A hat-and-t-shirt-game — the first of what we hope will be several this season — came early for the Kansas City Chiefs.
On Sunday, they traveled to Foxborough, Massachusetts to exorcise some demons against a quarterback (and team) that had their number last year: Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. While it came against an AFC East team, the 26-13 victory (paired with an Oakland Raiders loss) ensured the Chiefs a fourth-straight AFC West title.
The offensive performance wasn’t pretty. We saw plenty of the same things Matt Lane and I both wrote about last week: a struggling group up front — and a quarterback trying to navigate through a messy pocket while showing trust in them. It's something the offense will have to work through during the remainder of the year — and it remains to be seen if they can clean it up enough to have the productivity they had in 2018.
Some of this game will be viewed in the context of a quarterback who injured his hand early in the game — and the play-calling adjustments Andy Reid made to account for the injury. But that doesn't absolve the offensive inconsistencies. To sustain success in January, the offense will have to play better than they did during the second half in Foxborough.
We’ll have more on all of that later.
Here is something good — and bad — from Patrick Mahomes' performance on Sunday.
The biggest offensive play of the game was well-executed by both the quarterback and receiver.
Play of the game offensively. 2nd and 25 conversion for a touchdown after a bad blindside block call that KC was able to overcome.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 10, 2019
- Great release by Hardman
- Subtle movement by Mahomes to get the ball off
- Anticipation by Mahomes
- Adjustment by Hardman
- Speed to score pic.twitter.com/K3F0IEwvmj
The Patriots send four rushers and play man free coverage behind it. Notice how the Patriots are giving Travis Kelce extra attention; they’re intent on keeping him from getting free off the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs likely anticipated this; Kelce doesn't go out on a route.
Mecole Hardman gets an excellent release at the line of scrimmage as he runs a corner route. Mahomes is facing quick pressure from Shilique Calhoun on the interior and subtly steps to his left to give himself just a little more time.
This play showed Mahomes had a lot of trust in Hardman — and Hardman showed great anticipation. “I tried to buy an extra tick [and] put the ball out there,” Mahomes said after the game. “I didn’t want to overthrow him, so I kind of threw it a little shorter so he could adjust — because I knew he was going to be open.”
Mahomes' anticipation here is . Mecole isn't out of his break yet.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 10, 2019
On this play: "I tried to buy an extra tick, put the ball out there. I didn't want to overthrow him so I kind of threw it a little shorter so he could adjust because I knew he was going to be open." pic.twitter.com/2MTpXtixT3
He was throwing to space — knowing that with Hardman, he had some margin for error in the receiver locating the ball and getting underneath it. Mahomes had already hurt his hand, so this critical throw was one of the last big throws down the field during the game. In the second half, the Chiefs had to dink and dunk to protect the MVP’s hand.
Hardman did a great job to find the ball, catch it and then run away from the trailing defensive back — along with the middle field safety — on his way to a massive play in the game.
For Mahomes, the game had a rough start.
Bad early interception from Mahomes on the first third down of the game for the Chiefs. New England, like recent opponents, wants to take deep over routes away. Jones passes off Hill to McCourty on the cross and gets over the top of Robinson, JC Jackson undercuts the throw. pic.twitter.com/54tqCUbBxl— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 10, 2019
It’s the Chiefs’ first third down of the game. They call deep crossers with Tyreek Hill and Demarcus Robinson. But the Patriots are trying to take away deep crosses out of 3x1 formations — something the Chiefs use a lot. So they counter with Cover 1 robber; safety Devin McCourty is going to try to rob any crossing route to him.
The Patriots weren’t going to allow Hill to beat them deep, either; you can see the depth their middle field safety gets. Hill runs right into it. Cornerback Jonathan Jones falls off to run with Robinson going the other way. Cornerback J.C. Jackson is also running with Robinson on his deep cross.
But regardless of whether Jones had falls off to run with the crosser, Mahomes makes a questionable decision. Jackson is able to undercut this pass, snagging the third interception Mahomes has given up this season.