June 22, 2024

Five things that stood out about the Kansas City Chiefs’ road win against the Patriots

Patrick Mahomes was about as good as we’ve seen him in two months. The defense played like it had for the better part of the the season’s initial two months. The support? Still up-and-down. The Chiefs beat the Patriots 27-17. That’s the most important sentence here, though it wasn’t without its fourth-quarter frustrations, and those of a familiar variety. Let’s get to the five observations from immediately after the game:

1. THE RASHEE RICE ROOKIE SEASON Rashee Rice, by one measurement, has recorded the most influential wide receiver rookie season in franchise history. Touchdowns. Rice caught his seventh touchdown of the year — though it was from running back Jerick McKinnon, and not Patrick Mahomes, on a counter pop-pass play. That wrinkle was more obvious than another. In his first game back in New England, Joe Thuney, not Creed Humphrey, actually snapped the football, and Humphrey served as more of a pulling left guard. But back to Rice: What’s most encouraging, beyond his touchdown numbers, is the in-season improvement, because that’s most indicative measure of his potential future. Rice is more productive than any receiver in football after the catch, a trait that popped on his college tape. But he’s clearly earned more trust from Patrick Mahomes during the year. A week ago, Mahomes threw a back-shoulder fade, which hasn’t exactly been his favorite throw design.

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Rice led the team with nine catches for 91 yards Sunday. Which has been a trend. He has at least 64 yards in four straight games. It’s four straight games with seven catches. And he has three touchdowns in that stretch too. Yes, I’ll mention the hiccup before we finish off this segment. Rice has to do a better job of protecting the ball, and the film shows it’s an obvious fix. He holds the ball carelessly away from this body. Still, it’s been a good rookie year. But more to come. And that’s the point.

2. THE SHORT YARDAGE A regular member of the five things. For a different reason this time. The Chiefs were terrible at short yardage through the first two-plus months of the season — they’d converted just 15 of 29 third-and-short opportunities.

But since? One of the league’s best third-down offenses actually acts like it on short yardage. And all it took was one of the most simple solutions. They’ve run the ball. Seven of their 11 conversion on third-and-short came with ain’t-nothing-fancy-about-them running plays between the tackles. What intrigues me most about it: When the simple stuff works, the creativity can become more effective, too. There’s a reason the misdirection at the goal line worked, even if it wasn’t third down.

3. THE DROPS The cameras caught another Patrick Mahomes outburst on the sideline. The focus of his ire this time? Drops. Even when the Chiefs’ offense looked pretty good, they still couldn’t get out of their own way.

Kadarius Toney dropped a fourth-quarter pass that turned into an interception — and offered the Patriots an ever-so-slight chance at getting back in the game. Travis Kelce dropped a would-be touchdown on Mahomes’ best throw of the day. And Blake Bell didn’t exactly do a perfect job of fighting away Marte Mapu on Mahomes’ first interception of the game. Mahomes finished the day with pretty good numbers anyway — 27 of 37 for 305 yards and two touchdowns — but for once he’s not the main character of this story. You have to wonder if we’ve seen the last of the patience for trying to turn Toney into a major offensive presence.

Rookie Rashee Rice shines bright in Kansas City Chiefs' preseason victory |  Marca

4. THE OTHER WIDE RECEIVERS

The Chiefs’ running backs haven’t been nearly the factor in the passing game that they were a year ago, and, frankly, one of the reasons is because this isn’t the strength of their clear-cut starter, Isiah Pacheco. But it is a strength of their next two guys behind him. Jerick McKinnon and Clyde Edwards-Helaire combined for seven catches on Sunday for 83 yards. They each caught touchdowns, including one by Edwards-Helaire that he high-pointed in the back of the end zone. The Chiefs’ running backs had combined for two receiving touchdowns in the team’s previous 10 games.

I’m not just cherry-picking the scores to make a point, either, even though the scores tend to be big plays, you know. The Chiefs designed plays to their backs, not just used them as last-ditch outlets. A screen-pass to Edwards-Helaire went for 48 yards.

5. THE PATRIOTS WAY Let’s take a step back here and assess how a Patriots dynasty became a team that will soon lock up a top-five pick in next year’s NFL Draft. The loss of Tom Brady, sure. But so much more. The Patriots haven’t solved their quarterback issue, but they haven’t solved their issues of support for the quarterback, either. Consider this: The only Pro Bowlers the Patriots have drafted in this decade are Mac Jones, who has been benched in his third season (how did he make the Pro Bowl?); Jake Bailey, who is a punter; and Joe Thuney, who made the Pro Bowl for the Chiefs, not the Patriots. All were named to Pro Bowl rosters just once, too. The Chiefs, over that same time frame, in reverse chronological order have drafted: Creed Humphrey (one Pro Bowl); Mecole Hardman (one); Patrick Mahomes (five); Kareem Hunt (one); Chris Jones (four); Tyreek Hill (seven); Marcus Peters (three); Mitch Morse (one); D.J. Alexander (one); Dee Ford (one); Eric Fisher (two); and Travis Kelce (eight).

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