Considering the unprecedented circumstances under which the New England Patriots had to play on the road against the reigning world champions, their 26-10 loss against the Kansas City Chiefs did not come surprising. The matter in which it happened was, however: the team hung with the Chiefs through three quarterbacks behind an outstanding defensive performance and despite the offense missing opportunity after opportunity.
There will certainly be a lot to dissect in coming days, but for now let’s just take a look at some of the players who stood out on Monday night, without the benefit of a film review.
Winner: RB Damien Harris
Coming off injured reserve just a few hours earlier, Damien Harris looked good filling the early down role previously held by Sony Michel. The second-year running back led the team with 100 rushing yards on 17 carries for a very good average of 5.9 yards per attempt. While some strong blocking up front obviously benefitted him, Harris also showed his burst and vision on numerous occasions — most prominently his 41-yarder late in the third quarter.
Loser: QB Brian Hoyer
New England’s quarterbacks were thrown into a tough situation just a few days after starting quarterback Cam Newton tested positive for Covid-19. Struggles had to be expected, and the two certainly had their fair share of both. Hoyer’s in particular hurt, though, considering that the veteran cost the team two scoring opportunities in what was a close contest at the time: he took a pair of sacks at inopportune times — one resulting in the clock running out on the first half, the other in a lost fumble — which led to his benching in favor of Jarrett Stidham. The youngster looked only marginally better by throwing a touchdown to N’Keal Harry but also a pair of interceptions, but he did show more promise and give New England’s offense a spark Hoyer simply couldn’t.
Loser: WR Julian Edelman
Despite being the Patriots’ most experienced pass catcher, Julian Edelman had a rough outing against the Chiefs. Finishing with three catches on six targets for 35 yards, the veteran failed to provide a consistent target for his quarterbacks — in part because of his inability to consistently hold onto the football: Edelman had a third down pass go through his hands that luckily ended up in Gunner Olszewski’s, before later deflecting a short pass from Jarrett Stidham that turned into a pick-six.
Winner: The Patriots’ secondary
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ stat-line may look good — 19-for-29, 236 yards, two touchdowns — but it doesn’t tell the full story: the Patriots’ defense, and especially its secondary, had a tremendous performance against one of the best offensive units in all of football. Led by Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson, who teamed up on a forced fumble and recovery in the second quarter, the unit was able to limit the Chiefs’ outstanding group of pass catchers. At the end of the day. Kansas City had only two touchdown drives and four passing plays of 20-plus yards, while Mahomes failed to get into a consistent rhythm for much of the contest. The fact that his two passing touchdowns were essentially run plays is a perfect illustration of just how well the Patriots covered his targets.
Winner: G Michael Onwenu
Another week, another position change for Michael Onwenu. After starting his NFL career as a rotational right tackle and jumbo tight end, he played left guard against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 3 before moving to the right guard position — the one he also played in college — against Kansas City: with both Shaq Mason and Jermaine Eluemunor unable to go, the Patriots again had to reconfigure their offensive line. The sixth-round rookie again played a role in the process and once more showed his promise along the way.
Loser: RB J.J. Taylor
Even though the Patriots lost their top early-down back, Sony Michel, to a quad injury during the week leading up to the game, undrafted rookie running back J.J. Taylor was unable to find a role in the game plan. As opposed to the first three games of his pro career, he did not touch the ball even once all day. With James White back in the rotation, and both Damien Harris and Rex Burkhead looking good, one has to wonder how many opportunities Taylor will see moving forward.
Winners: LB Chase Winovich & DE Deatrich Wise Jr.
One part of the reason why the Chiefs’ passing offense had a comparatively tough day against New England is the pass rush: the Patriots were able to repeatedly put pressure on Patrick Mahomes by rushing just three or four players. Chase Winovich and Deatrich Wise Jr. were among those bringing the heat on numerous occasions. While the former registered a 7-yard sack that could have easily also included a forced fumble and recovery, the latter proved himself a stout presence against not just the pass but the run as well.
Loser: TE Ryan Izzo
The Patriots’ tight end position continues to be mostly ignored in the passing game, but it did get its opportunities against Kansas City in the form of third-year man Ryan Izzo. New England’s tight end number one at the moment, Izzo saw three passes thrown his way. However, he failed to come away with even one catch. He also had a drop while another target of his turned into an interception. The 24-year-old is a solid blocker in the running game, but his contributions as a receiver remain limited even when given a chance to show his value.
Loser: WR Jakobi Meyers
New England’s wide receiver position received a boost on Sunday when Gunner Olszewski was activated from injured reserve after having missed the first three games of the season. Olszewski had a relatively quiet day — he had one 11-yard catch as well as well as a 12-yard punt return — and yet the team still felt better about having him and undrafted rookie Isaiah Zuber on the game day roster than fellow second-year man Jakobi Meyers. One has to wonder whether or not Meyers’ days in New England could be numbered.
Winner: P Jake Bailey
Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater referred to Jake Bailey as a “weapon” during training camp, and Sunday’s game showed why the team captain feels this way: in a game that was largely a battle for field position early on, the second-year man shined. He placed his kicks extremely well, looked good on kickoffs and allowed the team to defense to start in a favorable spot time and again. All in all, Bailey finished with three punts for an average of 52.3 yards per kick and no return yardage allowed as well as three touchbacks on three kickoffs.