The Kansas City Chiefs are 1-0 and riding high after pulling off an impressive victory over the defending Super Bowl champions Thursday night. With a strong fourth quarter, the Chiefs came back from a 27-21 deficit to earn a convincing 42-27 win over the New England Patriots.
Tom Brady finished the game without a touchdown pass and completed just 44.4 percent of his attempts. The last time he finished a game with less than half of his passes completed was four years ago.
On the other side, Alex Smith had a career night for the Chiefs. He finished with 368 passing yards and four touchdowns, while rookie third-round pick Kareem Hunt complemented him with 148 rushing yards, 98 receiving yards, and three total touchdowns.
Here are the three main reasons the Chiefs got the big win over the Patriots:
1. Marcus Peters and Eric Berry balled
Pressuring Brady has long been considered the best way, if any, to slow down the Patriots offense. And while the quarterback was hit a few times Thursday night, the first sack didn’t come for the Chiefs until about five minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Justin Houston finished with two sacks, but those came when he beat Patriots tackle Marcus Cannon despite a conservative pass-rushing plan.
For much of the night, the Chiefs instead opted to drop several players into coverage and force Brady to find an open receiver. According to Pro Football Focus, Brady had an average of 2.94 seconds to pass — more than half of a second longer than his usual 2.3-2.4 seconds.
But thanks to the play of Berry and Peters, there weren’t many options. Of the passes when Brady had more than 2.6 seconds to throw, he completed just 5 of 19 attempts.
The Patriots are already without Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell — both receivers are on injured reserve — and the team lost Danny Amendola to a head injury in the third quarter. Prior to his departure, Amendola caught six passes for 100 yards, mostly working the middle of the field. No other player on the Patriots finished with more than three receptions.
Prized acquisition Brandin Cooks spent a lot of his night matched up against Peters, while Berry was tasked with slowing down Rob Gronkowski.
Peters was targeted just once all game and didn’t allow a reception. Berry had more responsibilities than just covering Gronkowski, but he was the biggest reason why the tight end finished with only two receptions for 33 yards on six targets.
Berry is a big, physical safety who got his hands on Gronkowski at the line of scrimmage and wasn’t overpowered by a tight end who has made a career out of being a freight train.
Yes, Brady could’ve made better throws, but Berry didn’t allow much margin for error. Even on Gronkowski’s two receptions, he had the safety on his hip.
With Peters and Berry locking down so much of the New England attack, the pressure was on Terrance Mitchell, who stepped up to the plate and allowed just two receptions on the nine times he was targeted.
The Chiefs defense will look to continue to shut down opposing quarterbacks in the remainder of the season but will have to do so without Berry, who suffered a ruptured Achilles late in the win Thursday night. He’ll miss the rest of 2017.
2. Alex Smith hit the big plays
As pointed out in Geoff Schwartz’ preview of the opener, the Chiefs’ West Coast-style offense emphasizes a strong rushing attack and intermediate passing routes to move the chains.
“Smith helps win football games because he doesn’t make mistakes and manages Reid’s game plan,” Schwartz wrote. “However, for the Chiefs to take the next step, they need him to throw the ball downfield more. Since 2013, he’s had the fewest air yards per pass attempt.”
On Thursday, Smith attempted only four passes of more than 20 yards, but when he did, he nailed it. He completed three of those passes for 178 yards with two touchdowns.
One of the touchdowns came on blown coverage that left Tyreek Hill wide open. But the second was a dart that traveled about 40 yards in the air and hit Kareem Hunt perfectly in stride for a 78-yard touchdown.
It’s the kind of play that Smith has a reputation for not making and the kind of play that the Chiefs have severely lacked. It’s part of the reason why 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes looks like such a promising next step for the team.
But Smith made the plays Thursday night, finishing with 368 passing yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. It was only the third time in his 142-game career he eclipsed 320 yards and the second time he threw more than three touchdowns.
Attempting just four passes of 20 or more yards — compared to the nine attempts by the Patriots — is indicative of the offensive scheme of the Chiefs, though. Smith capitalizing on his chances downfield is important, but the Kansas City offense will stall if the team can’t open up those shots with success underneath.
3. The Chiefs established the run
After moving on from Jamaal Charles in the offseason, the Chiefs hoped Spencer Ware could take over the starting role. But Ware suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason, leaving the team with Kareem Hunt and Charcandrick West at running back.
Luckily for the Chiefs, Hunt was up for the task.
He fumbled on his first career rushing attempt but bounced back by consistently gashing the Patriots defense. He didn’t just win with speed — Hunt was patient, made quick decisions, and got the big-boy yards between the tackles.
A significant portion of Hunt’s 148 rushing yards came on one 58-yard burst down the left sideline late in the game, but the majority came in chunks of 7 to 10 yards at a time.
West came in for just one rush and burst through the middle of the defense for a 21-yard touchdown to put the game on ice.
For the Patriots, perhaps the biggest concern from Thursday was the team’s defensive line. It struggled to stop the run and pressured Smith on just a third of his dropbacks. With a clean pocket, the Chiefs quarterback was 22-of-26 passing for 304 yards and three touchdowns.
The Chiefs took advantage of that with a grinding game plan that sprinkled in creativity and a few deep shots. Couple that offensive success with a secondary that gave the New England receivers fits, and the Chiefs rattled off 21 unanswered points to pull off a surprising 42-27 victory in Week 1.