The New England Patriots hung tough early against the Kansas City Chiefs, but big plays and a big mistake opened an opportunity for Patrick Mahomes that he did not waste, quickly reestablishing a double-digit lead, en route to a 27-17 win in Foxborough.
Things looked promising early as Bailey Zappe completed all but two passes in building a 10-7 lead in the second quarter, but the Pats defense could only contain Mahomes for so long as the reigning Super Bowl champs showed why they'll still be a tough out for any playoff opponent that must face them.
Kansas City poured on 20 straight points after falling behind 10-7, while New England's second half included a first-play interception followed by four three-and-outs in a row as they failed to recover their early game production for a second week in a row.
Kevin Harris added a fourth-quarter touchdown for the Patriots off a Jahlani Tavai interception to stop the bleeding and the defense would force another punt after that to make things a little more interesting down the stretch, but a fourth-down attempt from New England's own six-yard line fell incomplete and Kansas City took over and kneeled on the victory.
Here are the key takeaways from the loss that dropped New England to 3-11.
1. Penalties & Missed Field Goals Mark Early Game Action
The Patriots looked like they had gotten off to a great start when Jalen Reagor received the opening kickoff and took it back 46 yards, but a holding penalty by Brenden Schooler wiped the play off the board. The New England offense started off backed up at their 13-yard line and quickly turned in a lackluster three-and-out.
On Kansas City's first offensive play, the Chiefs hit on a 32-yard passing play, but New England's defense stepped up to help deliver a stop on the drive, as an offensive pass interference penalty on a pick play set the Chiefs back. Harrison Butker missed a 39-yard field goal wide right to keep the score at 0-0 as the two teams felt each other out early in the game.
On their second possession, Zappe started dealing from the pocket, showing a quick release and a good sense of the field, as he hit DeVante Parker for a 20-yard gain and Demario Douglas for 16 yards as New England moved into Kansas City territory. But once again a penalty would stunt an early drive as Douglas was called for a rare offensive face mask that cost 15 yards.
Chad Ryland would in turn miss a field goal of his own, this one from 41 yards out, his third miss in four games.
2. Chiefs Get Tricky for First Score
The Chiefs would waste little time taking advantage of the Patriots missed field goal, quickly marching down the field in four plays, primarily powered by a 48-yard screen pass to Clyde Edwards-Helaire that looked like a blown coverage by the Patriots defense. Two plays later Jerick McKinnon would take a direct snap out of a loaded backfield that even had Patrick Mahomes in a three-point stance. Rookie Rashee Rice came streaking in and McKinnon flipped it to him as the running back picked up his first passing touchdown and it gave KC a 7-0 lead.
In the first-ever matchup between two coaches who combined have over 500 wins, Andy Reid showed his offensive creativity on this play, as twice on the drive the Chiefs were able to exploit a deficiency in New England's defense.
3. Patriots Respond on Offense...and Defense
The Patriots offense responded with a relentless scoring drive, converting two third-downs and going for in on fourth down to pick up New England's first touchdown of the game. Zappe again showed good poise in the pocket, delivering two key throws on third down, one to Hunter Henry and a second to DeVante Parker for 19 yards.
After being stopped short on third-and-2, the Pats stayed aggressive inside Chiefs territory. Zappe threw the pass up to Henry and the tight end made a dynamic catch on the perfect throw, coming down with the ball for the responding score. Henry and Parker came up big early in the game as both were turning in productive days that helped spark New England's offense. Through four drives, the duo had 101 receiving yards combined in a 7-7 ball game midway through the second quarter. Zappe completed 17-of-19 passes to start the game.
The tie wouldn't last long.
Kansas City got the ball back after the Patriots scored and on their first play rookie Marte Mapu ripped an intended pass away from tight end Blake Bell for the game's first turnover. It was Mapu's first career interception and he returned it 20 yards to Kansas City's 15-yard line. A Conor McDermott holding penalty took a second Henry touchdown off the board, forcing the Pats to settle for a field goal as they took a 10-7 lead.
