Well, that, my friends, is how you shut the door on 2016. No more amazing comebacks fueled by consistent offense or timely defensive plays. No helpful, questionable offensive play calls from opposing coaches.
Nope. Just a good, old-fashioned keister-whomp, a 42-27 drubbing courtesy of Kansas City. The lopsided loss evoked memories of past nemeses (Dan Marino, whose Dolphins hung 44 points on the Pats at Foxboro in 1984) and teams that failed to meet expectations (2009’s squad, expertly and experientially analyzed by former Patriot Jerod Mayo on CSNNE.com).
Here’s a good time to re-introduce what we’ll call the Scarnecchia Posit, a hypothesis that ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss also touched upon in his invaluable Sunday column (see number four here). Last season Coach Dante Scarnecchia told his charges up in Buffalo, “Nothing’s ever as bad as it seems, and maybe not as good as it seems at the time.”
Sound advice after last week’s lashing. You can rant either way, but we should all end up somewhere between the sunny disposition of my mother and the doomsday tone of that creepy dude from Poltergeist 2. Really, you can call this loss a sort of cleanse. One of those strict ones you force yourself into after an indulgent vacation, where you don’t put anything in your stomach besides a kale/wheat grass blend and you spend the day feeling like you’re about to vomit lawn clippings.
New Orleans comes next. In the meantime…
Sieve-il Liberties: If you didn’t think you’d seen New England’s defense give up that many points in a long time, you were correct. (See above reference to Marino). It’s a scenario where it’s probably easier to point out what went right rather than what went wrong. Scoring 27 points is okay, but for Tom Brady to complete 44 percent of his passes while the team pulls an 0-fer on two fourth down attempts? Ugly football. And that football looked like a catalog model compared to what the defense put out there at times.
Tell Me Your Troubles And Doubts: Oh, Dont’a you forget about me. Not that they looked stellar beforehand, but the injury to linebacker Dont’a Hightower sent the defense decisively in the wrong direction. Probably not a coincidence Kansas City scored 21 points in the fourth after Hightower got his knee twisted in a pile. While the Patriots gave up a nauseating, 92-yard, 12-play touchdown drive at the end of the first half, they were one potential interception squirting through safety Patrick Chung’s hands away from ending it. By the fourth quarter, the D resembled Lucy and Ethel at the conveyor belt, just scrambling and trying to hold on as best they could.
On the other sideline, safety Eric Berry – a key player in Kansas City’s victory – tore his Achilles’ tendon. Is it me, or does it seem like there have been more injuries this season? Or at least, more injuries to starters? Very tough loss for them.
The Hunt Goes Past The Marsh: An illustrative play in the fourth happened when KC running back Kareem Hunt went careening past linebacker/Thor body double Cassius Marsh for a playground-style 78-yard catch-and-run TD. According to this piece by NESN’s Doug Kyed, Marsh was lined up vs. Hunt and just lost his man. Marsh also ran into the punter on a special teams play that ended up netting the visitors 35 yards on the re-kick. Not a strong debut, but, yeesh: the guy hadn’t even been with the team a week.
Listen, Chris Long was brought in last year as an eight-season veteran with zero experience playing for a winning team. He arrived in March, allowing a full off-season to prep for Week One. The Patriots traded for Marsh about five minutes ago, so, yes: still waiting to see what Marsh can do, and still maintaining positive expectations.
Gilmore Plays Gillette: Not that we ever felt comfortably numb, but the play of cornerback Stephon Gilmore had me wondering just how much he’s got upstairs, football-wise. Gilmore let Tyreek Hill past him for a 75-yard touchdown pass, where the cornerback seemed to think safety Devin McCourty would take over coverage. When asked about the play, Gilmore said, “I’ve just got to watch the film and correct it, and see what we should have done better on that one.” (Hat tip to PatriotsWire for that.)
So, I mean… yeah. On the one hand, what else can he say? But on the other hand, if he were the one who messed up, would he admit it? I don’t know. Last year’s defense gave up so few big plays that I experienced the Hunt and Hill scoring bomberoos the same way I watch certain characters die in a movie. Like, is this real? I hope this isn’t real. Ah, bummer.
We know Darrelle Revis was a smartypants. We know Logan Ryan, an alumnus of Rutgers, aka Patriots D-Back U., had brains. Does Gilmore? He can cover one-on-one, as evidenced by his nifty break-up of a pass to receiver Chris Conley in the third quarter to force a punt. But, how well does he play with others? This will be the biggest question for the backfield moving forward. Trust gets built over a season; so does mistrust. Any upcoming miscommunication resulting in a long TD will be another brick in the wall. (Because if you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any – okay okay we get it for Christ’s sake.)
