Holy crap what a game. Defensive plays, baffling plays, ST plays, defensive meltdowns, the two most dangerous offensive machines in the AFC smashing into each other like rampaging triceratops in attempt to establish utter dominance, and of course, a duel for the ages between the best that ever was and the potential future of the NFL.
Let’s get started.
The Patriots pull the upset
Yes they were at home. Yes they were favored by 3.5. And yes I still consider this an upset. The Chiefs are a team built to wreck the Patriots. They are young, athletic, fast as all hell, and have a mobile quarterback who has thrown better on the run than any other passer in the NFL this year. That’s exactly the sort of offense that eats the Patriots for breakfast. And yet for an entire half it was the other way around. Mahomes missed at least two throws that would have almost guaranteed a touchdown and threw two picks. It looked like the Patriots could be in for a blow out.
That’s not what happened.
Mahomes showed the resilience that defines great quarterbacks and also benefited from two gun to the mouth errors by the Patriots defenses. We’ll get to those errors in a moment but needless to say in an offense that is filled with home run threats, the Chiefs showed what happens when you let your foot of the gas for even a second. This offense scored not once, but twice, on single throw passes. That is the sort of stuff you only see in Madden when playing on rookie mode and yet the Chiefs offense did it twice.
The league’s leading rusher last year decimated the Patriot run defense. Kareem Hunt now owns two of the top five performances by a running back against a Bill Belichick defense. I want folks to appreciate how lucky the Patriots were to get that early lead because if the Chiefs had the time to run the ball with Hunt, the way they would have preferred, the outcome of the game might have been completely different. Luckily, the Chiefs also have one of the worst defenses in the NFL. And it showed.
I predicted the Patriots would lose this game. I was wrong. I predicted it would be an incredible shoot out. Boy, was I right. A lot of folks in the comment section suggested the game would come down to whoever held the ball last and that is exactly what happened. As bizarre as it may seem, the lightning nature of the Chiefs final score worked against them. The Patriots were able to control the clock and methodically drive down the field for a chip shot field goal. As dramatic a finish as it was I don’t think anyone was too worried about that shot. Stephen Gostkowski had been on fire all night. He wasn’t going to miss.
Mahomes is a hell of a talent and a perfect fit for the new era of football that is quickly descending on the league. But he’s not the GOAT. And Brady proved he’s not done dominating the NFL just yet. Mahomes will have to wait his turn.
Bill’s Post Game Highlights
There were enough tidbits from Belichick’s post-game press conference that I felt it was worth discussing.
The first highlight from the interview is about Tyreek Hill. When a reporter asks Bill a generic question about the Kansas City offense speed, Bill cuts him off and says, “It’s Hill.” He shrugs and again says, “It’s Hill. Hill-” dramatic pause, “Hill is such an explosive player.”
What did you think of Mahomes, Bill? Shrug. “He made plays, we made plays.” Kelce? “He’s a good tight end,” he mumbles with a subtle roll of his eyes. Hunt? “A good running back.” The roll of his eyes is less subtle now. But Tyreek Hill is clearly someone that Bill views as being unique talent that’s worth praising.
Another important highlight is an overlap with Tom Brady’s interview. Both star quarterback and head coach highlighted the inability to win in short yardage situation as being a difference maker in New England’s attempts to win a championship last year. That was obviously something the Patriots identified as being important in their post-loss autopsy and I’m not sure anyone else has really talked about it. It does make the Sony Michel choice kind of odd though. He only had two TD’s in short yardage situations at Georgia. He’s really not known as a short yardage back. So just an interesting situation.
I’ll also say this. I can appreciate why Boston media doesn’t care for Bill. A reporter asks Bill a very good question, “Typically young quarterbacks do not do well against your defenses. That was the case in the first half but in the second half they scored 31 points. Is there anything in particular that can be highlighted that explains the difference in production between the first and second half for Kansas?”
Bill: “They have explosive players and they made plays.” That’s a legitimate question and Bill completely stonewalls it. And sure every coach engages in coach speak to a significant extent but I’m not sure anyone breathes coach speak quite like Bill. Sometimes it’s hysterical when reporters ask bad or leading questions but the curtness probably gets old over time.
The last thing I want to highlight is Belichick’s post game interview regarding Tom Brady. He indicated that Chris Hogan was not the first read of the play that Tom threw to help ice the game and praised Tom. He also seemed impressed by Tom running for the touchdown. That coincides with my observation of him talking to Tom earnestly on the sideline after he ran in for the touchdown. This could easily just be me noticing things because of the all the reported drama between Bill and Tom but it does seem like he is complimenting Brady more than usual in his press events. Take from that what you will.
