NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
Decisions and solutions are separate entities.
That was seen over an hour before 8:30 kickoff on Monday night, as head coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots penciled only three wide receivers in to face the Kansas City Chiefs. Second-year pros Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins saw their names on the deactivation list in favor of rookie halfback James White, reserve linebackers Deontae Skinner and Chris White, and safety Don Jones for depth and special-teams purposes.
It marked fourth time that the two route-runners did not suit up for the same game this season. And it marked the first time that neither Dobson, a 2013 second-round pick, nor Thompkins, a 2013 undrafted free agent, suited up for a game this season.
After working in tandem for 69 receptions, 985 yards and eight touchdowns as rookies, Dobson and Thompkins have accounted for just seven receptions and 66 yards over split time in 2014. Concerns with their ability to get open quickly against the Chiefs was likely part of it. Only that reasoning falls short of justifying it.
All reasoning fell short of justifying what happened thenceforth on both sides of the ball. Dobson and Thompkins could not have prevented what transpired at Arrowhead Stadium, where the temperatures climbed over 80 degrees and the noise over 140 decibels; where the team’s offensive line was set to start two rookie fourth-round picks in Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming; where the Patriots would soon unravel in the darkest performance of the Belichick and Tom Brady era.
Something should have been different. Perhaps everything should have been.
New England knew Kansas City’s defense was going to bring pressure from a four-man rush, and that Brady would not have time to wait for his targets to separate 15 yards downfield. Kansas City knew that the Patriots were going to focus on the underneath drag and screen patterns to Julian Edelman and the intermediate routes to Rob Gronkowski. And in turn, the box crowded the middle of the field.
The Patriots tried to connect the dots between them and failed. The reads were limited. One second. Two seconds. Brady took the snap and released the ball. Incomplete.
The offense’s commitment to the run game – an idea that sounded practical in theory against a front conceding 130 yards per game – suited up four halfbacks along with fullback James Develin. But before long, that idea became a forgotten one with the Patriots down 17-0 at halftime, then 27-7 at the end of the third.
Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and White combined for 16 carries and 75 rushing yards over the duration. They combined for eight receptions out of the backfield for 56 yards as well. Yet it was, in many ways, what Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton wanted. The Patriots were stuck in a game plan not conducive to coming back from a deficit. From the line, to Brady, to the route-runners, the offense took the snap and went horizontal against a defense that dared otherwise.
The phrase ‘explosive plays’ has been used by the team to describe opposing offenses. But New England’s own offense was far from generating anything of the sort. With four completions on eight targets for 23 yards to Edelman, and two completions on three targets for 31 yards and a touchdown to Gronkowski, Brady’s top two connections were taken out of their element.
The was no vertical element, and the closest thing to explosive was Brandon LaFell, who, after being held without a catch through the first two games, resurfaced as the primary option on the outskirts. He went on to catch six of his 10 targets for 119 yards and a 41-yard touchdown; a consolation drawing semblance to Brandon Lloyd’s 190-yard outburst a loss to the San Francisco 49ers two seasons ago.
It, too, was far from enough.
The Chiefs’ offense was in another mold. It moved the ball down the field for 15 first downs passing and 10 rushing, in what was 36 minutes of clock-controlling football.
Patriots cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Logan Ryan looked overtasked in off coverages in the process, and Ryan was ultimately taken out of the game in favor of West Alabama rookie Malcolm Butler following a penalty down at the goal line. The linebackers could not contain the weak-side runs, while the front line could not close the gaps without Sealver Siliga’s leveraging presence next to Vince Wilfork on the interior.
Those facets carried over when quarterback Alex Smith dropped back. Kansas City’s 2013 third-round pick, tight end Travis Kelce, found space and required more than one tackler to keep him from finding more, taking eight of Smith’s passes 93 yards and into the end zone. Wideout Dwayne Bowe took five of Smith’s passes 81 yards, and Donnie Avery took two for 46.
And in between, there were only glimpses for the Patriots.
Aside from LaFell’s resurgence, the signs of growth from Stork and the learning curve for Fleming, the resilient effort of Matthew Slater in the kicking game, the first showing of White, and QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s relief performance that netted 6-of-7 passing for 70 yards and a TD, the Patriots weren’t a football team on Sept. 29.
The coaching staff was exploring all options, much like Week 1 of the preseason. Nate Solder temporarily exited the left tackle spot and Marcus Cannon entered, as he also did for right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Ryan Wendell entered late for Fleming at right guard. And the shuffling continued as Brady was taken to the sidelines following two fumbles, two interceptions and a 41-7 deconstruction.
Brady headed into the game just 219 passing yards away from of the 50,000 career passing yards. He headed out of the game still 60 yards away. And as the seconds wound down and Garoppolo tossed a pass to Gronkowski to make the score 41-14, he sat on the bench, far removed from the seventh offensive touchdown of the Patriots season.
Brady’s elbows rested on his legs. His eyes rested on the ground in front of him. He was alone and disengaged.
They all were. There was no answer. And there may not be.
Tags: Kansas City Chiefs