Mass Time Velocity Equals Fourth: Speaking of the backfield, over on the other side of the ball, the inability of Mike Gillislee to pick up first downs on short yardage plays proved disturbing. On the first one, Chiefs safety Berry catapulted himself into the gap like a bowling ball into the gutter when I’m angrily trying to pick up a split. It might be too easy to say LeGarrette Blount would have gotten the yard, but it’s worth considering how Blount’s additional 35 pounds (250 to Gillislee’s 215) would have helped him keep momentum. On the second one, fullback James Develin blocked linebacker Ramik Wilson toward the outside, but Gillislee failed to stay in Develin’s hip pocket, instead opting to cut up into traffic. Had he stayed with Develin for two more steps, Gillislee may have had a gap to squeeze through between Develin and tackle Nate Solder, who had taken the right tight end spot and blocked his man to the inside. Stout job by the Chiefs, but with a different read by the running back, maybe the Patriots pick up a first down and score on that drive. Eh, maybe.
I’m not sure. Physics wasn’t my best class.
Hidden Jules: Yeah, we knew they’d miss Julian Edelman, but maybe not quite in the way they did. Think of your favorite show. Brady is the star, with Edelman as the sidekick, the guy with the best joke or double-take each week. If something happens to him, the show continues (we’ve still got the star, after all) but everything feels different. That’s where the Patriots sit right now with this offense: what is the tone, and what is the emphasis moving forward?
Go-to guy Danny Amendola put in some good work with six receptions for 100 yards. (Side note to myself: way to sit him on your fantasy bench, dipturd!) Unfortunately, he also became the team’s punt returner due in part to a pair of previous injuries (Edelman, Cyrus Jones), and then got hurt himself on a punt return (concussion). Whenever Edelman is on the field, he pulls the most focus, forcing defenses to crowd him and double him when possible. This, in turn, opens up other short and medium routes to allow Brady a chance to convert first downs.
Brady seemed off because Edelman wasn’t there, then Amendola got hurt so shorter crossing routes weren’t there. Chris Hogan caught one pass for eight yards and rushed on end-around plays three times, once successfully. Brandin Cooks caught three for 88, failing to connect on a couple of long ones. The quarterback was eventually relegated to throwing to someone he’s barely known long enough to recognize in person (hello, Phillip Dorsett). This will not reach 2006 levels of discomfort, but, considering the way this offense ended up clicking the previous time it took the field in a real game, its lack of cohesion seemed jarring.
Everything Is Just Jake: I never, ever thought I’d be saying this, but could tight end Jacob Hollister hold a key to the Pats’ passing game? No one wants to make too much out of the rookie’s successful preseason effort vs. Jacksonville (seven catches, 116 yards), but Hollister showed the ability to hang on in traffic while taking hits, the kind of passes he’d have to catch across the middle. As a 6-4, 240-pound tight end, does he provide a mismatch that, say, the 6-1, 210-pound Hogan does not? While Dorsett has the quickness to get open underneath (a 6.70-second 3-cone drill at the combine), his 5-10, 185-pound frame makes him more likely to run free like a Speke’s gazelle than burrow down like an aardwolf. (Oh, Internet. You are so handy.)
So, yes, potentially: more Hollister, which could also free up tight end Rob Gronkowki. More of running back Rex Burkhead, who – as illustrated by Phil Perry of CSNNE.com – ran the slot at Cincinnati. Burkhead caught one pass for eight yards, and a deep pass to him in the third quarter should have generated a pass interference penalty (upon replay, Dee Ford defended it with an obvious arm bar). And for the love of all decency, more Dion Lewis, who caught exactly as many passes Thursday night as I did. Get the ball to that kid and give him some space, trade rumors be damned.
(For the record, trading away Lewis would be a terrible idea. It would play like Mad Max giving up his car’s nitrous boost for chewing gum. I mean, yes, his breath would smell a lot better, but that’s not going to matter once he gets caught without that damn nitrous boost.)
Catching On: Over on Boston Sport Journal, Christopher Price lays out a short list of potential free agent receivers who could take on the slot position at Foxboro, including Marc Mariani. (It’s a subscription site; just plunk down the money and improve your overall Boston sports experience.) Mariani, a veteran who played at Chicago and Tennessee, returns kicks and punts and has experience in the slot. For a highlight reel of Mariani’s returns while with the Titans, you can watch this YouTube video that features a needlessly NSFW soundtrack.
You know, when it comes to receivers, we tend to underplay their roles a bit in New England, recalling certain seasons where Brady made the sum of pass-catchers better than its parts. Reche Caldwell had 61 receptions in his one season in Foxboro, more than twice as many as any other in his six-year career. Brandon Tate had 24 receptions in 2010, more than he’s had with any other team since. With Edelman gone for the season, Malcolm Mitchell on IR, and Amendola in the concussion protocol, I’m reminded of when Rick Pitino was busy turning the Celtics into a top Division One college team. Pitino’s mantra became, “I need hard workers.” Kevin McHale responded, “If all it took were hard workers, I’d hire 12 plumbers. Somewhere along the way, you need talent.” Where that talent will come from – within Gillette or without – we shall soon see.