The Defense Was Surprisingly Good…Until It Sucked
I have really mixed reactions to the defense. On the one hand I don’t want to condemn them. The game of football is undergoing another metamorphosis as dictated by the league. As the GOAT himself explained: “It’s becoming glorified college football.” How many games have we seen this year with incredible scores? This is NOT just because we have more stacked offenses and improved quarterback play. Defenses are being put at fundamental disadvantage based on the rules. They are being intrinsically limited. I legitimately believe we are close to the point where if you face a good quarterback with a good offense a defensive victory should be keeping them below 30 points. Do I like that? No. I hate it. But I’m just a dude who writes blogs on the internet. No one cares what I think so I’ll step off my soap box.
The point is this: When the Chief offense is clicking there isn’t a defense in the NFL that can stand up to them. Hitting the panic button because the Chiefs ran over the Patriots was never going to be responsible. Hell, one of my headlines from last week’s article (never published due to work and being deathly ill) was literally don’t panic when the Chiefs destroy this defense. It doesn’t mean the defense is god awful. It means the Chiefs offense is really good.
But I do think there are some problems that have nothing to do with the skill of the opposition or NFL rule changes. The first is communication. Most of these guys have played together for a while now. The idea that you can have miscommunication over HOW DO WE COVER TYREEK HILL is embarrassing. These guys are six games in and have played together for over a year. It looks like Harmon was mostly to blame there. That type of mistake will cost you games. It cannot happen again.
Devin McCourty is a defensive captain and arguably the heart of the secondary. He’s not a bad player. But he’s not a defensive star and he’s being paid to be one. Expect that contract to change in the off season next year.
Despite all the big guys up front, the Patriots were raked by Hunt who carried the ball ten times for 80 yards. That’s eight yards per a carry in case you were wondering. He was also targeted 5 times for 105 yards and a touchdown which averages out to 21 yards per reception. The Patriots front seven did a decent job of pressuring Mahomes but they continued to prove time and time again that they cannot adequately defend the run and they cannot defend receivers out of the backfield to save their lives.
Now all of that is not on the Patriots defense. Remember they are not just trying to stop Hunt. They have to stop Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley and Tyreek Hill too. As I said repeatedly throughout the preseason: how do defenses defend all those weapons? You don’t. But with all that being said: you sign a bunch of run stuffers and you still give up eight yards a carry. Gross.
The Patriots couldn’t force a single sack all game. They gave up 31 points in the second half. 40 points in the game. The lack of speed and athleticism, the inability of the defensive line to do its job, and the lack of pass rushing talent manifests itself game after game. The defense has to play better or it’s just gonna be a coin flip to see who wins in shootout after shootout. The Patriots offense will not average 39.5 points a game all season you can bet on that.
All of that being said, there was some good stuff there too. I do think the Patriots did an okay job pressuring Mahomes in the first half. You saw Trey Flowers beat his man and then you had a couple of schemed pressures that were critical in forcing field goals that the Patriots ended up needing to win the game. The defense had to contend with an awful special teams unit that consistently allowed the Chiefs good to downright incredible field position. Tom Brady fumbled. They were going against a great offense and forced two turnovers and a punt.
The Patriots have generated a lot more turnovers this year and I love that. Dont’a Hightower was the play maker he is paid to be. Duron Harmon should be praised for his pick if nothing else. I also think the Patriots did an awesome job on Travis Kelce and it contributed to how they slowed Mahomes down in the beginning. They needed to do a LOT better on Hill but look for their strategy on Kelce to be replicated until the Chiefs learn how to stop or punish it.
You could write a narrative that says without the incredible kick return, the fumble, and the secondary miscommunication, the Patriots win this game comfortably. Yes, the NFL is a results business. At the end of the day the defense gave up an incredible number of points. But the context does matter. I think the defense has some critical flaws that will be exploited week in and week out until they are fixed but I don’t think they are terrible.
Special Teams Meltdowns
I am really disappointed in special teams coach Joe Judge. A squib kick for basically no reason in the first half. Consistently refusing to just kick the ball out of the end zone and allowing the Chiefs the opportunity to return. Then allowing the Chiefs, who currently rank first in returns by a massive margin, to decimate the Patriots special teams. It’s just embarrassing for a coach who prides himself on quality special teams play. You didn’t see the Chiefs making that mistake as they consistently denied the Patriots an attempt to return. It also looks terrible from a GMing perspective. How many pure special teamers are on this roster and you cannot stop the Chiefs from making you look like fools. Not a great look.
Bill the Coordinator?
I want to propose a silly idea but one that I haven’t seen mentioned. I think it is very possible to divorce a head coach from a coordinator. Is it possible Bill the Head Coach is now being double teamed by both Bill the Coordinator and Bill the General Manager? Is it possible Bill schemes are simply archaic in the modern NFL and he’s lost his pulse on the game?
