By Jason Keidel
Football fans west of Boston can breathe easy.
The New England Patriots are human, fallible and beatable. And while they may go into any game as the chalk in 2017, they won’t go into Week 2 undefeated. The Kansas City Chiefs not only stunned them, 42-27, they tied for the highest scoring output against any team coached by Bill Belichick.
In what some considered a preview of an AFC playoff game, the New England Patriots defended their Super Bowl title with a dud. And while few saw this coming, it had to be refreshing. Everyone, from the Vegas oddsmakers to the media to the masses, saw this season as a de facto confirmation of the Patriots’ eminence. But games aren’t played in theory or on boards or video systems.
Chiefs rookie running back Kareem Hunt opened the night with the worst start in NFL history — a fumble in his first carry. He finished the game as the first rookie with three touchdowns since Marshall Faulk in 1994. Hunt gutted the Patriots on the ground with 148 yards rushing, and even added 98 yards receiving.
The Chiefs didn’t just beat the Patriots and the odds; they bucked some epic trends.
The Patriots were 105-0 when entering the fourth quarter with a lead, last losing in Week 17 of the 2000 season. They were also 102-1 at home since 2001 when up by double-digits in a game. Similarly, Tom Brady was 51-1 at home against AFC opponents during his 30s, and that one loss was at the end of a season when they had clinched their playoff position.
What does all this mean? Simply what was just said. The Pats’ roster, while wildly gifted and experienced and beloved, is also filled with people, a fair share of new people, and it will take more than four quarters to find their groove.
Gone is Julian Edelman, Brady’s first-down binky for years, his quintessential safety blanket who made an impossible catch during their impossible comeback agains the Falcons in the last Super Bowl. In comes Brandin Cooks, who is absurdly speedy and productive, but also new to the Patriot Way. Even immortals like Brady need time to find timing with new wideouts.
Just as it was silly to crown the Patriots 72 hours after Labor Day, it would be equally unwise to dismiss them after four quarters. And remember, a few years ago the Pats were whipped by the Chiefs on national television, with cynics digging Brady’s vocational grave. They not only churned out a great regular season, they won the Super Bowl.
And perhaps this is exactly what New England needed. Even a team with an ancestral hunger and humility like the Patriots can get an inflated sense of self. Especially when the entire sports and pop culture world is kneeling at the altar of your greatness. Players can belch all the bromides they like, about how last season means nothing, how they approach each week, game, and practice with the wide-eyed excitement of a rookie, but they see the headlines and haughty proclamations.
Not to mention the distraction of pregame festivities, which included unveiled banners and that glinting Lombardi Trophy carried out from midfield. Could you blame the Pats for letting a little hot air invade their egos? Besides, the other guys get paid too. Especially the Kansas City Chiefs, who are annual playoff contenders now that Andy Reid has them playing proper football. Plus they have a guy named Tyreek Hill, who set an NFL record, notching his fifth straight game with a TD of at least 60 yards.
And this is good for football. In a sport built on parity, the Pats have made football a parody, their personal red-carpet march to February. Gone is the talk of an undefeated season, of a moonwalk to their sixth Super Bowl ring, of laying waste to the sport before October.
Give the Kansas City Chiefs a nod, salute and pat on the back. Just don’t bury Brady, Belichick and the Pats.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.