Ted Talk: Pre-game, we got treated to the championship banner reveal, and I have to tell you, watching Mark Wahlberg do the introductions made me uneasy. I really, really wish that when he was describing New England’s epic comeback, he had said something along the lines of, “They trailed 21 to 3 at the half, and I left! I left the game!” Later, he could have said, “This was the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history – and I missed it! I was already back at the hotel, because I’d left at halftime!”
I mean, seriously. We were all thinking it, right?
Take Five: One bad omen (and I’m sure we can think of plenty in hindsight) was how awkward it looked to have Brady run out of the tunnel and slap fives with Amendola, with no Edelman in sight. That seemed weird. And next week, no Amendola, probably. So many adjustments to make, and I’m just talking about emotionally.
Call Me Al: Not a bad job from Al Michaels and Cris “I Spell My Name Wrong” Collinsworth, though I had one specific bone to pick. Throughout the contest, they continued to say, “Boy, this game was on the edge of a blowout for New England,” when no one thought that. The home team almost had a 14-0 lead early but the pass to Gronkowski in the end zone was correctly ruled incomplete upon review. Since when is a 14-0 lead in the first quarter a blowout? (It’s not: just ask Mark Wahlberg!) Weird narrative pushed by those two in the booth.
• Nice work by NBC going to commercial with a split screen of Gronk’s TD attempt under review. If this is what it takes to get rid of the soul-numbing format of touchdown/commercial/extra-point/commercial/kickoff/commercial, I back it 100 percent. Or, heck, this is sports: 110 percent!
• Also a solid replay by NBC showing New England’s coverage on Chiefs’ QB Alex Smith’s stumble-sack with four minutes left in the second quarter. A strong overall view of what led to that result.
• Michelle Tafoya, my favorite sideline reporter, announced Amendola’s concussion protocol at 10:45 of the fourth. Not the best news, but delivered in a timely, professional fashion. Though I don’t appreciate sideline reporters in general (surely, similar information can get transmitted to the booth), Tafoya helps me remember why having someone like her around can prove helpful. I’ll bet she never thought New England was on the verge of a blowout.
Plus, This One’s Alliterative: Oh, man. “Menendez Murders” on NBC? With Edie Falco as what’s-her-face the lawyer? God help me, I might have to.
And now, for these commercial messages…
Everything Is Just Jake? I can see the allure of the Volvo XC90 ad, with the guy sitting in his car by the lighthouse, preparing his speech for his daughter’s wedding. But, maybe because I also have a daughter, I’m really put off by the groom. Anyone else? A little smarmy, right? I’m not sure about this Jacob. I’d keep my eye on him, there, Melancholy Dad.
For Those A-Ragnarok, We Salute You: Am I a middle-aged man looking forward to seeing Thor: Ragnarok? Yes. Yes, I am. Maybe it’s the apparent sense of humor in the preview. Maybe it’s the addition of Jeff Goldblum. Maybe it’s the fact that the Hulk has gotten to look more and more like Mark Ruffalo. Why not, man? I saw I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore on Netflix (very well done, by the way); I can see a big-budget movie now.
Royal Wetting: The Crown Royal commercial with the Water B.O.Y.S.? I like it. Never had Crown Royal in my life (that I remember) and never plan to, but still: “moderation and hydration.” Nice. Still don’t know what “B.O.Y.S.” stands for, but I’ll take it.
Peyton Wins: I have to admit, I enjoy Peyton Manning in commercials. He’s just got good timing, and in this latest one, Brad Paisley plays along well. As an added bonus, he’s not shilling for awful pizza. (And I mean awful.)
Gorilla Ad Campaign: Would have loved to sit in the agency room during the gutsy call to combine a Volkswagen Tiguan, an inflatable gorilla, and ELO. How does this work? It’s like when you go to a chain restaurant and order one of those crazy, gigantic salads with weird food combos that end up tasting delicious. Whoever green lighted this thing, kudos.
New England plays at New Orleans in a glorious, oh-so-convenient Sunday 1 p.m. game. The Saints lost at Minnesota, 29-19, showing some weaknesses in their pass defense that the Patriots could possibly take advantage of if all goes well. This game, much more than the last, will help determine what direction the team is headed after a week-long reality check. I think the Pats win, but Saints QB Drew Brees keeps the home team close.
Chris Warner just tried coconut-flavored coffee and thinks the almond milk went bad because it all tastes like pennies. He may be getting ill. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter is @cwarn89.