despite a relatively shaky start.
–Bill Belichick certainly seemed heartened by the fact that the Patriots nearly pulled off a comeback.
“Well, first of all, I’m really proud of the way our team competed tonight,” Belichick said. “Those guys went and battled for 60 minutes. It wasn’t always perfect, there were certainly things we could have done better, but we were competitive right down to the final play and that’ll serve us well going forward.”
Later, when asked about the “fight” in the Patriots, he added: “I was proud of the way our guys competed for 60 minutes. I think I said that right off the bat, absolutely, 100 percent, I’m with you. Yeah. That’s my number one thing.”
That’s a whole lot more positive than the gotta coach better gotta play better gotta do everything better boiler plate that often comes after losses.
–If you’re reading this, you’re probably not a special teams coordinator. So I’ll teach you a little bit, some X’s and O’s for the common Joe or Josephine. I’m generous like that.
OK, so listen up: This is not what you want to happen when you’re punting while leading by 16 points on the road.
Ideally you don’t want one guy busting through almost untouched to block your punt, let alone two guys. That is a big time no-no as a punt team. Can’t have it.
Nate Ebner is actually pretty lucky he didn’t take the full force of Dustin Colquitt’s world-class kick right in the giblets.
That could have been gruesome!
–You know, for as much as we all marveled at how a “professional” officiating crew blew a play dead despite having no idea whether or not Kelce fumbled … Devin McCourty hasn’t gotten proper credit for an unreal strip.
I mean, this is some Avengers-type stuff.
–It’s been a major down year for #FerociousJukes. Fortunately, James White got some space in the open field to bust his slalom ski move:
Here it is in all of its glory:
White had 33 rushing yards, 27 receiving yards, and 35 passing yards. A regular old David Patten Lite, he is.
–The Patriots like to do this thing where they let a ball carrier get up after he hasn’t been touched, hoping to catch him off guard and punch the ball out. If it works, you look great. If it doesn’t work, you end up looking like a goof.
Letting one of the most talented tight ends in the world get up and go from the 15 to the 5-yard line doesn’t seem like a risk worth taking.
Win some, lose some.
–Here’s Phillip Dorsett catching a touchdown against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game in January.
Pass interference was not called on that.
Here’s Phillip Dorsett not catching a pass on Sunday:
No flag. This crew is a JOOOOKE pic.twitter.com/f3cjtUaTWA
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) December 9, 2019
Phillip Dorsett should just stop playing the Chiefs. Out of protest.
–Kind of sad: In the old days, when Chris Jones barked into Brady’s face, I would’ve said something like, “Oh. That right there? That’s a bad idea.”
Now it was just sort of like, “Eh. Fair enough.”
Chris Jones has something to say to Brady on the way by, and Brady gets up and gets in Jones’ face pic.twitter.com/NjVaJEboo6
— Tucker Boynton (@Tucker_TnL) December 8, 2019
Cool picture though.
–It’s not that there’s just one or two or even three things that are plaguing the offense. It’s a whole host of things. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I do know that it’s not ideal to not have the slightest clue of how to utilize your first-round pick receiver in Week 14 of the season. It’s also not spectacular to have seemingly forgotten how to use Mohamed Sanu, for whom they gave up a second-round pick.
Lots of talent in those two bodies. Time to extract it.
–There’s work to be done, obviously. But I’d be very surprised if the Patriots lose another game in the regular season. Not stunned, because I witnessed 2015 vs. the Eagles, Jets and Dolphins. But very surprised.
(This team is not “sign Steven Jackson and give him 100 carries for 1 yard each” bad. Not even close.)
They’ve lost three out of five games, yes, but all three losses have come against AFC division leaders. They next play the Bengals, who are soggy garbage, before hosting the Bills. Buffalo’s defense is obviously no joke, but Josh Allen targeted people in the crowd more often than he targeted his receivers last year when he came to Foxboro. He has one touchdown and five interceptions in two games vs. New England.
I do not anticipate Josh Allen to figure it all out two weeks from now against the NFL’s best defense.
And then there’s the Dolphins in Week 17. They’ve shown some unreal fight of late, and Brian Flores looked ready to fight for real for that pass interference penalty that was enforced via replay Sunday, but … the Miami Dolphins will not beat the Patriots in Week 17 in Foxboro. I guarantee it.
That’ll leave the Patriots with a bye, and a home date in January. For them to win that game, they’re going to need to figure out what they’re good at offensively. They’ve been searching for a month. The search continues.
But, to reiterate a point from recent weeks, didn’t we all look at this six-game stretch, from Cleveland through Kansas City, and anticipate a 5-1 record at best and a 3-3 record at worst? Technically, the worst of those realistic expectations have come true, but sitting at 10-3 with three more-than-winnable games remaining on the schedule. There are much worse places to be.
Now it’s just about figuring things out before it’s too late. The clock is ticking.