In a way, the opening drive of the New England Patriots’ 23-16 loss against the Kansas City Chiefs was emblematic of the game to come: the team’s offense struggled to consistently moved the ball, the referees got involved by throwing a pair of pass interference flags against the defense, and the biggest play of the series — one that ended with the Patriots taking a 7-0 lead on their first touchdown of the day — came on a trick play.
In fact, the Patriots’ two biggest plays in terms of yardage gained both involved some trickery. Said first quarter touchdown came on a flea-flicker when Tom Brady handed the football off to running back James White, who pitched it back to his quarterback, who went deep for a 37-yard score to wide receiver Julian Edelman. The play was well executed by the offense, but remained the unit’s lone highlight of the first half.
In the fourth quarter and with New England trying to rally back from what was a 16-point deficit earlier in the game, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel went deep into his bag of tricks for a second time — once again with positive results for an otherwise struggling offense: Brady handed the football off to White again, and this time the veteran runner threw a short touch pass over the defense to Jakobi Meyers for a 35-yard catch-and-run.
The two plays stand out not just because of their nature and results, but also because they helped a sputtering Patriots offense move the football down the field in critical situations. New England, after all, struggled once again to get into much of a rhythm: the offensive line had one of its worst games of the season, while the non-Edelman or White skill position players were unable to have much of an impact on the game.
McDaniels’s trickery, however, helped bring the offense on course: the first play ended with a touchdown, the second opened what could have been a game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter had New England not come up short on a fourth-and-three attempt later during the series. As Tom Brady pointed out after the game, the non-standard play designs helped the team create some positive momentum in situations when it was needed.
“Just trying some different things to give us a little spark or momentum,” the Patriots’ quarterback told reporters during his postgame press conference. “You know, we had a couple big ones tonight on the flea flicker and then on the other one with the halfback pass. So, those were good plays, those were good momentum plays, and I wish we could have made a few more of the other ones, too.”
The other ones, meanwhile, remain a problem for the Patriots as the offense is still out of sync both in the passing game and when it comes to running the football. For running back James White, who finished the game with 60 total yards from scrimmage as well as the aforementioned pass to rookie receiver Jakobi Meyers, the problem is players not being on the same page and the unit failing to finish drives in positive fashion.
“It is nothing dramatic, it is just everybody just doing our jobs and doing them a little bit better,” White said after the game. “We came out in the second [half] and did things a little bit better. The defense had some turnovers and some good stops and I think we tried to ride that momentum. The special teams had a huge blocked punt and like I said everyone fought hard we did what we could do to get ourselves in a position to win.”
“I think we’re just trying to figure out what works,” added Brady when speaking about New England’s recent offensive struggles. “So, I think you have an idea and then you see how the game unfolds and then you’ve got to make some adjustments. So, we tried to make some adjustments there in the second half. They threw a lot of different defenses at us, some we handled pretty good, others we didn’t. It was a good game by them.”
In the end, Kansas City’s performance in combination with the Patriots’ miscues led to Brady and company failing to score 20+ points or gain over 300 yards for the third time in four weeks. Considering that the team went 2-2 during that span and saw the defense play some solid football along the way, it is clear that the unit is still a problem. The trick plays helped somewhat, but major questions about the offensive execution still remain.