It is not often that the Patriots are badly outplayed and even less frequent when that happens at home, but that's exactly what happened Thursday night at Gillette Stadium. The Chiefs stunning 42-27 victory over the Patriots was as much noteworthy was a number of reasons, and none of them were good for New England.
Here are some random thoughts from the kickoff to the NFL's 2017 season.
-The game opened with a curious decision by Kansas City coach Andy Reid, and it's one that proved to be correct. The Chiefs won the toss and opted to defer to the second half, opening up the possibility that they would be trailing before they got the ball. It would have made sense if the Chiefs took the ball in an effort to take some time off the clock and control tempo, but instead the Patriots marched effortlessly downfield and took a 7-0 lead on the first of two first-half touchdowns by Mike Gillislee. The decision looked really bad when rookie Kareem Hunt fumbled on Kansas City's first play, and soon thereafter Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown. But replays showed the ball hit the ground, the call was overturned and the Patriots eventually turned the ball over on downs. That led to a 90-yard touchdown drive for the Chiefs, and they also closed the half with a 92-yard scoring drive before opening the second half with the ball. The Chiefs weren't able to double up due to a penalty that halted the first drive but quickly scored on their second when Alex Smith hit Tyreek Hill for a 75-yard touchdown to take a 21-17 lead.
-LeGarrette' Blount's 18 rushing touchdowns in 2016 were a huge topic of conversation in the offseason, as in who is going to pick up those short-yardage touchdowns? The answer in Week 1 was Gillislee. He easily converted twice from 2 yards out in the first half, going to the left in the first quarter and the right in the second. He also was stuffed on a fourth-and-inches on the drive that followed Hunt's early fumble, but overall the Patriots new lead back looked the part of the bruiser that running backs coach Ivan Fears said he was looking for before the start of camp.
-The fourth-and-inches failure was a key juncture of the first half for obvious reasons. Not only did it keep the score at a manageable 7-0, but the Chiefs then mounted an impressive touchdown drive to tie the game. On the Patriots next series, the moved to the Kansas City 8 and faced another fourth-and-inches. This time Bill Belichick sent Stephen Gostkowski onto the field to boot a 25-yard field goal. It was interesting to see Belichick play it safe the second time around.
-Big plays were the biggest problem for the Patriots defense, which turned out to be a continuation of the preseason for Matt Patricia's troops. The Chiefs had plays of 78, 75, 58, 25 and 21 yards – three of which resulted in touchdowns. The normally conservative Chiefs attack used chunk plays to post three drives of 90 yards or more, and the Patriots defense was powerless to stop it. Hunt was the main thorn in their side, piling up 148 yards on the ground and another 98 through the air. He had a 78-yard TD catch and a 58-yard run, all of which was even more impressive considering he fumbled on the first time he touched the ball as a professional.
-One of the main issues on defense was the personnel and how it was used. Jordan Richards was part of the starting lineup but not as a defensive back. Instead he opened at linebacker with Kyle Van Noy while Dont'a Hightower worked at left defensive end opposite Trey Flowers. Richards is a safety by trade and the Chiefs took advantage his lack of size by pounding the middle of the defense with Hunt, although the former second-round pick did force a fumble on the first snap of the game. Hightower also seemed to get taken advantage of as the Chiefs used a lot of plays that pressured the edges, showing option looks that found the captain in vulnerable positions. Cassius Marsh, who just arrived earlier in the week from Seattle, got a lot of snaps early and then played full-time when Hightower left with a knee injury in the third quarter. Marsh was in coverage on Hunt's long touchdown and he seemed out of position at times. It was a curious use of personnel and it backfired badly.
-In addition to Marsh, fellow newcomers Johnson Bademosi and Marquis Flowers also saw extensive action. All three were part of the kickoff and kick return units, and Bademosi came up with a nice stop on De'Anthony Thomas, limiting the dangerous kick returner to just 10 yards on a second half attempt.
-Gillislee showed signs of offering more explosiveness than Blount but ultimately turned in a very Blount-like stat line. On the positive side he finished with three touchdowns, showing toughness on the goal line with three short runs. The negative saw him get stuffed twice on fourth-and-inches. In addition to the aforementioned game-turner early, he was stuffed at the Chiefs 40 in the second half, appearing to take a little stutter step before hitting the hole. He finished with just 45 yards on 15 carries, averaging a less-than-stellar 3 yards per attempt. He needs to take better advantage of defenses that will be geared to dropping extra DBs in coverage, as the Chiefs did throughout.
-Chris Hogan was quiet in his first game playing without Julian Edelman. Many felt – myself included – that Hogan would see a spike in his production in Edelman's absence with his ability to play in the slot. That materialized in some ways but not in others. The Patriots used him on three Edelman-like jet sweeps in the first half that picked up just 15 yards, but as a receiver they seemed content to send him on mostly vertical routes. He was targeted five times and finished with just one catch for 8 yards. The Patriots never sent him on any crosses underneath the defense like Edelman so often excels in, and as a result Hogan did not enjoy a strong start to his season.
-Phillip Dorsett, the fourth newcomer in the mix, also suited up but played just sparingly late in the game. He was targeted on one deep ball and seemed to be on a different page as Tom Brady, who missed the wideout badly to the inside. Brady seemed to have trouble throughout the night staying on the same page, often misfiring or failing to find open receivers. He finished 16 of 36 passes for 267 yards and no touchdowns. He did find some success using another new target, Brandin Cooks, hitting the wideout three times for 88 yards including a 54-yarder in the second half. Cooks also drew a handful of penalties that contributed to scoring drives.
-The Patriots loss was the first by a defending Super Bowl champion at home since 2002 when the NFL began starting the season at the home of the champs. … The last time the Patriots allowed 40 points also came against Kansas City, back on Sept. 29, 2014, when the Chiefs stomped New England 41-14. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl that season. … Danny Amendola was one of the lone bright spots for the Patriots, catching six passes for 100 yards before leaving in the third quarter with a concussion. It was his first 100-yard game since 2015 when he had 117 against Buffalo. Belichick may want to re-think using Amendola as both a primary receiver and a punt returner. His durability has always been a question mark and he's already banged up. … Trey Flowers had a pair of sacks, although he didn't really generate much pressure during the game. Smith had plenty of time to throw throughout, but on a couple occasions he appeared to loses his footing and wound up going down.