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Patriots fall to Kansas City Chiefs without Cam Newton under center

The Patriots’ Oct. 5 game against the Kansas City Chiefs was one of the very few games under Bill Belichick where you can look at it and say the Patriots beat themselves. The Patriots made several mistakes in their matchup on the road against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Two days prior to the scheduled kickoff day, starting quarterback Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19, immediately ruling him out of the game in compliance with the league’s policies regarding the pandemic. The policies in place additionally closed the Patriots’ facilities to prevent further spread, preventing New England from getting their final practices in with backup quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Jarret Stidham. 

In another move to ensure safety, the NFL postponed the contest between New England and Kansas City from Sunday at 4:25 p.m. to Monday at 7 p.m., allowing for further time to acquire any additional positive test results from within the Patriots’ locker room, which would have led to the cancellation of the contest. New England had to wait until Monday to fly out to Kansas City, arriving at their hotel five hours prior to kickoff at Arrowhead Stadium. Belichick gave the nod to Hoyer, the more veteran quarterback, to start under center in place of Newton. Given all these circumstances, the Patriots really had no business winning this game, so the idea of them leaving Kansas City with a win seemed rather ambitious. 

After seeing how well the defense played, and how much Belichick’s coaching kept the Patriots in this game, one can’t help thinking that New England could have and should have won if Newton had played. Hoyer came into this game having lost his last 10 starts, raising questions of what the value is in a quarterback that’s been in the league so long with so little success. Given his experience as a starter and backup around the league for over a decade, he got the nod as the starter against Kansas City so that he would run the offense without making any boneheaded mistakes. 

Not only did Hoyer make bad decisions with the football, he made mistakes you’d expect out of a rookie drafted as a developmental prospect thrusted into the starting role. Granted, Hoyer received minimal reps with the starting offense prior to Newton’s sudden disqualification, but the rust and lack of playbook knowledge was apparent during the first half. While Hoyer did play with a “Patriot mentality,” throwing a solid block on Chiefs defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi during an end-around run by wide receiver Damiere Bird, his interception in the first half was more or less expected by fans. Hoyer, on play action, dropped back and delivered a high throw to tight end Ryan Izzo in double coverage, with safety Juan Thornhill jumping to catch the ball as it sailed over Izzo’s outstretched hands. Hoyer had Bird in single coverage streaking down the left sideline, with a solid chance to win the 50-50 ball, but made the poor decision to throw the ball into the center of the field where there was a cluster of both Patriots and Chiefs players. 

New England, down 6-3 with halftime approaching, found themselves in the Chiefs’ red zone with only seconds remaining on the clock and no time outs. Hoyer took the snap and stood in the pocket for way too long, attempting to wait for a receiver to create separation so he could zip the ball in, and his inability to throw a receiver open forced a sack by defensive end Frank Clark, bringing the half to a close. Hoyer had the opportunity to throw the ball away, giving the field goal unit time to come out and tie the game, but made a gunslinger’s decision without the talent to back it up. Instead of the Patriots going into the half tied 6-6, they were still down 6-3.

Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels were livid with Hoyer not throwing the ball away, signaling his time under center would end if his performance didn’t improve. The Patriots began the second half with a three-and-out drive, got the ball back, then began another drive where Hoyer was getting some good throws in and pushing them down the field. The Patriots once again found themselves in the red zone, and Hoyer choked once more. Not sensing the pressure coming at him off his right side, as defensive end Taco Charlton shed a block and came charging at Hoyer from behind, knocking the ball out of Hoyer’s hand, which  the Chiefs then recovered. 

That would be the end of Hoyer’s night, as the beginning of the next drive saw Stidham jog out onto the field to orchestrate the offense. At that point, the Patriots at worst should have been up 9-6, but instead remained down 6-3 and gave the Chiefs the ball back which Mahomes and company turned into a touchdown drive to put Kansas City up 13-3. Belichick’s game plan on defense had shut down Kansas City’s high-powered offense up until that point, but without New England’s offense generating any successful drives, the defense grew tired and began allowing Mahomes to work his magic. Running back Damien Harris, who had 100 yards on the night, popped off a 41-yard run to the outside to give the Patriots some life, leading to Stidham completing a back-shoulder fade to wide receiver N’Keal Harry in the endzone to make it 13-10. 

The Chiefs would answer with a touchdown from Mahomes to wide receiver Mecole Hardman on their next possession, with a missed PAT, giving Kansas City a 19-10 lead. New England, still hanging in the game, would get the ball back but their night would pretty much end on a fatal throw from Stidham that went off the hands of veteran wide receiver Julian Edelman and into the hands of safety Tyrann Mathieu, who would take it to the house and put the Chiefs up 26-10. That score would hold up, giving New England a disappointing loss in a game against a superior opponent, where they could have stolen a road victory and given themselves a huge confidence boost going forward. Without being able to compete in Week 5 against the Denver Broncos due to new positive COVID-19 test results within the locker room, the hope is that the time off will allow Belichick to continue to scheme for future contests with his roster back at full strength.

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