Patriots

Curran: Patriots lament lack of intensity in stunning loss to Chiefs

Curran: Patriots lament lack of intensity in stunning loss to Chiefs

FOXBORO – By the time it all ended after midnight, the five banners, the giant Lombardi trophies, the 70,000 clown face towels – all the pomp and circumstance of the Patriots season-opening prime-time victory lap – were reduced to cruel ironies.

To have a shot at a celebration, you have to crawl through fire for seven months. Thursday night’s stunning 42-27 loss to the Chiefs put the entire team into the flames. Now, as the team’s longest-tenured players said, is the time to find out how willing this team is to start crawling.

“What’s going to define this team is how we react to this loss,” said left tackle Nate Solder. “We’ve got a long season, we’ve got a long ways to go. We all know that’s not how we want to play. We’ve got to improve and it all up to us.

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“It’s obvious that we didn’t play the way we needed to play,” he continued. “When you’re forging steel, you’ve got to put it through the fire. And that’s what we’re going to do now and that’s what we’re going to continue to do, because that’s what we need to be. I don’t think the average person truly knows how difficult it is to win a game and maybe this team doesn’t know that. But we’re going to learn that and keep pushing forward. You can’t take for granted how talented, how well-coached, how skilled and how tough some teams are. We’ve got to give everything we’ve got to win a game. It comes down to us and how much we have to give to win these games.”

Player after player stated that the prime problem wasn’t about execution and communication. It was about energy and commitment.

“I just think we need to have more urgency and go out there and perform a lot better,” said Tom Brady, who struggled to a 16-for-36 night throwing the ball. “That is a winning attitude and a championship attitude that you need to bring every day. We had it handed to us on our own field. It’s a terrible feeling, and the only people that can do something about it are in that locker room. We’ve got to dig a lot deeper than we did& tonight because we didn’t dig very deep tonight.”

“I’ve been a part of this organization for five years, and I can say we definitely needed some more energy on the sideline,” said safety Duron Harmon. “It wasn’t where we were at, it wasn’t at the level that we usually have it at and it seems like it made us pay.”

Execution and communication are certainly going to be high on the list of things to address between now and the Patriots second game of the season in New Orleans nine days fro Friday.

Execution failures were seen in an inability to convert on short yardage. The Patriots failed on a fourth-and-1 at the Kansas City 10, they failed on a third-and-1 at the KC 8 and settled for 3 and they failed on a fourth-and-1 at the Chiefs 40 when they trailed 28-27. Convert and the game changes.

As for communication breakdowns, that was seen on Tyreek Hill’s 75-yard touchdown reception and – to a lesser extent – on the 78-yard touchdown reception by Kareem Hunt.

But the lack of energy and intensity was on display when the Chiefs ran for 58 and 21 yards on consecutive plays en route to a touchdown that allowed the Chiefs to salt it away. And in the air of offensive resignation on the Patriots final drives.

To hear the Patriots' most veteran players tell it, it was the lack of energy and the urgency that led to the fourth-quarter collapse when Kansas City scored 21 unanswered points.

The Patriots were on the cusp of putting Kansas City away in the first half. Leading 17-7 even after coming away with just three points after consecutive drives inside the Chiefs’ 10, New England had the ball at their own 40 with 3:44 left in the half. They went three-and-out after a Dion Lewis run and two incompletions but they still pinned the Chiefs deep, pushing them back to their own 6.

But the Chiefs then chipped away with a 96-yard touchdown drive to make it 17-14 at the break. That, coupled with a 90-yard drive in the first half in which they had first-down gains of 9, 14, 8, 9, 11, 18 and 0 was an eye-opening development. Before the game began, everyone knew the defense had things to sort out in the front-seven but not to the extent where they were barely a speed bump to capable but unspectacular Alex Smith.

Every move defensive coordinator Matt Patricia made was countered by Smith and Chiefs coach Andy Reid. Sometimes that just happens. They make plays, you don’t. It gets addressed, adjustments are made, it doesn’t happen again.

This time, the slow drip drives were followed by quick-strike explosive plays. It’s almost unprecedented to see the Patriots this incapable and seemingly overmatched. And the fact is, you can only scheme it up so much before you have to look at the guys carrying out the schemes and conclude that they have a long, long way to go.

The Chiefs took the Patriots coverage-heavy scheme as an affront.  

“I’m not sure what it was (that led to the offensive success of the Chiefs),” mused Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. “It might have been the lack of respect they had for Alex’s arm, the lack of respect for our running back. The defense that they were presenting, I thought they would have gone a different way. We went out there and we executed given what they presented and we came out with a win.”

I asked Kelce if he deemed the Patriots four-safety alignment as disrespectful and he nodded agreement.

Bill Belichick said the alignment was  because “there were a lot of plays where they had five receivers on the field – four receivers and Kelce.”

Disrespect wasn’t intended. That’s what Belichick and Patricia thought would get it done against a team with a rookie running back from Toledo named Kareem Hunt and a quarterback like Smith who loves to throw short.

But the Patriots ended up being unable to handle either Hunt of Smith, hence, 537 yards of total offense for KC.

