Who’s getting an earful in practice? Who at least kept things together for the Patriots in their embarrassing home opener loss?
Before I start, I want to express my complete disbelief at what went on Thursday night. It’s a saying that a team has to sling the ball here, there, and everywhere to defeat the Patriots, especially at home. Alex Smith did just that, guided by a running game and the help of his offensive line, especially in the second half. He also made many throws that were almost out of character for him to make, especially the deep ball to Tyreek Hill in the third quarter. The loss knocks the Patriots down a peg after many predicted they would have a perfect season, and the loss is symbolic on multiple levels.
Pats: Alex Smith, Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill came to your place with their ugly suits on and propped their nasty feet on your couch, ate all of your snacks, drank all of your beer. Smith never threw for as many yards and touchdowns as he did Thursday night, all while the commissioner, Mark Wahlberg, and a bunch of other seemingly important people were there to watch.
Barstool passed out thousands of towels with Roger Goodell’s face on them, but the real clowns were not in an undisclosed suite in Gillette Stadium; they were on the field. And they made everyone outside of New England laugh.
One more thing before I start though: the Patriots were losing in the first half while Mark Wahlberg was at his ridiculous Super Bowl party. Mark Wahlberg stopped watching at halftime, and then the Patriots came back to win, while he stopped watching. He was there for the whole game on opening night. Just saying.
1. Devin McCourty
McCourty is thought of as a constant in the Patriots defense, and he lives up to his title and contract as one of the game’s best free safeties.
While everything else was going to hell on Thursday night – even other players thought to be constants – McCourty did his job as one of the few bright spots from the team’s horrible performance on defense. He made several key tackles that prevented first downs for Kansas City and did everything in his power to keep New England in the game.
However, he and cornerback Stephon Gilmore had a miscommunication that let Tyreek Hill fly down the field for a 75-yard touchdown in the third quarter. McCourty’s responsibility for the Hill touchdown remains unknown.
2. James Develin
For the about the first half of the game, the Patriots offensive line was absolutely dynamite. They gave Tom Brady all the extra time he needed for his brand new pass targets, who were not always on the same page. Mike Gillislee received a clear path to run, and this allowed his to walk into the end zone. The way Develin blocked, just about any running back could punch in a rushing touchdown. The run game faded in the second half after KC spiced up their pass rush, but Develin helped make something out of nothing.
As great as Develin is, it’s not too promising if he is one of the three best performers for the Patriots in a given week. There should be a spot for say, Tom Brady, but there was not.
3. Mike Gillislee
All Gillislee really had to do to replace LeGarrette Blount is be a dependable ground-and-pound back for the red zone and other important yardage. While he did score three red zone rushing touchdowns, he twice failed to convert on fourth downs deep into Kansas City territory. Those missed chances could very well have been the difference in the game.
Gillislee did not lose any fumbles, but there were two close calls in which the Patriots recovered the fumble back. Where Gillislee’s role is focused on key situations and ball security, even that’s not good enough for the Patriots. After all, the Super Bowl fumble is probably what made Bill Belichick decide to let LeGarrette Blount leave in free agency.
One more thing: I don’t know how they run things in Buffalo, but if Mike Gillislee wants to keep his job as a Patriot, he’d better learn to block.
1. Jordan Richards
You may have been on your couch watching Richards in the preseason and wondering, “how soon is this guy gonna clean out his locker after this?” Turns out, he survived the preseason and made it to playing a frighteningly important role in Week 1 as the second strong safety behind Patrick Chung.
The Patriots defense stuck with a dime package for this game, and this caused Richards to play a baffling number of snaps because of his speed.
Kyle Van Noy and Jordan Richards are having a rough time against Hunt and the run
— Matt LaPan (@Matt_LaPan) September 8, 2017
This may also explain why Kyle Van Noy played at middle linebacker over David Harris, who is older and slower. Needless to say, the dime package did not yield the expected result for former aspiring rocket scientist Matt Patricia.
Richards was all over the place, and not in the good sense. If the touchdowns in Richards’ area in preseason weren’t enough to sway the Patriots away from Richards, this might do it.
2. Dont’a Hightower
This was Game 1 of Dont’a Hightower moving to the defensive end, and it couldn’t have turned out any worse. The pass rush was largely silent, and it got significantly worse in the second half. Hightower was largely irrelevant in his role on the end, mustering just two tackles; neither were sacks.
On multiple plays, Hightower was caught looking for a hole in the offensive line to rush, and by that time it was too late. Moving Hightower away from the middle only opened the floodgates for Kansas City’s rush attack. When Hightower rushed as a middle linebacker, the holes were much easier to find, since it was not a given that he would rush.
Some of his night can be attributed to plain bad luck, as Hightower had about 700 pounds forced on to his leg caused him to temporarily leave the game. He was playing hurt, but he did not impress in the time before his injury.
While Hightower played some edge in the Super Bowl, the permanent move to the end made him look inexperienced. Since Hightower was moved away from the middle and instead pushed to one side, the Chiefs ran up the middle and opposite Hightower as they pleased.
On to his fill-in, Kyle Van Noy was exposed on passing plays. He’s still on the roster for his run-stopping (and I don’t know, Bill just likes him), but his pass coverage was dreadful. An already thin position grew barren with the loss of Shea McClellin, causing Van Noy to step up and play a hefty number of snaps at middle linebacker.
During the game, I thought of what a difference it would make if Van Noy and Hightower switched places. While an entire re-write of the defense from Patricia for next week is unrealistic, a package that brings Hightower back to middle linebacker with David Harris filling in would at least make the Patriots stronger against the run. With the numbers the Chiefs put up on the ground and in the air, change is almost mandatory.
3. Cassius Marsh
He was a preseason addition to the team from Seattle, and he was not built to play in coverage. Wanna know why Kony Ealy is gone? Ealy refused to drop back and play coverage, among other reasons.
Marsh got beat at the jump on the few plays where he was forced to pick up a receiver. This was on full display when Kareem Hunt caught his third and final touchdown. Before Hunt got on his horse, Marsh failed to help out and make the game-saving tackle on Hunt.
At his position, Marsh looked both sluggish and overmatched, going up against one of the NFL’s better right tackles in Mitchell Schwartz.
Right now, Cassius Marsh appears to be the closest Pete Carroll will come to revenge on the Patriots.
— Chad Finn (@GlobeChadFinn) September 8, 2017
While the Patriots can’t be blamed for hoping to find magic (see what I did there) at defensive end, Cassius Marsh is better off playing cards.
Honorable Mention: Danny Amendola
Replacing Julian Edelman is no simple task. To go from a fourth option at wide receiver to about the second in just a week is also difficult.
But that all starts with catching the ball when it comes, and holding on to it. Amendola’s made some clutch catches in his slightly underrated tenure as a Patriot, so the expectation was that Amendola could be mini-Jules, or at least a third option on offense.
Those expectations quickly came crashing down, as Amendola dropped two passes before leaving the game with an injury. This made the game plan even harder for the Patriots, as they become increasingly thin at WR. As much as he should be commended for taking less money to continue playing for the Patriots, he failed to step up in this moment that he was probably waiting for.
The Bottom Line:
This was a loss that exposed so many deficiencies in this previously loaded Patriots team. Areas of concern are WR, DE, LB, and SS. We’ll see how the defending champions respond in Week 2 at the New Orleans Saints.
I’ll leave you with this, courtesy of Mike Loyko, which helped me feel better about the team
Here’s to hoping.