FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots are the team that everyone either loves or loathes. There is no neutrality and no ambivalence when it comes to them. Depending on your point of view, they either cheated their way to five Super Bowl titles, or they have the greatest coach and the greatest quarterback in history continuing to pile up championships despite the jealous attempts made by unsuccessful competitors to sully them.
So on those rare occasions when the Patriots are embarrassed on the field, there is a euphoria of sorts that exists among much of the football-watching public. That euphoria is accompanied by a temptation to make sweeping declarations: Tom Brady is done. Bill Belichick doesn’t have the answers this time. The Patriots are just another team when they’re not spying on opponents or deflating footballs. It’s not their year. Not this time. Not every year.
Thursday night was one of those nights, as the Kansas City Chiefs spoiled the season-opening party at Gillette Stadium for the Patriots and their fans. The team’s fervent followers showed up to boo NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, celebrate last season’s Super Bowl triumph and, they figured, watch the Patriots take a first step toward another potential title run and maybe, just maybe, a 19-0 season.
Instead, they watched Brady and the offense sputter, the defense come totally unglued and the Patriots suffer the indignity of a 42-27 loss to the Chiefs. It was an eyesore, no question.
“Bad defense. Bad coaching. Bad playing. Bad football,” Belichick said.
He was speaking of the Chiefs’ second-half touchdown passes of 75 and 78 yards. He could have been talking about the Patriots’ performance in general.
So much for a perfect season. And now it’s time to declare, isn’t it, that the Patriots haven’t lapped the rest of the NFL field, after all? It’s time to say that no one beats Father Time and Brady might be beginning to show his age at 40? That the Patriots’ defense is a mess and no one, after all, can remain among the NFL’s top contenders each and every season?
This feels an awful lot like the Patriots’ 41-14 defeat at Kansas City in a Monday night game early in the 2014 season. That ugly loss dropped the Patriots’ record to 2-2 and prompted questioning of Brady’s age and his staying power to play at an all-time-great level.
All the Patriots have done since then is win two of the past three Super Bowls.
Losses such as Thursday night’s debacle produce unusual candor from Brady and Belichick. Brady questioned his team’s attitude and competitiveness. He said the Patriots played with a lack of urgency.
“We had it handed to us on our own field,” he said. “It’s a terrible feeling.”
Asked about Brady’s comments, Belichick said soon after: “Whatever he said, go with that.”
Belichick said there were “problems all over the place,” and added: “There’s a lot of things we need to work on. We need to get to work. We need to improve them. It’s a pretty lengthy list. That’s what we’ll do.”
Bury the Patriots’ Super Bowl chances for this season if you choose. Write them off if you wish. But you do so at your own peril.
Brady looked merely mortal Thursday. But remember that he just lost his security-blanket wide receiver, Julian Edelman, to a season-ending knee injury suffered during the preseason. Another wideout, Danny Amendola, left the game Thursday night after suffering a head injury. Second-year wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell was placed on the injured reserve list earlier Thursday.
Brady still has capable receivers at his disposal. But Brandin Cooks was playing in his first game with the team. Phillip Dorsett just arrived via a roster-cutdown trade for No. 3 quarterback Jacoby Brissett. There will be a settling-in period, it appears. The offense will be fine as long as the line holds up. Brady will see to that.
The defense is more troubling. The Chiefs are not known for such dizzying offensive displays. They had the highest-scoring game ever against a Belichick-coached Patriots team. The secondary was supposed to have been bolstered by the arrival of Stephon Gilmore at the cornerback spot opposite Malcolm Butler.
But the big plays just kept coming from Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill and rookie running back Kareem Hunt. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith looked like Brett Favre. The Patriots’ pass rush was practically nonexistent. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower suffered a knee injury.
Belichick will have to find some solutions.
Do you really want to wager that he won’t?
Fancy Stats: The Kansas City Chiefs are Super Bowl contenders