The Patriots lost 41-14 to the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night in a performance that elicited major chunks rising up the gullet right from the opening kickoff. It was brutal, the worst loss in the 15-year tenure of Bill Belichick, with some wondering whether the Pats as we've known them to be over and causing most observers from sea to shining sea to react with equal parts scorn, panic and schadenfreude. Or, in the case of most Pats' fans, abject terror.
No one should be spared in considering this horror show but the good news is, once we get through this together, we can all move on and forget such a sorry showing ever happened. So with that, let's get into this week's report card, sure to read exactly as you expect.
OVERALL GRADE: F
OFFENSE - What is there to say at this point? The Patriotsí offense, the strength of the team for years is now one of the worst in the entire NFL. Thereís plenty of blame to go around, from personnel decisions to the inability to draft or sign decent wide receivers to the abysmal, no-identity offensive line to the mind-boggling play calls to the play of the franchise quarterback. Pick one and go from there. All of the above conspired to doom the Pats in Kansas City but the biggest offenders on this occasion were the line and the game plan.
The Pats chose to dress just three receivers (four if you count special teamer Matthew Slater), one of whom is completely useless and simply cannot play (hint: his last name rhymes with Shmamenshmola) and five running backs, a plan which, after some initial head scratching, actually made some small amount of sense. With some new blood set to play lots of snaps up front, it seemed like a decent idea to establish the run early and often, giving the o-linemen a chance to do whatís easiest in the very hostile environment of Arrowhead Stadium. This looked like an even better plan when considering that the Chiefs came into the game ranked 22nd against the run and were allowing over five yards per rushing attempt to opposing backs.
So naturally, as they did against the Raiders and their 28th ranked run defense, the Pats came out in a spread set, threw on the first three plays, called for passes on 15 of their first 22 snaps, used Shane Vereen, a third down, change of pace back, to try to gain tough yards between the tackles while ignoring that they have a plowhorse in Stevan Ridley who is great at doing that and thus suffered the consequences.
The Pats seem more concerned with trying to play head games with their opponents thus far this season (see the fire drill with the offense and the punt team on a fourth and short near midfield in the second quarter for yet another example of this) than recognize what they have personnel wise and act accordingly. What wound up happening, as we now know, is that this dismal plan did not work, they fell far enough behind by halftime to be forced to abandon the run altogether and the O- line, which actually wasnít horrible in the first half but still has zero margin for error, was set up to fail miserably. Oh and Ridley, the forgotten man, did manage to average 5.6 yards per rushing attempt. The problem is he only was given five of them on just 11 measly snaps.
As Rodney Harrison said on Monday, Brady looks "scared to death" playing behind such an aimless, substandard line and really, can you blame him? He knows he has no time to go through his progressions which is why itís silly to criticize him for not realizing James Develin is wide open in the flat, for example. Develin was probably his fourth read on that play.
Donít get me wrong Ė he didnít play well, he doesnít look right at all and heís certainly not the same guy he was even two years ago. He made plenty of lousy plays in this game. But any commentary on him or his play must come with an asterisk. Bradyís been knocked senseless enough times already to know that he will have a hard time doing the things that make him great, without potentially landing on injured reserve. Those who think he should be replaced by Jimmy Garoppolo, either arenít paying attention or are simply just seeking it. Brady is a symptom but heís far from the problem.
What can be done? Who knows? There were times in this game when five linemen couldnít block a four man rush. Max protect doesnít mean anything when you canít actually block an oncoming defensive lineman or linebacker. Playing rookie tackles like poor Cam Fleming at guard, (where he earned a woeful -4.4 mark from Pro Football Focus) isnít putting your players in the best possible position to succeed, itís inviting disaster and thatís what the Pats got on Monday night. Given every decision thatís been made in regard to the offensive line up to this point in the season, perhaps thatís what they deserved. GRADE: F
DEFENSE - Anyone who scoffed at the Patsí lofty ranks on defense through three games due to the level of competition deserves a victory lap right now. Go ahead, weíll wait.
