16-0? Oh no no.
I had planned a couple of articles in my head around last nights week 1 game 1 kickoff match-up between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs. The first was going to be a “keep your head screwed on” piece where N.E. had been victorious over a good team by 1 touchdown and had looked like a team that were gelling nicely on both sides of the ball. The second was going to be a “I told you K.C were good enough to roll them” piece where the Chiefs pipped the Pats by 1 score and managed to get to Brady regularly. What I didn’t plan for was the absolute pasting that Kansas City delivered to the reigning champs in their own backyard.
The most yards conceded under Belichick (537 total) included two huge touchdown throws of 75plus yards from Alex Smith to Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt. Between 2005 and 2016 Smith had 2 such T.D throws in total. After last night, he has 4. There was no sign of the play-it-safe check down mentality that the former no.1 pick is famed for, instead he seemed keen to hang in the pocket and wait for speedy receivers to waltz past a clueless secondary before arching the ball directly into their hands. If you’ve not seen the precision throw to Hunt then check it out. Bam! Right in stride. Perfection. Brady-esque. The last time the Pats game up 2 75+yard TDs was 1968-against the Chiefs. The New England offense didn’t look bad, it just didn’t look good enough. Danny Amendola was picking up good yardage (100) but was forced out of the game with a concussion. This is a big blow if he is fored to miss multiple games as he is clearly Bradys preferred receiver in the absence of Edelman. which robbed Brady of his best airborne threat. Brandin Cooks had 88 yards on his debut but clearly needs more time to master the offense and earn Bradys trust. For me Gronk looked restrained, just 2 receptions for 33 yards and rarely looked like breaking free from the Kansas City D. Is he really fully fit? Perhaps some of those injuries have left lasting damage. For Brady to throw 0 TDs compared to Smiths 4 was a bit of an aboration. 16-36, 267 yards will get people taking about playing at age 40. It probably shouldnt, but it will. New England had two touchdowns called back on penalties early on, one for holding and one for throwing beyond the line of scrimmage. What would they have given to have eliminated those basic mistakes?
Kareem hunt owned the N.E defense from the get go, plunging through them for 148 yards, at 8.7 Y.P.C. The rookie was explosive and prepared to hit the line hard and just keep ploughing forward. He never missed a beat despite a fumble on his first carry. The Pats Mike Gillislee was receiving plaudits for his 3TD performance (and rightly so) but he only put up 45 yards on the ground as he was stuffed on 4th and 1 as well as other short-yardage attempts. The backfield by committee approach needs work as neither James White nor Dion Lewis managed to work their trickery into an effective stat.
New Englands biggest concern must be over their non-existent pass rush. Smith was 28 of 35 with 4 touchdowns 0 Interceptions and 10.5 yards average per attempt. He was sacked 3 times but generally was afforded so much time in the pocket that he manipulated the game at will and picked holes in the N.E secondary with ease. The Butler/Gilmore Cornerback combo got torched as neither looked up to speed, safety Patrick Chung dug them out on several occasions when communication seemed to fall apart. The Pats have staked their season on having a defensive backfield that can compensate for an average D-line, and on the evidence displayed last night you’d have to say there is still serious work to do. Belichick said after the game that “we didn’t do much of anything to deserve to win” and frankly he’s spot on. Even his usually flawless game planning was off.
I maintained throughout pre-season that 16-0 was never on the cards and returning to the Super Bowl would be a step too far this year. I have no doubt that N.E still wins their division but fortune doesn’t seem to be on their side. Losing Rob Ninkovich to retirement has hurt the D, as has Logan Ryans departure to the Titans. Edelmans injury has put pressure on Brady and Cooks from the off. This spanking may provide the spark that re-ignites the flames of success but don’t be surprised if it takes more than a week to right this ship. One side of the ball can be average and be carried by excellence on the other side, but when both are struggling, teams lose. If the Pats don’t restrain Drew Brees next week and find 350-plus yards of offense then 16-0 could well be 0-2.