Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 4: Patriots vs. Chiefs

Things to consider while hoping that, if we need to invoke the 25th Amendment, that Mike Pence does better than Brian Hoyer:

--We don't do moral victories around these parts. We noticed a long time ago that the "good" losses get filed under the same column as the bad ones. The last time we celebrated a loss was the rally the city held for the Red Sox after losing to the Mets, and for actual fans of the team, it was nothing but excruciating. LoserFest '86. The only time before that was when we built the Bunker Hill Runner Up Monument in Charlestown. All losses count the same.

--That said, all losses are not the same. There's losing because you're not good enough or weren't up to the challenge. Then there's losing when the man you built your entire offense around freakishly contracts a virus, his backup made egregious mistakes, you had to fly out of the morning of the game in two separate planes from two separate airports, you were playing with yet another makeshift offensive line combination, you were missing your lead back who ran for 117 yards last week, your secondary dropped two interceptions and facing the Super Bowl champions, and still it took the officials calling the game like it was a WWE Tag Team match to beat you. 

--Simply put, give us Cam Newton and take away those blown calls and there's a good chance the Patriots win this game. Nobody plays the Chiefs the way the Pats do. And Kansas City does not want to see this team come January.

--We'll get to how exactly they play them in a bit. First we have to place the contactless delivery of this particular turd pizza on the front porch of the house where it belongs: Brian Hoyer's. Good guy. Great teammate. A true professional. The trust of his coaches to step in an emergency. All that. But he acted like in his 12 years in the league on seven different teams, he had never been in a meeting where they went over the importance of coming away with points in the red zone. I'm just astonished that on two possessions inside KC's 15, they scored zero points. First because he took a sack with no timeouts left after Bill Belichick called his third specifically trusting that Hoyer would know enough to either find an open receiver in the end zone or throw it off Andy Reid's windshield. And then he just made matters worse by feebly asking for time like he's Chris Webber, proving he'd lost count. He's lucky he didn't get called for a technical, with Mahomes shooting two. On the other failed red zone visit, he actually could've taken the sack and we would've applauded him for his sound judgment. Instead he once again did the one thing he couldn't do, which was lose the ball. 

--When he wasn't doing that he was sailing throws, including that interception over Ryan Izzo's 6-foot-5 frame and 32 1/8-inch arms. On that one, Tony Romo tried going to his default setting as spokesman for the National Council on Excusing Bad Quarterbacking by saying what a great play Juan Thornhill made on the ball, but even he realized how dumb that sounded and changed the subject. 

--To circle back to the Vice President analogy, when your leader is incapacitated for a while, all you want out of your No. 2 is to do no harm. The bottom-of-the-ticket candidate is just there to deliver some swing state and spend four years going to state funerals in other countries and that's it. If they get to sit behind the Resolute Desk for any reason, that's not the time to be making sweeping changes or take on some legislative agenda. Just take care of business until the boss gets back. That's not what Hoyer did. Instead of nice, safe swing passes to James White and quick, risk-free bubble screens, he tried to fling it. And he was not up to the task. For some reason he was fixated on Damiere Byrd of all people. Which I'd be all for if it were one of those "My favorite receiver is the one who's open" situations. But it wasn't. He was being covered as much as anyone. And now, to all the other things I didn't expect to happen in 2020, I can add that I'm typing the surreal sentence, "Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer began forcing the ball to Damiere Byrd." At this point I've learned to embrace the weirdness. 

--The damned thing of it is, there were stretches there when it looked like Hoyer was settling in. In the 3rd quarter he converted nicely on back to back 3rd & 6s, the first on a scramble when he juked Tershawn Wharton out of his NFL-approved cleats. The next on a nice zone beater seam route by Julian Edelman when Hoyer froze the safety with a play action to Rex Burkhead and delivered a perfect throw over the linebacker Anthony Hitchens. But the next 3rd down was the strip sack. And by then it was clear the moment was too big for him. The one saving grace was that Belichick didn't have to come walking out to midfield, motion for Jarrett Stidham to come out of the bullpen and take the ball out of Hoyer's hands. I'm not entirely sure why baseball has to do that, but it's a discussion for another time.

--The most frustrating part of Hoyer's performance is that, with Arrowhead under Covid restrictions, he was only facing 20% of the usual capacity of laser pointers.

