Patriots vs. Chiefs thumbs up, thumbs down: Tom Brady, offense struggle yet again

By WEEI 93.7

FOXBOROUGH – After a pregame scare that saw much of Kansas City’s equipment arrive late to Gillette Stadium thanks to a hard-to-believe detour through New Jersey, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs took the field and proved they were more than well-equipped to deliver New England its first home loss in more than two seasons.

Mahomes shook off a slow start and an early interception to lead the visitors to a 20-7 halftime advantage on the way to the 23-16 victory in the rematch of last January’s AFC Championship Game.

Much as the scouting reports predicted, the Patriots defense had issues with Kansas City’s team speed while the Brady-led offense that’s been sputtering through the second half of the season wasn’t able to muster much success other than an early flea-flicker touchdown.

After K.C. added a third quarter field goal, New England took advantage of a short field thanks to a blocked punt to pull to 23-13 on Brandon Bolden’s 10-yard jet sweep touchdown run and a failed two-point play.

New England had the ball inside the 5 yard line with less than two minutes to play, but couldn’t complete the furious comeback, turning the ball over on downs.

Before moving on next Sunday’s bounce back trip to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals, here are some of the personnel highs and lows to the Patriots second straight loss in the month of December.

Thumbs up

Josh McDaniels – New England’s drive to a game-opening touchdown was anything but typical. The Patriots used a pair of pass interference calls to convert third downs. Then McDaniels dialed up yet another trick play to try to jumpstart his stagnant offense. This time it was a flea flicker executed to perfection by James White and Brady, resulting in a 37-yard-touchdown to Julian Edelman behind the Kansas City secondary. The New England offensive coordinator has tried plenty to find success in recent weeks, with his trick plays and up-tempo adjustments the only thing that’s really produced many points. Were it not for the flea flicker it could have been an even uglier start to the night for the New England offense. McDaniels reached into his bag of tricks again late in the fourth quarter to flip the field on a White to Jakobi Meyers halfback pass that picked up 35 yards in the comeback effort with less than five minutes to play.
Julian Edelman – Speaking of Edelman’s touchdown, the slot receiver continues to be the only guy Brady can really turn to for any consistent production through the air. Beyond the 37-yard touchdown the flea flicker on his first catch of the evening Edelman hauled in a game-high eight passes for 95 yards and his touchdown.
Punt block – After having their own field goal attempt blocked earlier, New England own punt block team got into the fun yet again. Veteran special teams ace Nate Ebner blocked Dustin Colquitt’s punt in the third quarter, the ball going out of bounds at the K.C. 19. New England took advantage of its fourth blocked punt of the season, the offense turning the short field into the home team’s first score since the opening drive to help jumpstart a comeback effort.

Thumbs down

Tom Brady – Let’s be clear, Brady is not THE problem with the Patriots offense. But he’s not been part of any real solution of late either. Brady is clearly frustrated. He’s under pressure and few targets are getting open. But, he’s also missed some open targets and hasn’t found a way to build a rapport with potential additional options to find enough efficiency through the air. His miss of Edelman on a fourth-down throw in the second quarter that would have been a conversion in the red zone is just one example of how Brady’s been part of the passing game problem.
Sony Michel – Facing a porous Kansas City defense, Michel was able to turn four early touches into just 7 yards, including a swing pass for a mere 1 yard. By the time the second half arrived, Michel was an afterthought on the offense. Michel did not have a carry after the first quarter and finished the game with just 8 yards rushing on his five total attempts.
Pass defense – There was no one player worthy of acknowledgment for the Patriots struggles stopping the Chiefs passing game in the first half. Sure, Jonathan Jones had his issues. But it was much more of a group effort allowing Mahomes to pile up 226 yards passing in the first half, including plays of 19 yards or longer to five different targets. Things tightened up a bit in the second half, and the Devin McCourty forced fumble in the third quarter was a key big play in the comeback, but not the best of nights for the pass defense in the face of the Chiefs speedy, diverse weapons.
Offensive line – New England was supposed to be able to run the ball against the Chiefs suspect run defense. It couldn’t. The line not only didn’t open up much room for Michel to work, but also allowed Brady to be under pressure early and often. Kansas City put up three sacks and six QB hits, including a third-down sack in the red zone that forced the Patriots to settle for a field goal at a key spot in the fourth quarter.
Officiating crew – There wasn’t a lot to like about the job done by referee Jerome Boger and his crew Sunday evening. The worst call of the day was clearly declaring rookie receiver N’Keal Harry out of bounds on his diving touchdown attempt in the fourth quarter. Of course the Patriots could challenge that play because Bill Belichick had used his final toss of the red flag to overturn a Travis Kelce fumble that the officials had erroneously blown dead for down by contact just minutes early. The crew cost the Patriots a touchdown twice on one drive, New England settling for the field goal. There were also plenty of other questionable calls and flags thrown that were later picked up. Bad evening for the guys in stripes.