Five thoughts on the Chiefs-Patriots opening night game

 

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Kareem Hunt scoring one of his three TDs. Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America

After the Kansas City Chiefs stunningly upset the New England Patriots on opening night, here are five takeaways from last night’s game.

1. Kareem Hunt might be the Chiefs next star tailback.

With starter Spencer Ware done for the year after knee surgery, the Chiefs turned to rookie Kareem Hunt for the majority of the game. Things didn’t start well for the former Toledo Rocket, as he lost a fumble on his first touch after only coughing the ball up once during his entire collegiate career. Following the miscue, Hill exhibited the elusiveness and versatility that he displayed in the Mid-American Conference, finishing with 246 all-purpose yards on 22 touches (17 carries, five catches) and three touchdowns. The Chiefs offensive line did a nice job creating lanes for Hunt and the young tailback proceeded to knife through the Patriots’ defense for most of the game. With the departures of Jamaal Charles and Jeremy Maclin, Kansas City needed some big play talent alongside Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. For week one at least, Hunt filled in perfectly.

2. Alex Smith: More than a game manager?

Alex Smith must have had bad San Fransisco flashbacks throughout the preseason. The Chiefs drafted Texas Tech gunslinger Patrick Mahomes II in the first round of the NFL Draft last spring and all Smith heard about since was how this youngster was going to take his job. The former number one overall pick faced a similar situation during his final season with the 49ers when Colin Kaepernick swiped the starting role from the injured Smith and led the Niners to the Super Bowl. That notwithstanding, Smith got a vote of confidence from the team and rewarded that good faith with a stellar effort, throwing for 368 yards and four TD’s while averaging 10.5 yards per attempt and an 84.7 total QBR. Smith still made some of his usual check-down attempts, but when he had a clean pocket (which was often) he made some nice throws, particularly his touchdown passes to Hill and Hunt. For all I know, Smith could revert back to his ultra-conservative style as soon as week two and the calls for Mahomes to start sooner rather than later might ramp up again. But for now, Kansas City looks pretty good with Smith under center.

3. Is Brady Finally Showing Signs of Age

“Father time is undefeated” remains one of the oldest cliches in sports, partly because it’s true. No matter how great a player is, be it, Peyton Manning, Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant, age eventually catches up to them and they simply can’t perform at a high level anymore. This isn’t to suggest that Tom Brady is the next future Hall-of-Famer to regress, but last night’s performance was not encouraging. Everything looked business-as-usual in the opening series, with the former two-time NFL MVP efficiently leading his team down the field on a touchdown drive. It went downhill after that. Brady completed just 44 percent of his passes in defeat and threw for just 267 yards with no TD’s (one touchdown was reversed via replay) and a 43.1 total QBR (50 is average). Late in the game, Brady and the Pats O-Line crumbled under the constant Kansas City pass rush and couldn’t keep up with Smith and the Chiefs (I would’ve bet on the opposite). It’s just one week and the offense should bounce back against the porous New Orleans Saints defense in next Sunday, but this outing was troubling.

4. The Chiefs won’t have Eric Berry for the rest of the season.

Kansas City’s upset win did not come without loss. Late in the fourth quarter, Chiefs star safety Eric Berry was carted off the field with a leg injury. The teams’ fears were affirmed on Friday afternoon, as Berry was diagnosed with a ruptured Achilles and will miss the rest of the season. Unfortunately, injuries and ailments are no strangers to the Pro Bowler; he missed 15 games with a torn ACL in 2011 and was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. In the latter case, he was declared clear of cancer after nine months and turned in a Pro Bowl season in 2015, winning the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award as well. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for Berry. As for the Chiefs, the injury leaves a gaping hole in their defense that will be nearly impossible to fill.

5. The Patriots won’t finish 16-0… but should still be pretty good

Coming into this season, there was some chatter surrounding the 2017 New England Patriots and the talent they possessed. People wrote pieces as recently as yesterday about this team’s  potential to run the table this year. Thankfully, those columns will cease now after Thursday night’s loss to Kansas City. That said, the Patriots are still overwhelming favorites to win the AFC East (which says a lot about New England and the other three teams in the division) and represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. If last February was any indication, the Patriots never truly go away. A good example of this also involves a loss to the Chiefs. In 2014, Kansas City blew out New England 41-14 at Arrowhead Stadium. Following the drubbing, people wondered whether the Pats were done as contenders. Brady and company proceeded to win 10 of their next 12 games en route to a Super Bowl victory. The Patriots don’t play another 2016-17 playoff team until week seven (their Super Bowl rematch with the Falcons). Of the five games against playoff teams from last year, two are against the Miami Dolphins, who had a -17 point differential and a win expectancy of 7.6 wins. New Egland lost a tough game to a good team, one of their tougher test this year, but they will ultimately be fine.

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