--As for Jarrett Stidham, it's a stretch to say they might've won the game if he'd started. But the eyeball test says he would've made it more competitive. Yes, he had the good fortune of handing the ball to Damien Harris and watching him run behind great blocks from Michael Onwenu and Jakob Johnson::


... just like in their Pop Warner days. But he seemed poised. His touchdown to N'Keal Harry was a perfectly executed fade route thrown so that Rashad Fenton had no chance to get a hand on it, but placed so that Harry didn't have to make some highlight reel toe tap to stay in bounds. Everything that happened after that bubble screen went through Edelman's hands was pretty much garbage time and deserves an asterisk, but he still made some throws. One went through Izzo's hands. On a 4th & 5 he found Edelman on a "Texas" route from the slot, sitting down under the coverage for the 1st down. The interception to Fenton was a total rookie move and an error you can't repeat. As far as I can tell it was an option route that calls for the receiver to run a post if it's middle of the field open (MOFO). But Stidham didn't lead him (I wasn't going for the rhyme there; sometimes the magic just happens). And Fenton had no difficulty jumping the route for the easy pick. In fairness to Stidham though, that was intended for the suddenly immortal Damiere Byrd, who's been making that grab throughout his long and storied career. So you take that chance every time. 

--While we're talking about receiver targets, my new daily motivation is to wake up early, eat right, exercise, stay healthy and live long enough to see a pass thrown Devin Asiasi's way. He doesn't even need to catch it. I don't dare dream that big. Just to see him targeted one time though. That's something I want to experience just once before I shuffle off this mortal coil. As far as Dalton "Rambo" Keene? That's something for my children and my children's children to see. It's why we need to take care of this planet, so future generations can reap the benefits of the 2020 tight end class.

--Getting back to Harris, so far so good on him. He looked like we were told he would when he was drafted and all through camp when the media was establishing him as the RB1 even though there was no tackling in practice. He seems like a traditional, between the tackles power back. He gets to the hole fast. He's decisive. Probably better behind a fullback like Sony Michel. And those two times  he got into the secondary he ran like a dingo carrying a baby. He couldn't have come off IR at a more opportune time because it seems like this is a team that's going to have to rely on a lot of powers and inside zones to keep them in manageable 3rd downs and control the clock. And on a small sample size, Harris appears to give them a solid B option there. 

--When they weren't lining Harris up behind Johnson in I's and offset I's, their go-to was using Burkhead and James White in a two halfback "Pony" formation, often motioning White out and running play action to Burkhead. That worked to perfection when Hoyer hit White running an in cut for a 1st down to the KC 14 toward the end of the half. And just before disaster struck. After the half, the same motion and route by White helped Byrd find a seam in the zone between Thornhill and Tyrann Mathieu for a big gain. Again, before disaster struck. There was a lot of that. 

--We asked ourselves all through the Spring if Stidham could replace Tom Brady. And now he's thrown a pick-6 in each of his last two games, so at least we can check that box. OK, sorry. That was all on Edelman. Neither guy deserves that. I'm obviously still dealing with some unresolved issues and should probably talk to a professional.

--What wasn't a disaster, all things considered, was the Patriots defense. Yes, Devin McCourty and JC Jackson let interceptions go right through their hands. And the Chiefs got their inevitable chunk plays. But nobody in the NFL plays Kansas City as tough as they do. Hard stop. Fact not in dispute.

--Not counting the kneel down at the end, Steve Belichick/Jerod Mayo's defense produced five drives of six plays or less that ended with a punt or a turnover. They held them to two offensive touchdowns and two field goals after giving up just 23 points to them the last time the teams met, the second lowest total of the Mahomes Era. The Chiefs' 323 yards of total offense was their lowest of the season. And I think the Pats have done nothing less than to build this defense expressly to stop the Chiefs and spread offenses like theirs. If you'll pardon my Tolkein nerding, in the way Saruman bred the Uruk-Hai for the sole purpose of destroying the race of Men. And they're doing a better job of it than anyone else.


--Last Monday Baltimore tried blitzing. 21 times, in fact. And all week long, Mahomes' urine has tested positive for trace elements of the Ravens extra pass rusher. Last night it looked like the Pats avoided falling into that same tiger pit. Instead they stuck with four and sometimes three rushers, tried to keep Mahomes in the pocket rather than flush him out. They lined up primarily in a four-man front with even spacing, and the ends - mostly Chase Winovich and John Simon - shaded a half a step or more wider than they normally align. 

--And behind that front, they flooded Mahomes passing routes with bodies. Not just their usual base nickel, but a lot of Big Dime as well, with Ju'Whaun Bentley staying on the field as the lone linebacker, usually responsible for Clyde Edwards-Helaire out of the backfield. Devin McCourty, Jackson, Jonathan Jones and of course Stephon Gilmore played every snap, with Adrian Phillips at his usual hybrid spot and Jason McCourty subbing in what looked like a lot of Robber, assigned to the deep middle zone. And Kyle Dugger and Joejuan Williams saw some spot duty, mainly on Travis Kelce. Like on this particular route when Williams got some help. See if you can spot the subtle contact Shalique Calhoun gets on him:

It's those little plays that don't often show up on film that can have a huge impact. 

