By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Do you remember "American Gladiators"? You better remember "American Gladiators."
Among the many events that kept us all endlessly entertained in the '90s was one with the simplest name of them all: "The Wall." For "The Wall," contestants had to climb a rock climbing wall. That's it. Get to the top. Piece of cake, yeah?
Well, the issue for the contestants was that after a 15-second head start, some muscle-bound monsters wearing spandex would start climbing the wall, too, except they weren't trying to get to the top. They were merely trying to rip off the contestants' legs and, consequently, crush their dreams.
Monday night's game between the Chiefs and Patriots felt a lot like the NFL's version of "The Wall." The defending Super Bowl champs seemed to be in a light jog for the bulk of three quarters, barely breaking a sweat while casually competing against the Patriots, who were of course playing without starting quarterback Cam Newton.
The Patriots didn't get a head start in terms of grabbing a lead, no. But after cutting the K.C. lead to 6-3 in the second quarter, the Patriots were in position to either take a lead or easily tie the game with a short field goal before halftime. Against all odds -- losing their starting quarterback over the weekend, not knowing if the game would happen at all, traveling on two separate planes on the day of the game, getting some dreadful QB play from their starter, etc. -- this was a game.
For a while, anyway. The Chiefs were kind enough to let Jarrett Stidham throw his first career touchdown pass before stepping on the accelerator and winning by 16 points, like they were supposed to.
Maybe the Chiefs -- despite not losing their starting quarterback -- were thrown off by everything, too. Maybe they didn't bring their A game, or even their B game. Maybe that's why this game was as close as it was for as long as it was.
Or ... maybe the Patriots are better than we thought?
You could rule on that one whichever way you want. We won't know a definitive answer if or until these two teams meet again in January. If Monday night was good for anything, it showed that if that rematch does spring up in the postseason, the Patriots might have a better chance than we might have anticipated.
Now, leftover thoughts from the Chiefs' 26-10 win over the Patriots.
--Mistakes. Mistakes. Mistakes. Mistakes. Forget everything else about Cam Newton being out or any other factor in the game. The Patriots probably win if they just take care of their own mistakes.
First, McCourty dropped this gift of a pick on the opening drive of the football game:
Given what we know about Brian Hoyer, it's entirely possible that a pick in that spot only leads to a three-and-out and a punt. Fair enough. But never underestimate the power of momentum and the impact of doubt that can creep into a quarterback's head after an early-game gaffe like that one.
Later in the game, J.C. Jackson had an opportunity for an easy pick, but didn't take it.
The Chiefs would score a touchdown on that drive.
Brian Hoyer made a few brainless mistakes, most notably taking a sack before halftime to cost the Patriots their field goal opportunity. Taking a strip sack in the red zone in the third quarter moved him to backup-to-the-backup role, where he'll likely remain for the season.
Jarrett Stidham was still quarterbacking in a technically winnable game when he threw this pick:
(If Stidham gets that ball where it needs to be, and the Patriots convert a two-point conversion, then it's an eight-point game with 3:27 left to play, with the Patriots still in possession of three timeouts.)
Julian Edelman dropped a pass that hit him smack dab in both hands, leading to a pick-six the other way that ended the game.
Ja'Whaun Bentley didn't slow down in his sideline pursuit of Mahomes, and though the QB may have embellished the contact a bit to draw the flag, the contact was still there.
All of these things ... it wasn't a Patriot-like performance. Surely, we understand why that might have been. But they were on the field, they were wearing their uniforms, the game was on TV, and it counted in the standings. In the moment, the Patriots committed far too many mistakes to deserve a win in this one.
--Ready for Brian Hoyer's Greatest Hits? Feels kind of mean. But this is the NFL. And none of what Hoyer did is going to cut it. (That's actually a lie. He randomly threw a couple of dimes in the third quarter. It all ended up for naught when he lost the football in the red zone. But he did throw a couple of nice passes. Those throws will not make it to this section, unfortunately.)
First throw of the night, juuuuust a bit outside.
Second drive, third down, Damiere Byrd on a simple hitch route aaaaaaaaand that's not what you're looking for:
Third drive, settled in, game in full gear, nerves are settled and ... nope. No. Nah. Not gonna like that one:
Hey third quarter, regrouped after halftime, ready to rock, ready to roll and ... oh. Oh dear.
Folks -- folks! -- the ball wasn't even in that picture! I've one back and watched the replay several times and I simply cannot find the football. Maybe you can. I sure can't.
One more for good measure:
The Patriots' choosing to start Hoyer is such an indictment at this moment on the status of Jarrett Stidham. That's not to say Stidham's entire career is doomed, but just as a fourth-round pick with a solid collegiate resume, there's just no reason in the world that Stidham shouldn't be a better option than career backup Brian Hoyer right now.
