Three things we learned in the Patriots’ stunning loss to the Chiefs on opening night of the 2017 NFL season.
1. The 19-0 talk is – mercifully? – over
Frankly, I’ve always been of the mindset that another 18-1 win season, this one, a decade later, instead ending with the shine of another Lombardi Trophy, would be the ultimate bookend moment for the New England Patriots rather than finally attaining that perfect season. So, while that’s still in reach, let’s put the discussion of the Patriots possibly going 19-0 straight to bed in the wake of a shocking, 42-27 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs Thursday night in the NFL season opener at Gillette Stadium. After all, the summer talk that compared and contrasted the 2017 Patriots to the 2007 team was silly, unless you’re of the firm belief that New England’s problems in winning the Super Bowl all boiled down to a Tyree miracle. Nope. The Patriots were not only lucky to survive a lackluster effort against the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship game, they were skating by at the end of the season on their pristine record, despite playing more like the also-rans of the league by December. It was, in fact, the antithesis of a Bill Belichick-led team, which normally peaks in the second half of the season. Rooting for 19-0 was rooting for probable mayhem. Maybe we’ll even look back on this one as the best loss of the season.
2. Defensively speaking…yuck
Cassius Marsh, the defensive end whom the Patriots acquired from the Seattle Seahawks last week, was an unmitigated disaster in his debut with New England, allowing rookie running back Kareem Hunt’ (239 total yards in his pro debut) to trot 78 yards into the end zone, during precipice of the Chiefs’ installment of angst at Gillette Stadium. But it wasn’t all Marsh. A lot of the defense, from Malcolm Butler to Devin McCourty, had their blunders on the night, an evening when Alex Smith seemingly looked to shut down any critics who still regarded him as “fine” in their assessments of the quarterback. Smith threw for four touchdowns and 368 yards, including some on a handful of deep throws few believed he was capable. In the end, the 42 points added up to the most scored on the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era. The mark it beat? The 41 points scored by…the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014. On to Cincinnati, indeed. Except after watching this defense get burned by Smith, Drew Brees doesn’t exactly feel like a comforting ease.
3. Is Mike Gillislee the next LeGarrette Blount or the next Jonas Gray?
Despite his two failed attempts to gain important fourth-yard yardage (as well as the questions as to why Tom Brady wasn’t utilized on his normally-successful sneak plays) the night for Mike Gillislee was a special debut that will get lost in the panic of the loss. The former Bills running back scored three times and became a fantasy darling the likes we haven’t seen since…well, Jonas Gray. You’ll remember Gray, of course, as the shooting star who ran for 201 yards and four touchdowns against the Colts three seasons ago, only to fade into obscurity. There’s certainly no sense that’s going to happen with Gillislee, but his failure in short-yardage situations that LeGarrette Blount would normally gobble up the opportunity to handle, wasn’t an initially good sign. Then again, neither was about 75 percent of this game for the Patriots.