--But for the most part, it seemed like the Pats were determined to rotate the assignments and disguise the coverage, doubling different receivers at different times, rather than show their hand to Mahomes with just a series of straight matchups across the board. For instance, this zone that left Gilmore in the middle hole with Watkins in the slot and Kelce was solo covered on the backside, and he punched the ball out:

--And no coverage had to surprise Mahomes more than the one that stalled the first drive. In the red zone, they came out with eight defensive backs. Eight. I mean, does anybody even know what coin you call that? A Susan B. Anthony? A Sacagawea dollar? Those gold ones William Devane is always plugging on the news shows your dad watches? Anyway, it worked. And not much does against this team.


--Say what you will about Travis Kelce, but he draws a beautiful defensive pass interference. 

--Which brings us to the officials. It's become something of a tradition. An annual celebration of sorts. Where you face a team you already have to be perfect to beat only to get violated by whistle happy referees. I was beginning to miss that special feeling. It'd been almost 10 months since the last time. Why … I believe it was Week 14 of last year … [sitcom like fade into a flashback] … I remember it like it was yesterday …


And time is a flat circle:

--Notwithstanding that Tony Corrente is objectively terrible at his job. That he is to officiating what "CATS" was to filmmaking. What political rants are to Facebook. What toothpaste is to orange juice. In a league where they teach refs not to get on the whistle too early, let a down play itself out and then huddle up and sort it out later, here is another example of them blowing it before Chiefs player even has the chance to cough it up. It's preventive whistling. The exact opposite of what they're supposed to be doing. Even if you believe in the multiverse model of the cosmos, where an infinite number of parallel realities all exist simultaneously, there is not one in which Mahomes didn't put a live ball into Calhoun's hands. Except the one in which Corrente's crew was calling the shots. And Belichick couldn't challenge it because it was blown dead and therefore irreversible.

--Then there was the very dubious hit-out-of-bounds call on Deatrich Wise Jr. who was trying to hold Mahomes up after they'd picked up the flag when Mathieu actually delivered a hit out of bounds:


--I guess we can add to Mahomes many skills his Lebron like ability to draw a charging foul. 

--At least Belichick got his preemptive Eff You into the league by wearing a double face covering. The anti-Covid version of a belt and suspenders. Try and fine him for that. 

--And while we're talking about the NFL and their insincere virtue signalling, what happened to Breast Cancer Awareness? It's October and I didn't see pink anywhere. Are they telling us we can only be aware of one potentially fatal medical condition at time? That if we take our eye off the 'Rona ball for a second millions will die? Like we're not already aware enough of that one? How are the charities that fight breast cancer supposed to get by without the 0.001% of the net profits from all that officially licensed pink gear?

--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote:

Crowd: "Messiah! Messiah! We want the Messiah!"

Brian's Mother: "There's no messiah in here! There's a mess alright, but no messiah. Now go away!"

Crowd: "Brian! Brian!"

Brian's Mother: "He's not the Messiah! He's a very naughty boy!"

--Overall, not a bad night for a reworked offensive line. I didn't focus on them as much as I'd like to and maybe I'll rewatch the game to get a closer look. But it seemed like Justin Herron had some protection issues but was overall adequate for a sixth round rookie playing every snap. James Ferentz had no problems at center. Isaiah Wynn gave up at least one pressure as I recall. But the guards in particular were outstanding with Shaq Mason out and Joe Thuney sliding over to his side. Thuney and Owenu were mobile in the run game, bouncing up to the second level and getting out in front on screens. The depth of this unit has been tested already, and it's more than held up.

--On behalf of America I'd like to thank CBS for that idea to bring back the Sunday Night Movie. And show "Clueless" of all things. What we need more than ever is to bring back that shared experience of ignoring a 25 year old movie shown on network TV presented with major commercial interuptions because it's available on literally every other format. We'll be really looking forward to skipping it.

--Chase Winovich continues to be really good. As does Calhoun. And don't sleep on Byron Cowart as a space eating run specialist. (Although you could; he's a large gentleman.) I could stand to see Kyle Van Noy back. In fact, I'd welcome it. But as far as the other free agent losses in the front-7 like Jamie Collins and Danny Shelton? Nah. I'm good.

--I hope being back gives James White as much peace of mind as it does me.

--If it makes you feel any better - and it certainly does me - the last time the Patriots had to pull their starting quarterback for ineffectiveness during a Week 4 loss at Kansas City that dropped them to 2-2, they ended up winning the Super Bowl. Now if we could just get Trent Dilfer to say "They're just not good anymore!" that'd be great.