Mapu has had a quiet stretch late in the season but saw some early reps and made the most of them, making a play that both he and the team could build off of.
4. Big Third-Down Plays Give KC a Halftime Lead
Two big third down plays helped Kansas City wrestle back the lead at halftime as Mahomes hit plays of 31 yards on third-and-8 and 20 yards on third-and-9. Even with good early-down play, the quarterback showed why he's so dangerous as big plays were a big problem for New England on the Chief's scoring drives. These big plays came even as Mahomes was having the worst big-passing-play season of his career. He had just one explosive passing touchdown this season entering the game. Meanwhile, Zappe did not attempt a deep pass but completed all four of his intermediate attempts.
It was an 11-play, 80-yard drive as McKinnon would finish it off with a six-yard touchdown catch to his stat line after throwing the first score of the game, with the Chiefs taking a 14-10 lead into the locker room at the half.
5. Chiefs Extend Lead Twice, Quickly
Kansas City maintained their momentum into the second half and used the same formula with big plays and third-down conversions. On their first play of the second half, Mahomes hit Rashee Rice for 23 yards and things were off and running. They'd convert another third down, picking up 11 yards when they needed 10 on a crossing route by Rice. Then, Rice would add 17 more yards on another reception that took KC all the way to New England's 14-yard line, but the Patriots defense would stiffen inside the red zone, holding three plays designed for Travis Kelce in check.
The Chiefs settled for a field goal that made it 17-10, and they'd quickly get another chance to add to the lead as Bailey Zappe immediately threw a first-down interception that put the Chiefs right back at the Pats seven-yard line. They'd score on another late-in-the-down throw by Mahomes perfectly placed to Clyde Edwards-Helaire for another score.
KC would add another field goal after the Patriots third three-and-out of the game, this one a 54-yarder by Butker to make it 27-10. The drive included plays of 17 and 20 yards, as KC went 39 yards in six plays for their fourth-straight scoring drive as the Chiefs ran away with it.
New England had taken a 10-7 lead in the second quarter but ran just two plays from that point until 9:22 in the third quarter, suddenly finding themselves down 24-10 that only got worse. That's what big plays and turnovers can do and how quickly they can swing the complexion of a game.
6. Injury Attrition
The Patriots were hit hard by injuries in this game, as Cole Strange was carted off with a leg injury and immediately ruled out, never a positive sign. Starting left tackle Conor McDermott left in the second half with a head injury, while Hunter Henry also sustained a low hit in the fourth quarter that sent him out of the game. Even Matthew Slater went down and had to be looked at, while Jonathan Jones continued to battle a season-long knee injury and was announced as questionable to return at halftime. He continued to tough it out into the second half. Ja'Whaun Bentley was another Patriot to make a late-game trip to the medical tent but he'd return to the game, while Anfernee Jennings and Jabrill Peppers also had to be attended to by the medical staff in the fourth quarter.
It was a disappointing loss on the scoreboard, but the injuries could be even more impactful for the final three games of the season.
7. Patriots are now 3-11
The Patriots made things interesting early with an extended drive touchdown and then a field goal off of a turnover, but immediately after taking a second-quarter 10-7 lead, it was all Chiefs for four-straight drives as they not only regained the lead but extended it to an insurmountable level. Zappe showed some spark but his third-quarter interception deep inside his own territory was a game-breaker.
Meanwhile, the NE defense allowed too many big plays and late-in-the-down throws from Mahomes that made up the bulk of KC's attack. They did a good job containing Travis Kelce but Mahomes showed why he's the best quarterback in the game and carved up the Pats defense as the Chiefs ran away with the game.
Now 3-11, the Patriots will turn the page to a Christmas Eve matchup in Denver against the 7-7 Broncos, themselves coming off a lopsided loss at the hands of the Lions.