The New England Patriots collapse against the Kansas City Chiefs remains the biggest surprise for the NFL in week 1 because of how un-Patriots-like they looked. Tom Brady was incredibly inaccurate and ranks last in the league in completion rate. Rob Gronkowski still looked rusty as he works his way back from injury. New offensive toys Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead and Dwayne Allen and Brandin Cooks all experienced varying degrees of growing pains. Chris Hogan was erased by Chiefs All Pro CB Marcus Peters.
But with the loss of Julian Edelman and the subsequent mid-game injury to Danny Amendola, was it really surprising to see the offense stall in the final quarter? If I told you the Patriots were going to score 27 points through three quarters, you’d think New England was having a great game.
That’s not to say there aren’t concerns with the offense; Amendola cannot be relied on to remain healthy and his loss simply left an exclamation point next to the importance of his role in the offense. Someone will have to step up or else the offense will continue to struggle.
So I won’t call the offense the most surprising part of the Patriots season, even if it was disappointing.
To me, the most surprising part was the Patriots defense giving up big plays left and right. In 2016, the longest touchdown the Patriots gave up all year was a 30-yarder to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers in garbage time of the AFC Championship Game. That’s over a span of 19 games.
In just one game in 2017, the Patriots gave up a pair of 75+ yard scores; a 75-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill and a 78-yard touchdown to Kareem Hunt. Those were shocking plays by a defense that relies on not making mistakes.
New England watched the Chiefs lead three drives of 90+ yards (90, 92, 90). In the three combined seasons from 2014-16, the Patriots allowed just two such drives (91 yards to the Giants in 2015, 92 yards to the 49ers in 2016). Those were shocking drives for a defense that prides itself on bending, but not breaking.
The Patriots defense also allowed three plays of 50+ yards on the day- those two touchdowns and a 58-yard run by Hunt. In the entire 2016 season, the Patriots defense allowed just two plays of 50+ yards. Again, shocking.
The New England defense made a season-or-two’s worth of mistakes in a span of 20 minutes of game time because all three of these plays occurred between the 9:28 mark of the third quarter and the 4:15 mark of the fourth.
The loss of LB Dont’a Hightower with 7:08 left in the third quarter definitely affected the Patriots defense of Hunt, while a miscommunication and poor coverage by Stephon Gilmore and Devin McCourty led to Hill’s big score. Hopefully the Patriots can rely on their veterans to get back on track, too.
But after watching the Patriots defend the big play perfectly in 2016, it was most surprising to me to see the defense give up a string of big plays to start the 2017 season.