KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It’s possible to confuse, confound, and create havoc for Patrick Mahomes.
So far this season, however, it’s impossible to beat Kansas City’s magician/quarterback.
The Patriots defense hounded and dogged Mahomes over the first 30-plus minutes Monday night, keeping him out of the end zone and nearly picking him off several times and having a would-be strip sack touchdown overruled by a poor call.
The offense, however, couldn’t build off the momentum created by the defense, failing to convert in the red zone twice, with mental mistakes and turnovers costing the travel weary New Englanders dearly in a 26-10 loss to the 4-0 Chiefs before 12,729 fans at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Patriots refused to blame the loss on anything but missed opportunities and poor execution, passing on using the whirlwind they’ve been on since Cam Newton’s positive COVID-19 test came to light Saturday as an excuse.
The Patriots underwent a battery of tests over the last three days as doubt hung over whether this game would be played. In a highly unusual move, they were forced to fly here in the morning for a game the same night.
Mahomes eventually figured things out, throwing a pair short touchdowns in the second half to secure the victory.
"We know what we’re capable of and we know what they’re capable of,'' said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. "We had a decent game plan — we were prepared.''
With Newton at home dealing with coronavirus, the New England offense struggled with Brian Hoyer under center.
Hoyer made a bunch of costly errors, costing the Patriots points and a pair of chances to take the lead. The 12-year veteran was sacked on third down in the red zone with no timeouts left to end first half and then strip sacked on an early second-half drive.
"It’s frustrating, obviously,'' said Hoyer, who made it a point to say condensed itinerary for the day had nothing to do with his mistakes. "You can’t turn the ball over when you’re that deep in the red area.''
Hoyer, who also threw an interception and completed just 15 of 24 passes. He was benched after his second sack in favor of Jarrett Stidham, who provided a temporary spark.
Stidham’s first career touchdown pass (to N’Keal Harry) cut the Chiefs' lead to 13-10 early in the fourth quarter. A pair of interceptions, including a pick-6 that went off Julian Edelman’s hands, prevented Stidham from writing a story book comeback ending, however.
The Patriots (2-2) mixed their coverages and matchups and stiffened twice in the red zone in the first quarter, forcing Mahomes and Co. to settle for a pair of Harrison Butker field goals for a 6-0 lead.
On the opening drive, Mahomes drove the Chiefs to the 5-yard line (after a near pick by Devin McCourty almost ended the drive. It stalled when he overthrew Sammy Watkins in the end zone.
The Patriots offense couldn’t build off that momentum, however going three-and-out on its first possession.
The Chiefs returned the favor by going three-and-out as well. After another fruitless drive, Jake Bailey pinned the Chiefs at their 4-yard line. Mahomes didn’t blink however, firing an array of his patented darts from an array arm angles to get his guys back in the red zone.
Belichick’s defense was stout again, however, with Deatrich Wise providing good pocket pressure and the secondary locking down Kansas City’s jackrabbit receivers.
Butker’s second field, this one from 39 yards, doubled the lead to 6-0.
Hoyer’s struggles continued when he threw a poor ball down the seam to Ryan Izzo that was easily picked by Juan Thornhill. The New England defense got him off the hook however, when Stephon Gilmore forced a Watkins fumble a play later and J.C. Jackson pounced on it.
This time the offense did feed off the defense, launching a 13-play, 60-yard drive that chewed off 5:20 off the clock and was culminated by Nick Folk’s 43-yard field goal that cut the hosts' lead to 6-3.
Belichick’s defense rose up again on the ensuing possession, sacking Mahomes for a 7-yard loss but it should have been so much more but for a terrible call.
Referee Tony Corrente ruled Mahomes’s forward progress had been stopped and a would-be strip sack by Chase Winovich was overruled. Replays showed Mahomes’s knee was not down.
"I felt that [Mahomes] was being controlled quite a bit prior to hitting the ground and as he was being controlled other players were coming in at him,'' Corrente explained. "So, with those other players bearing down on him, a quarterback in the grasp and his forward progress being stopped, I felt that the player’s safety was being jeopardized.''
Because the call was forward progress, the Patriots were not allowed to challenge.
Still the Patriots moved the ball on the ensuing possession, with Hoyer starting to look comfortable. Mixing in some runs and passes, New England converted a pair of critical third downs, marching to the Kansas City 9.
Following a pass that lost 4 yards, the Patriots used their final timeout, setting up a third down with 10 seconds left.
The Patriots were in position to take one shot at the end zone before summoning Folk on for a tying field goal. Hoyer, however, inexplicably hesitated and scrambled instead of throwing it away and he was dropped by Frank Clark for a 13-yard loss and the probable loss of 3 points.
It was a deflating development after the Patriots defense had stood tall over the first 30 minutes, baffling the league’s most explosive offense.
Hoyer had more trouble after intermission, initially leading the Patriots inside the red zone for a potential go-ahead touchdown before a strip sack on third down foiled the visitors again.
Mahomes seized the opportunity, driving his boys 85 yards on seven plays, capping it with a 6-yard scoring toss to Tyreek Hill for a 13-3 lead with 42 seconds left in the third.
As the Chiefs celebrated, Stidham warmed up on the sideline, awaiting his chance to replace Hoyer.
After Stidham’s touchdown pass to Harry, the Chiefs answered with a long drive and Mahomes’s second 6-yard scoring pass, this time to Mecole Hardman for a 19-10 lead.
Stidham’s attempt to answer ended quickly when a first-down pass bounced off Edelman’s finger tips and into Tyrann Mathieu’s hands for an easy pick-6 and a 26-10 lead.
"We had some opportunities,'' said Belichick. "We competed hard against a good team, but we just didn’t make enough plays. Turned it over four times, had too many penalties [four for 43 yards]. We have to play better and coach better in the second half.''