The defensive problems – especially now that Dont'a Hightower could be nursing an injured knee for some time – aren’t going away with a wave of the wand. It may take weeks.

Offensively, the Patriots have plenty to figure out as well. Cavalier dismissals of Julian Edelman’s torn ACL being a staggering blow look stupid now. The Patriots couldn’t get anything done in the middle of the field where Edelman feasts. Neither Chris Hogan nor Rob Gronkowski were able to get decent separation all night. Hogan had one catch for eight yards. Gronk had two for 33 and was blanketed on both catches. It was going to be tough sledding for a while without him and that was before Danny Amendola landed in concussion protocol and Malcolm Mitchell landed on IR.

The short middle is where the Patriots offense begins. Everything else unspools from there.

“They packed it in there pretty good,” Brady said of the short middle. “We had a couple plays, and then we missed a lot of plays. If that’s how teams are going to play us, then we’ve got to make plays where they’re not, and I always say I’m going to throw it where they’re not. We just didn’t come up with enough of them.

It was fun to forecast just how good the 2017 Patriots were when they had all their pieces and the paper version of a team that won the Super Bowl in February looked untouchable. But now that some of the pieces are off the board and the games have begun, it’s obvious that getting to great is going to be harder than expected.

And the Patriots effort -- according to them -- is going to have to be a lot higher if they want to have any kind of shot at another banner night next September.

“We didn’t have it the way we needed it tonight,” said Brady. “It’s got to be at a much higher level next week and the rest of the year. That’s going to be a big point of emphasis for all of us.”

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QUICK SLANTS THE PODCAST: Jerod Mayo breaks down the best way for Patriots to attack Jaguars defense

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QUICK SLANTS THE PODCAST: Jerod Mayo breaks down the best way for Patriots to attack Jaguars defense

Jerod Mayo talks with Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry about the Patriots AFC Championship matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

(2:00) Jerod Mayo gives his X’s and O’s breakdown of the Jaguars defensive schemes and traits.

(5:00) Jerod gives his opinion on how the Patriots offense should attack the Jaguars defense.

(8:30) Could Gronkowski be the key to the Patriots offense? What would be the best way to use him?

(15:00) Does the Jaguars defense have a weakness against vertical routes?

(17:00) Jerod Mayo explains why James White could be a key once again for the Patriots. 

(21:00) Will Jaguars change their defensive scheme after allowing 42 to the Steeler?

(23:00) Will much will the Jaguars having the ‘nothing to lose’ mindset impact the game?

Jaguars have Ramsey's back

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Jaguars have Ramsey's back

Enough has been made of Jalen Ramsey’s bold proclamation that the Jaguars are going to win the Super Bowl despite the fact that they’re aren’t even on that stage yet.

I know it’s not how the Patriots do business but other teams do. Does it generally work? Well, no one can match the Pats sustainability but that doesn’t mean that style can’t be effective in shorter windows.

Look at the Seahawks or Ravens. Even the Giants could be boisterous. That leads me back to the Jags, who have Ramsey’s back.

“We’re so close that I think it’s OK to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this,’’’ said defensive tackle Malik Jackson.

“The man has confidence in his team,” added Abry Jones, also a defensive tackle. “What’s he going to say? He knows what we’re going up there to do. It’s not like he’s saying anything that’s not true.”

“He does things very passionately,” Calais Campbell told the Rich Eisen show. “You feed off that. When you see a guy who loves the game as much as he does, you can’t help but fall into the same mentality.”

That is what makes Ramsey different from say Mike Mitchell, the Steelers safety who ran his mouth weeks ago about beating the Patriots in the AFC title game and then stood outside the Jags locker room and yapped about what a long day the visitors were in forSunday. How’s that working out for Mitchell now? He’s at home while Ramsey is about to play in his biggest game as a pro.

“He’s going to talk, but he’s going to show up,” Yannick Ngakoue said. “I just don’t like people talking all week. You talk reckless, man, and you lose. It is what it is.”

That is not an indicator to the Jags that Ramsey is looking ahead.

“He’s just happy,” noted Ngakoue. “He understands we have a giant in front of us and he’s got to pay all of his attention to this team. We don’t even know who’s going to play in the Super Bowl…We understand we have to do what we have to do or we’ll be watching the Super Bowl at home like everybody else.”

Of course, Ngakoue, the gifted edge rusher on that fearsome front 4, had some pointed words to the Steelers after that 45-42 win Sunday saying “real people don’t say nothing. Real people are quiet but then throw the first punch…they thought they were bullies today. We were the bullies. See you next year.”

That’s not Ramsey’s modus operandi however. He got under A.J. Green’s skin so much that the normally peaceful Bengals wideout threw punches at the Jags corner during the game and reportedly wanted more after the game. Then - and now - Jacksonville seems okay with it so long as the All-Pro corner continues to deliver the goods.

“Everybody has their own persona,” said Leonard Fournette. “Whatever motivates them. We aren’t worried about two weeks ahead of us. We aren’t worried about the Super Bowl. It’s the next game. It’s Sunday in New England.”

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