The New England Patriots had no business beating the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday. Yet somehow by the time it was over, you couldn’t help but feel like they’d let one slip away.
Without their starting quarterback, three starting offensive linemen and their former first-round running back, and after enduring a weekend of chaos and a gameday flight to Kansas City, New England’s defense played inspired football to keep Kansas City’s vaunted offense in check for nearly three quarters. Yet at every turn the Patriots shot themselves in the foot, making the kinds of uncharacteristic mistakes that less disciplined teams have been making against New England for years.
Worse, it was some of New England’s most experienced players making the biggest mistakes at the worst times.
First it was Devin McCourty dropping a sure interception on Kansas City’s first drive of the game. Then it was quarterback Brian Hoyer taking a sack to end the first half, costing New England at minimum a chance to tie the game with a field goal. Julian Edelman had three plays where he bobbled the ball in the air, and one of those times was intercepted for a backbreaking touchdown by Tyrann Mathieu.
There was also Hoyer’s strip-sack fumble at the end of a promising drive, the back-to-back penalties to set up Kansas City’s second touchdown, and J.C. Jackson dropping what looked like a sure interception of his own. Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham combined for three interceptions, with Stidham’s second coming late in the end zone to all but seal the deal for the Chiefs. New England also got hosed after Chase Winovich and Deatrich Wise hit Patrick Mahomes and knocked the ball out of his hands and right into Shilique Calhoun, only for the referees to rule the play dead, allowing the Chiefs to quickly punt the ball away.
It was, frankly, a huge mess. And yet despite those setbacks, New England still had a real chance to win anyway.
Defensively, New England did a great job keeping Kansas City’s best playmakers in check. The Chiefs only went 4 for 11 on third down and were forced to punt four times, and after Hoyer threw a bad interception late in the first quarter the defense immediately responded by forcing and recovering a fumble on the very next play. The Chiefs were also held to a respectable 323 yards of total offense, and even when Kansas City got rolling the defense clamped down and held the Chiefs to field goals, keeping the game in reach even when the offense struggled.
Offensively, New England did a remarkable job running the ball. Damien Harris tallied 100 yards on 17 carries, including a career-high 41-yarder to help set up Stidham’s 4-yard touchdown pass to N’Keal Harry, and the team as a whole racked up 185 yards rushing — again, with three starters missing from the offensive line.
If the Patriots had just played a clean, mistake-free football game like they almost always do, they not only could have beaten the Chiefs on the road, they might have even done it handily.
Instead, the team is left asking what could have been, even though circumstances conspired in such a way that winning really should never have even been in the cards.
Look, the Patriots are 2-2, which is exactly where conventional wisdom suggested they should be. Yet you could make the case the team is also a few plays away from being 4-0, which is both encouraging and frustrating all at once. In that respect, Monday was a microcosm of the season, but if the main takeaway is that New England can compete with the defending Super Bowl champions on a weekend where literally everything goes wrong, that has to bode well for the future, even if it doesn’t feel good right now.
Mac Cerullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.