Patriots' rare loss in New England offers harsh dose of reality

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- About an hour before kickoff of the season opener, Tom Brady ran the full length of the field at Gillette Stadium as he usually does when he emerges for a warmup. At the end of his sprint, he punched the air, coming to a stop just a few feet from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose return to Foxborough for the first time (save a brief preseason drop-in) since Deflategate began two and a half years ago somehow managed to rival the raising of the team's fifth championship banner for anticipation among the New England faithful. Patriots fans roared at the moment.

That small bit of vengeance turned out to be the best part of the Pats' evening. The team that was to have mounted another assault on a perfect season instead crumbled to a stunning, disjointed, disheartening 42-27 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

It is always foolish to think the first game is indicative of how the entire season will go. Teams adjust and evolve, few as effectively and consistently as the Patriots. But this game seemed to affirm all of the preseason concerns in New England and caused Brady to make unusually harsh assessments of his team's attitude.

The offense, as multi-dimensional as the roster suggests it might come to be, stagnated without Julian Edelman, who limped onto the field pregame holding the most recent Lombardi Trophy. Edelman's knee injury proved to be a significant impediment to sustaining drives (six Patriots drives ended with punts, two more when New England couldn't convert fourth downs) and perhaps another run at a Super Bowl. The defense struggled to find a pass rush (hello, Rob Ninkovich, are you sure you want to retire?) and gave up big plays (touchdown passes of 75 and 78 yards) and long drives (a 12-play, 90-yarder in the first quarter was the first warning sign), silencing, at least for a week, the myth that quarterback Alex Smith (28 of 35 for 368 yards and four touchdowns) is nothing more than a game manager.

The destruction was so complete and so out of character that a local television station ran a postgame poll for fans: Are you more concerned with the offense, the defense or the injuries to linebacker Dont'a Hightower (knee) and receiver Danny Amendola (head)? That about covered it.

For context of how rare this was for a team that had appeared to strengthen its roster over the one that won the Super Bowl just seven months ago, consider that the Patriots did not allow more than 31 points in a game last season. Or that Brady was 51-1 at home versus AFC teams since 2007. Or that 42 points were the most allowed ever by a Patriots team in the Bill Belichick era. Or that the Patriots hadn't suffered a home loss when leading after three quarters in the Brady era (they were previously 105-0).

Not surprisingly, Brady was seething when it was over. It is a rare game in which the Patriots are embarrassed. And after an offseason of celebrating a comeback that added to the legend of this team's competitive will, this was a particularly harsh dose of reality and a reminder that nothing carries over from one season to the next.

"We have to be a lot better in a lot of areas, starting with our attitude and our competitiveness," Brady said, before he was asked to elaborate.

"I just think we need to have more urgency and perform a lot better," he continued. "A winning attitude and a championship attitude, you need to bring it every day. We had it handed to us on our own field. It's a terrible feeling. We've got to dig deep, a lot deeper than we did tonight. We didn't dig very deep tonight."

That is a rare circumstance for the Patriots, whose few brushes with non-competitiveness with Brady and Belichick are usually quickly erased. In 2014, they lost to the Chiefs, 41-14, in Week 4, spurring the now famous "On to Cincinnati" mantra. The Patriots ended that season with a Super Bowl championship.

That outcome, though, seemed a long way off as the Patriots struggled Thursday night. Brady said an apparent touchdown in the first quarter -- on a pass to Rob Gronkowski that was overruled because Gronkowski couldn't hold on to the ball -- was a disappointing play. The Chiefs drove 90 yards after that for a touchdown -- a 14-point swing. But Belichick dismissed that as a turning point.

"There were problems all over the place," Belichick said.

He added later: "Bad defense. Bad coaching. Bad playing. Bad football."

One of the most obvious issues: the absence of Edelman, receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who was put on injured reserve with a knee injury before the game, and then the subsequent departure of Amendola during the game. The Chiefs packed the middle of the field, forcing Brady's throws to go to the boundaries, often unsuccessfully. Brady completed 16 of 36 passes for 267 yards and no touchdowns.

"He's not coming back," Brady said of Edelman. "Guys in there have to do a good job. There was nothing really positive about anything that was done."

The Patriots are on to New Orleans with Deflategate finally over, but fresh, troubling reasons for anger.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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