--For as bad as Hoyer's sack before halftime was -- and it was VERY bad -- the play-calling leading up to that moment was suspect, too. With no timeouts left, here's what Josh McDaniels dialed up on second-and-5 from the Kansas City 9-yard line:
(I don't know what the QB's keys are on that play, and I won't pretend to know. But Edelman running a simple slant over the middle seemed to be open for six.)
That's not going to get much done, except create a chaotic fire drill for third down. For a QB starting just his second game in three years who had lost his last 10 starts, a play call like that on second down was simply not putting the Patriots in the best position to succeed.
From there, forgetting the timeout situation?
That was all on Hoyer. Bill Belichick was asked twice if there was a communication error in getting the lack of timeouts to Hoyer prior to the snap. His reply -- a firm "nope." -- explained that that one was all on No. 2.
--Defensively, the Patriots did an impressive job. There's no two ways around that. Allowing 19 offensive points to the Chiefs should result in a win more often than not. (The Chiefs scored 27 points last week against the Ravens ... in the first half.)
The fact that Mahomes' offense has failed to score a first-half touchdown just three times ever and that all three of those instances came against Belichick's teams? That's notable. Noteworthy, they might even say.
--The development of Chase Winovich. He obviously had the sack which should have resulted in a turnover. Here's a nice run stuff he made behind the LOS, too:
--The defense still had some breakdowns. Joejuan Williams getting burned by Travis Kelce for a reception is one thing; being in a different zip code and thus allowing Kelce to run for an extra 25 yards is another.
--This is a tough thing.
Edelman is nails, obviously. But those drops are undeniable.
This one stung:
I don't know what you do about it, exactly. It's not as if Edelman isn't putting in the work. You can physically see it being done hours before every game. It just might be a matter of unavoidable reality for Patriots slot receivers who take poundings over the middle for as long as Edelman has, similarly to what happened with Wes Welker. Or maybe his knee issue is worse than he or anyone else is letting on.
But then ... he shows supple hands like this ...
... and you wonder this: "What in the heck?"
Either way, Edelman's still the team's leading receiver, with 115 more receiving yards than the next-best guy. He's still important. The drops though ... he needs to figure out a way to clean up those drops.
--A fun fact from the Patriots' postgame notes stated that the Patriots will be playing three Monday night games this year, after the impromptu COVID reschedule for this one.
Interestingly, they've played three Monday night games three times before in their history.
Week 4, vs. Denver: W, 23-14
Week 10, @ Houston: L, 38-34
Week 14, @ Miami: L, 16-13 (OT)
Week 6, @ Denver: L, 34-13
Week 9, vs. Green Bay: L, 28-10
Week 17, @ Miami: W, 14-12
Week 1, @ Denver: L, 27-21
Week 7, @ NY Jets: L, 24-14
Week 12, vs. Miami: W, 26-23
Week 4, @ Kansas City: L, 26-10
Week 9, @ NY Jets: ???
Week 16, vs. Buffalo: ???
They'll obviously hope to improve on that history of going 1-2 in their Monday night trifecta, but they're not off to the best start. (We can probably go ahead and pencil in a W next to that Jets game, but we'll go ahead and wait.)
--The Patriots got this game in, but the COVID concerns aren't over yet. Using the White House situation as an example, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. The president tested positive late night Thursday (as far as we know). That's a four-day gap between a positive test and contact with a (likely) infected person. Several people in the White House inner circle tested positive in the days between.
More specific to the NFL, the Titans produced positive tests between Tuesday and Saturday of last week. The exact date that those players and coaches came into contact with a contagious individual isn't known to us, but the positive tests being produced over a five-day span shows how the incubation period can vary.
Now for the Patriots, three days have passed since Newton tested positive on Friday night. Tuesday is a huge day for the Patriots in terms of avoiding a positive test. If anyone does test positive, their entire operation is in jeopardy this week -- especially after flights and buses for a road game. It will also put the Chiefs on high alert after playing against the Patriots, of course.
It really feels like the situation could go two very different ways. It's possible that Newton remains asymptomatic, tests negative this week, and actually plays on Sunday vs. the Broncos as if nothing ever happened. It's also possible that some players and coaches test positive this week, thus turning the Patriots into the Titans and thus throwing their operation upside-down.
The risk of playing on Monday night despite the positive test for the quarterback just three days prior was very real. Those of us who have any investment in the Patriots' season proceeding as scheduled -- and those of us who simply don't want to see more people get sick -- sure do hope that everybody avoids that fate. But we also must accept that the risk was ever-present this week, and it's going to require a wee bit of luck for everyone to get through this situation unscathed.
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