Remember 2014? The Patriots went into Arrowhead Stadium, got blown out 41-14, and fell to 2-2. Fans went crazy. Some called for Jimmy Garoppolo to take over for Tom Brady. A few even immediately declared the Patriots dynasty over.
New England won Super Bowl XLIX that year.
Remember Week 8 last year? Coach Belichick traded away the team's best linebacker, Jamie Collins, for a compensatory pick. Pundits howled, and fans (myself included, unfortunately) panned the Hoodie for making such a radical move. Without a clear succession plan, the trade seemed to signal the end of the Patriots' Super Bowl hopes that year.
Instead, New England won Super Bowl LI.
Tonight, the Pats came out frighteningly flat to kick off the 2017 season. In front of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the Chiefs completely dominated what was the league's best scoring D last year. Alex Smith looked like the second coming of, well, Tom Brady. With the Patriots' unprecedented amount of sustained success, it's only natural to think every big loss could signal the end of an era. But after just one game, any such conclusions would be completely and utterly wrong for a couple of reasons.
First, both sides of the ball were playing severely undermanned for almost half the game. After Dont'a Hightower's exit in the third quarter with a knee injury, Matt Patricia was forced to replace him with Cassius Marsh--who, while capable in his own right, was picked up just five days ago. With him in, New England shrunk down their defensive playbook, allowing Smith and the Chiefs to carve up vanilla coverages in the final minutes of the game.
A similar situation occurred offensively. With promising second-year wideout Malcolm Mitchell on IR, Danny Amendola's head injury forced Phillip Dorsett to play three days after arriving from Indianapolis. Without reliable weapons to throw to (not to mention a relentless KC pass rush in his face), Brady couldn't create first downs, much less spur a last-second comeback.
But most importantly, it's only one game. There are 15 to go, and the Patriots have always treated the regular season as little more than a playoff tune-up. Without clear challengers in the AFC outside of the Chiefs (who still most likely couldn't have beaten New England at full strength), one game isn't likely to cost the Pats home-field advantage in the postseason. And as long as they secure the #1 seed once again, regular-season records become irrelevant. Frankly, this loss might end up helping out the team by removing all the 19-0 pressure from over their heads.
At the end of the day, the loss was concerning. To keep the Super Bowl hopes alive, the Pats will have to find a capable contingency plan if Hightower goes down again. But as Bill Belichick and Co. have more time to coach up their charges (the long break until Week 2 should help), these problems will most likely fade into the rear-view mirror. Was the loss a bad way to start the season? Yes. Was it anything to worry about going forward? No. Given all we've seen from him and his teams over the years, it's time to give Coach Belichick the benefit of the doubt.