By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
A game like that will have no shortage of ups and downs.
After controlling the pace (and the scoreboard) in the first half, the New England Patriots endured an offensive barrage from Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, who exploded back into the game in the third quarter. It only opened up more in the fourth, as big plays and points lit it up all the way to the closing moments.
Most of the Patriots’ down moments can be chalked up to a very dangerous opponent coming through with plays of their own. But there are certainly still things the Pats can clean up moving forward, and Bill Belichick will likely have all kinds of stuff to pick through and yell at the guys over in Monday’s film session.
But publicly, Belichick didn’t seem all that concerned with the Chiefs’ second-half surge.
“Yeah, they’re an explosive team,” said Belichick after the game. “They did a good job.”
There’s plenty to pick through for the Patriots in their performance against the Chiefs. Here’s who and what are “rising” or “falling” through six games.
Rising: Rob Gronkowski
It’s been an underwhelming start to the season for Gronkowski on the score sheet. He’s also clearly slowed by his ankle injury, which has reportedly been described as minor in nature. But Gronk stepped up and made his typical big-time plays when the moments really called for them, which is something that’s been in surprisingly short supply so far.
Gronk’s first big catch came with just 3:50 left in the game and the Patriots clinging to a four-point lead. On a faked toss to Sony Michel, he slipped behind a nice block from Trent Brown to get wide open over the middle, taking the Brady pass for a total of 42 yards and stiff-arming Chiefs safety Ron Parker along the way. That was more like the Gronkowski that Patriots fans are used to seeing.
And of course, Gronk’s biggest play was his 39-yard catch to set up Stephen Gostkowski’s game-winning field goal. Gronk had just one catch on the night until his two fourth-quarter catches, so it was a quiet night for about 57 minutes. But it’s good to know that even a hobbled Gronk can still come up huge in crunch-time.
Falling: Phillip Dorsett
Forty points and exactly 500 total yards for the Patriots offense, and not a single target to go around for Dorsett. In fact, Dorsett only saw the field for three offensive snaps. Josh Gordon has clearly supplanted him on the depth chart at this point, leading all Patriots with nine targets.
After looking like a solidly reliable complementary receiver for Brady early in the season, Dorsett has dropped off to a reserve role. It does speak to the sudden depth the Patriots have at the position, with Julian Edelman back in the fold and Gordon (63 snaps) quickly establishing a regular role in the offense.
We’ll see how it goes from here with Gordon, but it’s going pretty well so far based on his usage and snap count. Gordon dropping back off might be the only way for Dorsett to work his way back into a more prominent role.
Rising: Chris Hogan
It’s been a trying start to the season for Hogan, but he came up big on Sunday night. With the Patriots down 33-30 in the fourth, Hogan made two catches for 61 yards on the drive that led to Brady’s four-yard touchdown run. He fought through a defender’s hand clutching his arm to make a huge 42-yard catch down the right side, then caught another for 19 yards on the very next snap.
Opportunities are getting harder to come by at receiver with Edelman back and Gordon rising. Hogan just wants to make the best of the chances he does get to catch the ball, and he certainly did that against the Chiefs.
“That’s just football,” Hogan told reporters after the game. “You can’t do everything on the field. I just have to make sure that for 60 minutes, I’m going out there and doing my job, running routes the best that I can and trying to get open. When opportunities come my way, I’m going to try to make the play.”
Falling: Patriots Safeties
Devin McCourty may be getting the brunt of the blame for Tyreek Hill’s late touchdowns, which he caught with McCourty covering him. Hill had no problem getting separation on McCourty; one-on-one, he’s going to win that matchup most of the time.
The real issue was the blown coverages by the deep safeties as a group. Duron Harmon couldn’t keep Hill in front of him on his game-tying 75-yard touchdown while McCourty pinched lower, which left the entire deep left part of the field open for Hill to blow through.
“He’s by far the fastest person that I’ve ever came in contact with,” said Harmon of the speedy Hill. “That’s what he is. He’s a great athlete and he’s fast. If he gets anybody in that position, more than likely he’s going to be gone. I still have to find a way to do something, to try and get him down, to force him to the sideline. I’ve got to give my defense a chance to live to see another play, and I wasn’t able to do that right there.”
Big plays are the No. 1 thing to defend against the Chiefs. The Patriots’ safety group knew they’d have to be on point to limit them for 60 minutes. They couldn’t quite hold them down in the second half, but the first half was effective enough. They’ll have to figure out how to get back to what they did in the first half to have success next time. And it certainly looks like these teams will see each other again.
Rising: Red Zone Defense
Two of the Chiefs’ four touchdowns came from 14 yards and one yard, respectively. So it wasn’t a perfect night in the red zone. But if the Patriot weren’t tightening up in the first half, the Chiefs could have ended up scoring into the 50s.
The first red zone stand came on the Chiefs’ first possession of the game. Mahomes overthrew an open Kareem Hunt on first-and-10, then missed Hill high on third down. Trey Flowers deserves credit for hurrying Mahomes’ throws on second and third down, and the Patriots’ pressure up front was generally good in the first half. They were able to keep Mahomes in the pocket while collapsing it around him, which led to some errant throws and, ultimately, field goal attempts.
Another big stop came in the second quarter when the Chiefs had first-and-goal from the 7-yard line. After Hunt ran into the pile for three yards on first down, the Patriots sniffed out a highly questionable play call by the Chiefs to target fullback Anthony Sherman, who lost two yards. Adrian Clayborn got a hand on Mahomes and forced him to throw on the run, while Stephon Gilmore’s tight coverage on Sammy Watkins helped break up the pass.
And with a chance to come away with points at the end of the first half, Mahomes was rushed into an ill-advised throw that got tipped into the hands of Harmon for an inteception.
It’s fair to question the Chiefs not going for it on fourth down in a spot where they could have. You have to be aggressive and can’t continually settle for field goals to beat the Patriots in Foxboro, and for the most part the Chiefs only operated that way in the second half.
Falling: Kickoff coverage
Gostkowski has been booming a lot of kicks through the end zone on returns in recent weeks, and it may simply be a way to mask what’s been poor coverage by the kickoff unit so far this season.
The Patriots got burned by their worst return coverage yet on Sunday night, when Tremon Smith burst through blocks and down the right sideline for 97 yards. Matthew Slater may have been held on the play, but was unable to beat his blocker up front nonetheless. Neither were Nate Ebner or Patrick Chung (again with the safeties). Brandon King missed a tackle, and Smith was off to the proverbial races.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Slater. “We got to look at that on film. It was bad. I think we’re a lot better than what we’ve played out there, so we better figure it out quick. I think we have to be better fundamentally; we got to get out of the box and use our hands better. We have to play together and trust it. The guy next to us is going to be where he’s supposed to be and we have to improve. We put our team in a tough spot tonight giving up that return and they bailed us out.”
Next Rise & Fall comes after the Patriots take on the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.