Patriots

Five takeaways from Patriots-Chiefs: Big plays gash Patriots defense

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Five takeaways from Patriots-Chiefs: Big plays gash Patriots defense

FOXBORO -- Here are five quick-hit observations from Thursday night's NFL season-opener. 

1. The Patriots gave up a pair of uncharacteristic long scores that changed the complextion of the game. The first came with 9:19 remaining in the third quarter when Alex Smith found Tyreek Hill for a 75-yard score when Stephon Gilmore and Devin McCourty had a communication breakdown in the secondary. Then the Chiefs got running back Kareem Hunt matched up on Cassius Marsh and hit him for a 78-yard score deep down the middle of the field. Down eight points with about four minutes left, the Patriots gave up a 58-yard run and a 21-yard touchdown run to Charcandrick West on back-to-back plays. The Patriots have long prided themselves on limiting big plays -- "bend but don't break" is how they're often described beyond the Gillette Stadium walls -- but they were unable to do that in the opener and it did them in. 

CHIEFS 42, PATRIOTS 27

2. The absence of Julian Edelman made an immediate impact. The Chiefs seemed to do most of their damage defensively with a four-man rush, meaning they dropped seven into coverage to run with five eligible Patriots receivers. While there were mismatches to be had at times -- Patriots backs on Chiefs linebackers, for instance -- Tom Brady and his teammates weren't able to take advantage. Having someone who can quickly uncover like Edelman might have helped to diffuse the Kansas City pass-rush. Instead, low-percentage throws down the field -- away from where the Chiefs had a numbers advantage -- were the norm. Didn't work out. 

3. Danny Amendola was worn out quickly. Without Edelman, the Patriots relied on Amendola in the slot. They've done a good job in recent years of managing Amendola's snaps to maintain his health. But with just four receivers -- including newcomer Phillip Dorsett -- available to them, the Patriots had to rely on Amendola. And Brady targeted him often. He had six catches for 100 yards and was targeted seven times. He also returned three punts -- two of which were called back -- adding to his hits-absorbed total. He eventually left the game with a head injury and was ruled out. Chris Hogan, who many expected to see an increased workload with Edelman injured, was targeted five times and caught one pass for eight yards. His first catch came with 12:56 remaining in the third quarter.

4. Dont'a Hightower went down, leaving the Patriots even thinner at linebacker. When Dont'a Hightower suffered a knee injury in the third quarter, it looked serious. Chiefs lineman Mitch Morse (6-foot-6, 300 pounds) fell on the outside of Hightower's right leg. The linebacker and captain eventually walked off the field under his own power and was examined by Patriots medical personnel. He later did work on a stationary bike but did not return to the game. In his place, the Patriots used Cassius Marsh on the edge and relied on Kyle Van Noy as one of their primary off-the-ball 'backers. The team used Jordan Richards as an edge defender for much of the game, as they worked with dime personnel for long stretches. David Harris, whose strength is not in coverage, barely factored into the game plan. Should Hightower be forced to miss any length of time, one of the most shallow positions on the roster would suddenly be without its best player. 

5. Mike Gillislee ended up one of the lone bright spots for the Patriots. His three touchdown runs gave him the first three-score performance for a running back in a Patriots opener. After having missed much of training camp with a hamstring injury, he was the go-to option as the "big back." Despite his big night, he (and the Patriots offensive line) failed on two fourth-down runs, which surely will be highlighted by the Patriots staff when they review the film. 

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Julio Jones presents Johnson Bademosi opportunity to prove he's not niche player

Julio Jones presents Johnson Bademosi opportunity to prove he's not niche player

None of us thought Johnson Bademosi would be starting this past Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the Jets because -- well -- that’s not what we perceive the 27-year-old to be. He’s a special teamer. It’s how he’s made his mark in the NFL dating back to 2012 with Cleveland. So why would that change in mid-October for a team he’s only been with for six weeks? Because Bademosi is -- and has always been -- intent on proving he’s more than a niche player.

“I see myself as a football player,” he said, “and whatever position they put me in, I’m going to try to be the best because that’s how I operate and who I am as a person. Whether that’s as a cornerback, on special teams, if they ask me to play wildcat quarterback. Whatever…”

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Bill Belichick and his staff asked for Bademosi to go on the field and not come off. He played 73 defensive snaps in addition to his usual core four special teams duties. 

“I felt like I played a whole game,” Bademosi joked, before saying, “I love playing football so I’m going to go out there and empty myself.”

He did just that, getting targeted only two times in the 24-17 win over the Jets. It was hoped that Bademosi would return to his normal specialist role, but with Stephon Gilmore still out with a concussion, it now seems more and more likely that the sixth year pro will have to be an ironman again Sunday night in primetime against the Falcons. Historically, the Pats have defended bigger receivers. That means Bademosi may be responsible for one of the most dangerous players in the league, Julio Jones.

“He’s an amazing player," he said. “We all know what he’s capable of. As a defense, we have to be prepared for him.”

The Pats were on Super Bowl Sunday and Jones still made a couple of ridiculous plays with either Logan Ryan or Eric Rowe in coverage with safety help over the top.

“He’s fast. He’s physical. He can jump. He can run. He’s smart. He’s everything you want in a wide receiver,” said Bademosi without blinking an eye. That’s the kind of confidence you want from a player at that position and facing this type of challenge. 

“You gotta believe in yourself,” he said “ I’m confident in my abilities. I work hard and trust my preparation.”

Being an elite athlete certainly helps. Bademosi was a scholarship football player at Stanford -- “some guy named Jim Harbaugh called” -- before ending up in the NFL. But it’s Bademosi’s willingness to go all in in the film room that impressed safety Devin McCourty. 

“…I think, honestly, the most work he did was probably with just himself jumping into the film, watching more stuff to exactly see,” said McCourty Thursday. “You know, when you’re a backup more, you’re kind of trying to see everything because you don’t know what role you might be thrust upon once you’re in the game. But, I think once he knew he was starting, it was kind of like, ‘Alright, let me focus in on this.’ I thought he did an awesome job of just being ready and competing.”

Bademosi will have to compete his ass off Sunday night, even against what has been to this point a physically compromised Jones. Based on what he did several days ago, there’s no reason to believe the Pats cornerback won’t bring everything he has, trying to prove again that he’s more than just a special teams whiz.

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