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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Cam Newton, Julian Edelman joke about Patriots' playbook on Instagram

Cam Newton, Julian Edelman joke about Patriots' playbook on Instagram

Before Cam Newton suits up for the New England Patriots, he has some homework to do. And he's already opened his textbook.

The veteran quarterback, who reportedly signed a one-year contract with New England in late June, shared a photo Tuesday via Instagram of himself with a cup of coffee and what appears to be the Patriots' playbook.

"This s--- calculus!!" Newton joked.

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The Patriots have a notoriously complex playbook, and it appears Newton is finding that out after nine seasons in Carolina.

Our Tom E. Curran reported there's "no concern" in New England that Newton won't master his new offense, though, and the 31-year-old QB already digging into his playbook helps explain that confidence.

Newton also tagged Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, the team's longest-tenured offensive player (not counting special teamer Matthew Slater). Edelman responded on Instagram with his own acknowledgment that figuring out New England's playbook is like decoding a tricky math problem.

If Newton can return to full health after undergoing offseason foot surgery and pick up the offense quickly, that should add up to a successful season for the three-time Pro Bowler and 2015 NFL MVP.

Patrick Mahomes contract will be an albatross for dynasty-chasing Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes contract will be an albatross for dynasty-chasing Chiefs

“We’re chasing a dynasty.”

That’s how Patrick Mahomes closed his ode of gratitude after signing the richest contract in pro sports history.

Of course you are, Patrick. You and everyone else.

But are you chasing “a” dynasty? Do you just want to be mentioned along with the Packers, Steelers, Niners, Cowboys and Patriots, the only dynasties of the Super Bowl era?

Or are you using chasing as in following? As in the dynasty that came immediately before you? Specifically, New England. The only dynasty of the salary cap era.

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Because if you’re chasing the Patriots, modeling yourself after the Patriots, thinking you and the Chiefs might be the Patriots and go to four Super Bowls in one decade and five in the next, you and your team just made a fundamental mistake. You went “pig at the trough.”

That phrase is one I heard from key folks in the Patriots organization several times in the early 2000s. Tom Brady? Not a pig at the trough when it came to contract time. Peyton Manning? Pig at the trough.

What difference does it make?

Without a piggish quarterback, you can still go 11-5 because there’s talent all over the roster. The Patriots did that in 2008. But when you have to feed and feed and feed that position? The roster gets so thin elsewhere that – without the quarterback – a team might go, say, 2-14 after nine straight seasons of double-digit wins as the Colts did in 2011 without Manning.

This isn’t to say that the Chiefs did the wrong thing in signing Mahomes. Business-wise, they win. And Mahomes wins as well. But lack of funds because of fat cap hits will inevitably make the on-field product suffer and make the chase for a dynasty that much harder.

You can’t blame the Hunt family.

Mahomes is the most important and impactful player in the NFL.

What he authored in the 2019 playoffs is unprecedented - erasing a 24-0 deficit and winning 51-31 in the Divisional Playoffs, going on a 35-7 run in the AFCCG to erase a 10-point deficit then score 21 unanswered in the fourth to erase another 10-point deficit in the Super Bowl. All that coming after the AFCCG nut punch from the Patriots at Kansas City when Mahomes did all he could in the second half to resuscitate KC but came up short because the Chiefs defense sucked.

Having Mahomes sewn up for a dozen years makes their already-skyrocketing asset that much more valuable.  

Consider this: According to Forbes, the Chiefs were the 28th most valuable franchise in the NFL with a total value of $986 million in 2011. By 2018, they were 24th in the league worth $2.1 billion and last September they were still 24th worth $2.3 billion. That will likely rise to nearly $3 billion when Forbes' new list comes out given the Super Bowl win and the presence of Mahomes, which will bring in way more revenue over the next 12 years than the $503 million they pay him.

The Chiefs made the deal as easy-to-swallow as they could in the first two years. Plus, the so-called “guarantee mechanisms” give the Chiefs an escape hatch they can use basically every year.

As for Mahomes, what’s he going to do, turn down a half-billion? Take the money and run, especially since the NFL could be approaching a bit of a recession.

The cap is going down in 2021 because local revenues are going to suffer with the pandemic. The changing media landscape, the financial fallout networks may experience because of COVID-19 and the fact this season may not deliver the same product the networks signed up for all may serve to diminish the next TV deal. The wrangling over how to deal with the drops has just begun.

So the deal is good for the Hunts and it's good for Mahomes.

But the cap hits begin getting big in 2022 ($31.5 million) and they are around $40 million for the next five seasons after that before ballooning to $60 million. If the NFL spreads out the revenue loss and cap decline it’s going to realize this season over a three-year period to soften the blow, the cap is not going to rise at the anticipated level.

And that’s not that good for the football team. Right now, defensive end Chris Jones is playing on a $16 million franchise tag and is pissed about it. Travis Kelce will make about $9 million the next two years as the best tight end in football. The Chiefs have six players this year with cap hits over $15 million. They can do that because Mahomes is a bargain with a $5.3 million cap hit.

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“If the Kansas City Chiefs can keep all the players together, we’re going to be a dynasty,” Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins said on Tuesday. Yeah, well, about that.

It’s virtually impossible to keep all the players together when A) one guy is making a huge percentage of the cap and B) your team starts getting pilfered because it plays well every year.

There will be pooh-poohing about Mahomes’ cap percentage and insistence on TV and gambling money rolling into the coffers. Again, post-pandemic, I don’t see the cap rebounding that quickly.

And if the cap gets to $225 million by the time Mahomes starts seeing his $40 million hits beginning in 2023? That’s 17.7 percent of the cap.

Tom Brady’s highest cap percentage in the past decade was 12.2 percent in 2018. His average cap hit since 2011 was 9.8 percent.

Brady’s willingness to take less for so long enabled the Patriots to pay Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Stephon Gilmore, Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Donta’ Hightower really well (ever notice how many of the fat deals are on defense for Bill Belichick?). And it also allowed them to make sure the so-called middle class was squared away too.

By the end of it, when Belichick blanched at every Brady request to give him a bump, it was obvious the head coach was dying to be unburdened of a big-ticket quarterback.

We’ve gone over this at length already this offseason. And the benefit of Brady allowing himself to be lowballed was annually highlighted at Super Bowl time by national media.

People (Mike Felger) want to pretend the cap isn’t real. It is. You can ignore it. You can delay it. But eventually bills come due as they have for the Patriots this year.

New England’s stay in cap hell should be short. Meanwhile, a team like the Ravens who will now have Lamar Jackson using the Mahomes contract as a comp? Hell is on the horizon. Same for the Cowboys and Dak Prescott. Teams like the Rams, Raiders, and Eagles are already in hell now or approaching it next year having paid maybe really good but maybe not first-round picks like Jared Goff, Derek Carr and Carson Wentz huge amounts.

Mahomes is a unicorn. We can all agree on that. But his contract is going to be an albatross.