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Game Observations: Patriots go down swinging to Chiefs

2019-GameObservations-PDC

The New England Patriots fell into a 20-7 halftime hole, but fought all the way until the end, coming up one score short of overtime and losing to the Kansas City Chiefs 23-16. Despite another uneven and sputtering offensive performance, the Patriots clawed their way back into the game on the back of two big plays once again provided by the special teams and defense, but it was not enough.

The Patriots are now 10-3, still in the AFC's second seed but after going 2-3 in their last five games confidence is low that this edition will be making a run to another Super Bowl. They certainly have the fight of previous Patriots teams, but with the Chiefs just one game behind them for the playoff bye week, the last three weeks of the season will be interesting.

Here's everything that stood out in a disappointing loss.

- It wasn't a pretty opening drive for the Patriots offense, but it was an effective one. With a focus on the no-huddle offense, they needed two third-down pass interference penalties to keep the drive alive. But those penalties got them close enough to bust out a flea flicker that worked perfectly, giving them a 37-yard touchdown to Julian Edelman and an early 7-0 lead.

-The defense would give it right back to the offense as J.C. Jackson picked off an ill-advised pass from Patrick Mahomes. It was what the Patriots defense has done all year – give the offense extra possessions in good field position as this one set them up at the Chiefs 40-yard-line. The offense couldn't take advantage though, quickly going three-and-out and setting the tone for the rest of the first half.

- The Chiefs would find some success on their second drive, including plays of 13, 14 and 23 yards, but a holding penalty would stall them out and they'd have to settle for a 48-yard field goal. The Patriots defense had some communication issues pre-snap at times that you don't often see. This was the second game in a row that the main struggle for the Patriots defense was the downfield passing game, a troubling sign.

-The Patriots offense responded with a good drive, with more focus on quick no-huddle pace, but it would fizzle out and the 41-yard field goal attempt was blocked. It was a 13-play, 55-yard drive that leaned on Rex Burkhead, but included nice catches by Matt LaCosse and Mohamed Sanu. Despite how it ended, there were some positive glimmers but as has been the case all season, they couldn't find consistency or finish.

-Dietrich Wise has been one of the role players on defense this year but came up with an impressive sack of Mahomes early in the second quarter, not letting the elusive quarterback escape his grasp. Wise was active up front.

-The Chiefs offense would bust loose, with Mahomes chucking a 48-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman later in a penalty-filled drive, giving the Chiefs the 10-7 lead. Those kind of explosive scoring plays are what make the Chiefs so hard to stop. The touchdown came on 2nd-and-25, after the Chiefs had converted a 3rd-and-19 three plays earlier. The Patriots also had a third-down stop called back after a holding call on Stephon Gilmore. Too many mistakes shifted the tenor of the game from an initially strong start for New England.

-Tom Brady threw an interception on the next play of the game, setting the Chiefs up on the Patriots 35. The Chiefs would get into the end zone seven plays later, using Travis Kelce in the wildcat formation and having him keep the ball and carry it into the end zone to extend the lead to 17-7. The Patriots had no answers on either side of the ball after good first possessions on both sides of the ball, falling into a ten-point hole early in the second quarter.

-The Patriots couldn't muster a needed response on the next drive as the rotating carousel of mistakes continued with drops, bad protection and bad throws. They'd make two first downs on the drive, but couldn't convert on a fourth-down attempt from the Chiefs 27-yard-line. Mistakes plus having a kicker just 10 days off of surgery are not a good recipe for success, especially for an offense trying to find their stride.

-The Patriots defense got back on track with a forced punt late in the second quarter, but it would be met with an inept three-and-out by the Patriots offense that went a grand total of zero yards and resulted in a punt back to the Chiefs offense. Mahomes would lead them down the field, going 10 plays, 74 yards, picking apart the Patriots defense. The Pats got a much-needed red zone stop but the score expanded to 20-7 before the half.

-The Chiefs picked up right where they left off, taking the opening drive of the second half 52 yards in 11 plays and more importantly, eating up 6:14 of clock. It made the score 23-7 and put the lifeless Patriots offense on the ropes and desperately in need of a scoring drive. Instead, they'd go backwards five yards in three plays and punt the ball back to the Chiefs on their next possession.

-Yet again the offense would get a spark from the rest of the team. After a good stop by the Patriots defense, Nate Ebner would bust right up the middle of the Chiefs punt formation and give the Patriots the kind of play they've relied on all season - a takeaway deep in enemy territory. Brandon Bolden would finish it off two plays later with a 10-yard jet sweep and close the score to 23-13 after the failed two-point conversion to James White. This was just the latest in a season full of examples of the special teams and defense helping out the an offense that struggled to move the ball.

-The defense would follow suit, with Devin McCourty forcing a Travis Kelce fumble that was initially ruled down and negated a lengthy Stephon Gilmore return that might've gone for a touchdown. Still, the Patriots got the ball back to start the fourth quarter near midfield, down just 10 points. With multiple chances to close the game out the Chiefs had two turnovers. Despite the win, Kansas City faces real questions in the AFC playoffs if they can finish games like they've been starting them.

-N'Keal Harry would get in the end zone a few plays later but the referees blew the whistle that he was out of bounds despite replay showing he clearly was not. The Patriots were out of challenges at this point and lost critical points. Jakobi Meyers dropped what would've been another touchdown. They'd have to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Nick Folk to make it 23-16. The referees had a rough game all around, and on this drive it cost the Patriots a clear touchdown at least once.

-After trading punts, the Patriots would get a spark from another unique play, this time a halfback pass from James White to Jakobi Meyers that went 35 yards. Brady would rush for a first down on fourth down, going 17 yards in a critical moment. It looked like the offense, despite struggling all night, was on their way to a potential game-tying touchdown and that we were headed to our second consecutive overtime game against the Chiefs.

-It would all come down to a 4th-and-3 at the Chiefs five-yard-line, but the Chiefs would be the ones to make the play this time, defending the pass headed for Julian Edelman and sealing the game. It was a surprisingly close ending after it looked early on like the Chiefs were going to run them off the field.

The Patriots fought down to the end as always, but it was too little too late. There were no new revelations about the offense -- it's the Brady-Edelman-White show and that's about it. The defense and special teams are both very good and have game-changing playmaking ability. But for this team to win they need the game to unfold very specifically and reliant on takeaways. A post season run is not impossible, but it's hard to expect anything but an offensive slog against any potential playoff opponent.

It's unfortunate the referees had such an impact on this game, they were just as bad for the Chiefs, but only cost the Patriots real points. Gilmore could've had a scoop six and Harry had six.

Officiating aside, in the end it was more of the same across the board for the 2019 Patriots. Now all that matters is winning the last three games and locking up the second seed and the much-needed playoff bye week. The game against Buffalo now looks like it will be a dogfight, likely with that bye on the line.

Next up, the Patriots travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals next Sunday, December 15th at 1pm. Despite the Bengals single win this season, even that one seems like it will be a grind.

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