I’m going to suggest it hasn’t. Or at least we don’t know yet. The Patriots had the number one scoring defense in 2016 and they showed they deserved the title by performing excellent against the Steelers and Atlanta. We are only a little less than a year and a half away from Bill’s defense performing at a championship level against the league’s best offense by a wide margin. Yes, we got decimated in the Super Bowl and we haven’t looked good so far this year but look around the league. Defenses are getting decimated left and right regardless of talent or coordinator.
I don’t think Bill trusts this defense. I think that kick in the first half was smoking gun regarding his faith in the Patriots ability to stop Mahomes. I could be completely crazy here, turnovers tend to be fairly random, but is it a coincidence that in the year of the offense that Bill has his defense generating the most turnovers in years? Is it random or a recognition that they are probably going to get dunked on so they might as well gamble for the steal? The answer is that it’s probably random. Or it’s the influence of Brian Flores. But it certainly is an interesting coincidence.
This brings me right back to what I said earlier. The NFL is changing because the NFL forced it to change. No defense has a grip on it now. My concern is they never will but time will bear that out.
You want to know the best thing about that game? We scored 43 points and Brady was not even at his best. The second best thing was how basically everyone on the offense made plays.
The Patriots have the pieces to keep pace with the best offenses in the NFL and this year that might be more important than anything. With Josh Gordon becoming increasingly integrated into the game, guys like Chris Hogan can now be the fourth option they are far better suited for. And you know what? Props to Hogan. Dude has taken a beating on this forum, I certainly have thrown my fair of punches, and he came up like a boss when the Patriots needed him. Am I a little nervous Tom has consistently been good for three or four mind numbing plays a game? Sure. But he’s still the GOAT. Going into this game people talked about his inability to throw deep. Didn’t look like a problem to me. Do I think Tom will need to play better to win a championship? Yeah, I do. But that is still a hell of a way to win game 200.
Sony Michel and James White took advantage of a crappy run defense and were very efficient on the ground and in short yardage situations. Gordon was not perfect but still made some big plays including getting the DPI in the red zone. There is a lot of football left I am excited to see where he will be by the playoffs. Gronk was basically a non factor except in the final quarter where he was critical to the comeback win. Hogan was clutch. Edelman looked great. The offensive line, oh man the offensive line, they were absolutely dominate when it came to run blocking. And of course Ghost who was absolute money all game.
43 points against anyone in the NFL is impressive. The Patriots did not punt once. Just a dominant performance overall. I think this was the game the 2018 Patriots showed they have the potential to be a championship team. This was a brutal game and they got it done. Damn, damn impressive.
Changing of the Guard
So the narrative being pushed by the NFL all week, and one that I think will continue, is that Mahomes represents the future of the NFL while the Patriots represent the great but terminally declining past. And you know what?
They’re probably right.
It has nothing to do with this game. Win or lose any talk about the future is going to be settled by playoff performances not a week six game. But the fact is Tom is 41 years old. Mahomes is 23. Mahomes has all the talent and skills you desire from a modern NFL QB. Tom Brady is one injury away from ending, not his season, but his career. The Chiefs have one of the youngest, most athletic, and fast cores in the NFL. The Patriots have one of the oldest, least athletic, and slowest.
I don’t know how well the Chiefs are going to do in four or five years. Football is a fickle sport. But I do know that barring some incredible drafting and free agent signing the Patriots demographically are headed for a slump sooner rather than later. And keep in mind slump doesn’t mean bad. As long as Bill is head coach and Brady plays decent this is a team that will be in the playoff hunt. But if I wanted to bet my house on who is going to have a better record over the next five years I’d put it on the Chiefs without a second of hesitation.
Chiefs have not always been a mentally tough team, as you all know. I was struck by the complete lack of fear Kansas City had. Down multiple scores going to the half, the Chiefs locker room wasn’t upset. They were spoiling for a fight. They believed they could dominate the Patriots. They didn’t even seem that bothered after the loss in the post game interview. There was none of the typical grief you see from a team that narrowly lost a game with potentially huge seeding implications. They looked angry. They looked ready to go out and play next week’s game starting that night. They seemed like they couldn’t wait to play the Patriots again.
The Patriots have been the kings of the AFC for nearly twenty years. There have been down years. Years other teams did a better job. But no one has even approached their consistent year in and year out domination. I think football could be played for another century and no team will surpass the Patriots run of success. This is a truly remarkable journey that will be etched in the history of the NFL as long as the institution lasts.
Unfortunately, it’s a lot closer to the end than to the beginning. I think victory is this inevitable scenario of decline is one more championship. One more brilliant explosion before the franchise drifts into the inevitable twilight of the post Brady-Belichick era. Will they do it? Who knows. But if anyone can, it’s the greatest coach, and the greatest quarterback, to ever live.