Itís true. Most defenses can probably roll up banner performances playing the Matt Cassel-led, no-Adrian Peterson Vikings or the forever bottom dwelling Raiders. But what we saw from the defense on Monday night against, at the very least, a decent opponent was scary. Put them up against a team with a superior running back, a good quarterback, a solid, pass catching tight end and a coach who for all of his foibles can occasionally design game plans and call plays with the best of them ... and itís good night. It didnít help that the Pats werenít ready to play, both from a motivation standpoint and by virtue of the fact that they appeared to not recognize several looks shown by the KC offense. We can add those black marks to the list of things to pin on the coaching staff. But in the end, itís the players who need to make plays and the Patsí defense made exactly none.
Consider some numbers if you will. The Chiefs gained 303 total yards in the first half and 387 on 53 snaps in the first three quarters. They ran three plays of over 30 yards before halftime, 11 good for at least 10 yards. Alex Smith was 14-of-17 for 180 yards and a TD in the first half. Alex Smith. They amassed 207 yards rushing at 5.4 yards per attempt. They gained 127 of those yards running left (Chandler Jonesís side) after gaining just 68 in that direction in their first three games combined. They scored one touchdown on a three-play, 86 yard drive that covered one minute and 27 seconds. They broke tackles and fooled the Pats all night, constantly running guys out of position on one misdirection play after another.
At least the offense got a good performance out of Brandon LaFell (and Ridley in his five carries). No one looked good on D. Jones was lined up in the Richard Seymour spot from time to time yet again and surprise! He was terrible at it, getting himself benched. Dontía Hightower took a step back after a tremendous first three weeks. Darrelle Revis is still not being used at what he does best nearly enough, namely man-to-man coverage. Logan Ryan was also benched and will likely see his snaps diminish with the impending return of Brandon Browner. Devin McCourty missed multiple tackles. Tavon Wilson still canít play. Rob Ninkovich had no impact (PFF gave him a -3.1, gross). Neither did Jerod Mayo.
The list goes on, to the point where I may as well just link to the depth chart on the Patsí ESPN.com team page. They couldnít get pressure, couldnít consistently tackle, couldnít get off the field on third down (the Chiefs were 7-12 converting those), and still canít cover tight ends and running backs in the intermediate middle of the field. As hideous as the offense was, the defense may have been worse and considering that it was supposed to be the strength of the team coming in, thatís pretty mortifying. GRADE: F
COACHING/SPECIAL TEAMS/INTANGIBLES - Letís hear it for Matthew Slater. He was the best player for the Pats in this game and he should be recognized for it. As was said immediately following the game, he is among the best, if not the best, at covering kicks in the league and the Pats are better for having him. And Ryan Allen, who was a very, very busy guy Monday night, punted six times at nearly 50 yards a pop. Well done.
OK, now that weíve run out of people to praise, itís time to get bummed out again, because the coaches are not worthy of anything at this point but blunt force criticism. There were select times when some semblance of a good decision was made on both sides of the ball. It was bad execution that did the Pats in more often than not, just as much as it was questionable calls from the sideline. But again, there were just too many instances of trying to get too cute or outsmart the Chiefs than simply bearing down and attacking their weaknesses.
Itís inexplicable that Belichick and Josh McDaniels thought that spreading out and throwing quick passes was a better idea than lining up and trying to pound the ball with Ridley, especially given the inexperience and lack of chemistry up front. And why is Revis still spending so much time playing off of opposing receivers? And how can the defense as a whole look so soft and so flat and so not aggressive and so unprepared to play? And why is Nate Solder, a former first round pick with All-Pro ability, suddenly this year such a puddle? And, with respect to LaFell, who had a very good game, why is Julian Edelman the only consistently competent receiver on the roster? And why is he the only receiver the Pats have been able to draft and develop since the golden years of Deion Branch and David Givens? And why is Wes Welker the only free agent receiver signed in 15 years who has been any good (Randy Moss doesnít count because a) he was acquired via trade and b) he was an otherworldly, incorruptible talent)? And even though itís only been four games, how can a team thatís been one of the leagueís top four for three straight years suddenly look like one of its worst?
Dunno how to answer any of these questions. Belichick probably does. He deserves the benefit of the doubt here as far as coaching is concerned even though heís now been pantsed by the likes of Andy Reid and Joe Philbin in the seasonís first month. Tough as it may be, especially as the Logan Mankins trade continues to look worse and worse, put aside his missteps as a GM for a moment and look to his ability to adjust to this mess and bring this team back from the edge. If anyone can fix this, he can. But man, does he have his work cut out. GRADE: D-