It is near-impossible to pin one team down as the best in the NFL after only three weeks of action. However, the Kansas City Chiefs are making a very strong case for themselves: behind second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the league’s most prolific offense, the team cruised to a 3-0 record. One big reason for the Chiefs’ success so far this year is their quick starts in all three phases of the game.
Overall, Andy Reid’s team has outscored its opponents with a combined score of 49-6 in first quarters this year. While none of the games ultimately turned into the complete blowouts they appeared to become after the first 15 minutes, the Chiefs were still able to mostly play the games on their terms once in the driver’s seat. In this sense, they are the polar opposite of a New England Patriots team that has started uncharacteristically slowly as of late.
In week two against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Patriots fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter and were down 21-3 by halftime. Against the Detroit Lions yesterday, New England found itself in a 13-0 hole midway through the second quarter. Both times the team came close to getting itself back into the game – in Jacksonville they cut their deficit to eight points, in Detroit to three – but ultimately did not make enough plays to complete the comeback. Playing from behind simply left no room for any of the errors the team made along the way.
The Patriots therfore know that their slow starts have been a major issue the last two weeks: “Two weeks where you get behind and just not making enough plays early in the game,” quarterback Tom Brady said after the team’s 26-10 loss against the Lions yesterday. “We’re behind and we’re just fighting all day.” Brady, who finished the game with 14 completions on 26 attempts for 133 yards, a touchdown and an interception, was not the only Patriot to feel that way.
“We always talk about coming out and starting fast and playing well early,” said defensive back Jason McCourty yesterday. “You make it hard on yourself if you start in a hole.” The reason for that does not lie with just one of the team’s units: the offense is only slowly getting into a rhythm, the defense has struggled big-time against the run, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal that would have given New England an early lead in Jacksonville.
For head coach Bill Belichick, the solution is a simple one: “We have to work at it, work harder,” he said yesterday before adding that coaching and playing better is what needs to be done. “Similar situation last week: get behind early, play from behind. [We] just weren’t able to make it up.” The story was the same against the Jaguars and the Lions: New England’s slow starts played into the hands of aggressive defenses and ball-control offenses and subsequently made life hard on the team – too hard.
Whether putting more emphasis on starting quickly will lead to different results remains to be seen. But while this development has been a concerning one so far this season, history suggests that New England will figure out a way to righten the ship. The next chance to do that comes on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins in what already is one of the biggest games of the year. Another disappointing first few series simply cannot be afforded.
Who knows where the Chiefs would stand if they had started as slowly as the Patriots the last two weeks?