So where are you this morning with the 2020 Patriots? Frustrated? Encouraged? A little of both, probably? A lot of both?
But for the moment, just a little more of the former, right?
In the big picture, we now know the horizon should have just a few clouds amid the sunshine. The Patriots, after dealing with a COVID-19 scare that sidelined dynamic quarterback Cam Newton, just went into Kansas City — arriving on the day of the game, no less — to face the defending Super Bowl champions.
They weren’t so much shorthanded as they were decimated. They played without Newton, without starting linemen David Andrews and Shaq Mason, without leading rusher Sony Michel, and without much hope, at least according to the oddsmakers.
They were supposed to have no chance. Instead, they played so well in some aspects that it feels like a lost chance.
Featuring a clock-eating offense and a stout defense that didn’t necessarily flummox superb quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but at least stagnated his plans long enough to let the Chiefs know nothing would come easy, the Patriots were set up to steal it, to hand the champs their first loss since November.
They might have, too, if not for uncharacteristic mistakes and absolutely no luck, which left them with nothing to show for what was in so many ways a remarkable effort.
While they fly home having suffered a 26-10 defeat that dropped their record to 2-2, they also carry with them a moral victory that should serve them well for the rest of the season. The Patriots, despite several mistakes from players who shouldn’t be making them, trailed just 6-3 at halftime and 13-10 early in the fourth quarter.
Moral victories aren’t usually the Patriots' thing, but this is a different time, and given the circumstances, there’s a lot to feel good about.
For instance, we know this now: This is going to be a very good football team when Newton is its quarterback. Don’t tell me the 4-0 Bills are the favorite in the AFC East. This division remains the Patriots' property until it is taken from them.
But, oh, there are all those lost chances to be lamented. It’s not just that they could have pulled out a victory that would have rated as satisfying as arguably any of the 239 regular-season wins Belichick has already hoarded as Patriots coach.
It’s tempting to say they should have won, and would have with competent play by Newton’s stand-ins, better hands from usually dependable defensive backs, and an overdue break or two from the officials against a Kansas City team that got some crucial, curious calls in last year’s match too.
We can say this about Brian Hoyer’s performance as the starter in Newton’s absence: He played pretty well for someone who obviously had never played the position before. All right, cruel jokes aside, the 12-year-veteran, making his first start as a Patriot in his third stint for the team, didn’t get the job done. Worse, he made the kind of mistakes — including a terrible sack at the end of the first half and a fumble in the third quarter, both times the Patriots were inside the Chiefs 15-yard line — that cost his grinding, upset-minded team points.
The one hope in starting Hoyer over second-year QB Jarrett Stidham was that Hoyer would know how to manage the game. Instead, he mismanaged it, and in more than one big spot.
At what point did you plead to your television in the hopes that Belichick would hear your command to take him out? I’m going to assume it was before he replaced him with Stidham in the third quarter. Stidham’s superior skills were obvious; he connected for his first career touchdown pass — and the Patriots lone touchdown — with N’Keal Harry on a gorgeous fade pattern.
But, in Stidham’s game, you could also see glimpses that explain why Belichick went with Hoyer.
Stidham threw a pair of interceptions (one ricocheted off Julian Edelman’s hands and was returned for the final touchdown by Tyrann Mathieu) in just 13 attempts, and finished with a lower rating (39.4) than Hoyer (59.4). If Newton is out for Sunday’s game against the Broncos, Stidham should get the start. He may not quite know what he’s seeing out there, but at least there is upside.
Other lost chances and bad breaks? Devin McCourty (first quarter) and J.C. Jackson (fourth quarter) both had catchable interceptions bounce off their hands. Mahomes cannot be afforded such second chances, because he will savor tormenting you.
And on the most important occasion when the Patriots tormented him, the whistle saved him. The Chiefs led, 6-3, with 6:22 left in the first half when Mahomes took a hit from Chase Winovich. The ball popped loose, Shilique Calhoun plucked it out of the air, and took off on a sprint to the end zone.
Fumble? Interception? Neither. The play was blown dead when officials determined Mahomes was down. If he was down on that play, then at least three Patriots have legitimate retroactive claims of sacking Eli Manning before his heave to David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII.
I’m sorry I brought that up. That was the ultimate, irredeemable, never-speak-of-it-again, soul-crushing loss.
This one? It’s merely a disappointing regular-season loss, but not a surprising one. No one thought the Patriots could win, they teased us that they might, then let the opportunity slip with errors from players that should know better.