The New England Patriots spent Thursday evening celebrating their Super Bowl title from this past February. It was a coronation of sorts for a squad that has earned five Lombardi’s during the Tom Brady era.
But once the game kicked off against the Kansas City Chiefs, it was the road team that showed it might be a force moving forward on the season.
Alex Smith absolutely shocked fans at Gillette Stadium, throwing for a whopping 368 yards and four touchdowns while completely outplaying Mr. Brady. Meanwhile, rookie running back Kareem Hunt scored three touchdowns en route to proving himself capable of handling the starting duties in Kansas City.
Not everything was horrible for a home-standing Patriots team that lost by the score of 42-27. The recently acquired Mike Gillislee scored three touchdowns while veteran Danny Amendola proved to be Brady’s favorite target before going down to injury. These are among the seven players who stood out the most in the Chiefs’ win.
Eric Berry, safety, Kansas City Chiefs
With his Chiefs down 7-0 early in the first quarter following a Kareem Hunt fumble, this All-Pro safety proved in more ways than one why he’s among the best players at his position in the NFL.
First, it was Berry going up against fellow star Rob Gronkowski in coverage. Ultimately, the elite-level safety helped avoid a Tom Brady touchdown to the quarterback’s favorite target on a pass that initially looked like a score. Then, on fourth down just outside the 10, Berry stopped Mike Gillislee for no gain to force a turnover on downs.
These were two game-changing plays early on when the Patriots looked like they were about to go up by two scores. How big were those stops? The Patriots boast a 104-1 home record when leading by eight-plus points since the 2001 season.
Unfortunately for Berry and the Chiefs, he was carted off the field with what is being called an Achilles injury. It’s a potentially massive blow for the All-Pro safety and a Chiefs squad looking to repeat as AFC West champs.
Mike Gillislee, running back, New England Patriots
Leave it to the Patriots’ to utilize their new shiny weapon a great deal early in his debut with the team. Sure Gillislee was stopped short by Berry on a fourth-down rush in the first quarter. But he did rack up New England’s first two touchdowns of the season. Including the first score of the NFL regular season.
All said, Gillislee put up 42 yards and two scores on seven attempts in the Patriots’ first four possessions of the game. If we needed any more evidence as to why Buffalo should have matched the offer sheet for him, we don’t have to look and further than Thursday’s Week 1 performance.
When all was said, Gillislee recorded 45 yards and three touchdowns on 15 attempts in the Patriots’ loss. And while he’s not going to be a three-down back in New England, there’s no reason to believe Gillislee won’t continue to make a major impact moving forward.
Kareem Hunt, running back, Kansas City Chiefs
Hunt went through the proverbial rookie ups and downs in just the first half of Thursday’s game against the Patriots. It started with him losing a fumble on his very first NFL carry. Considering the rookie third-round pick did not lose a single fumble in four seasons with Toledo, it had to shell-shock him just a little bit.
But proving the Chiefs’ faith in him following the injury to Spencer Ware wasn’t foolish, Hunt responded big time as the game drew on. With the second quarter coming to a conclusion and his team down 10 points, Hunt caught an Alex Smith pass and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown to pull the game within a field goal.
Hunt was in no way done from there. Here, he turns an intermediate pass into a 78-yard touchdown from Smith. It was one of many big plays for Hunt in helping Kansas City pull away from the defending champs in the second half. Hunt ultimately gained 148 yards and a touchdown on the ground while adding five receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns through the air in his NFL debut. Not too shabby for a Chiefs team that was previously looking for a veteran reinforcement on the trade block.
Alex Smith, quarterback, Kansas City Chiefs
Simply put, Smith outplayed Brady throughout the vast majority of Thursday’s game. We can focus on this 75-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill. And in reality, that’s going to be the highlight reel play. But Smith’s management of the game and ability to extend plays came up big time in the Chiefs’ surprising win. More than that, he showed a willingness to throw the ball down the field. The pass to Hill was a prime example of this. Though, Smith took multiple deep shots throughout the game.
Maybe feeling the heat of a talented rookie in Patrick Mahomes behind him on the depth chart, Smith simply came out guns blazing in this one. Once the game clock hit zero on the fourth quarter, the former Pro Bowler had completed 28-of-35 passes for 368 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. It is the single-best statistical performance of what has already been a solid career for Smith. And if this is an indication of things to come for Smith, the Chiefs are definitely in good hands.
Danny Amendola, wide receiver, New England Patriots
Prior to exiting with a likely concussion, Amendola proved to be Tom Brady’s favorite target. He caught six of-seven passes thrown in his direction for exactly 100 yards. To put that into perspective, Brady completed just 4-of-13 passes to other wide receivers in the game.
We’re definitely going to have to see how Amendola responds to the NFL’s concussion protocol to determine whether he plays next week. What we do know is that he overtook Brandin Cooks as the most-viable receiver for Brady in Week 1. That’s a huge deal in New England, especially with Julian Edelman lost for the season and Malcolm Mitchell on injured reserve.
Ron Parker, safety, Kansas City Chiefs
Parker was all over the field Thursday night, forcing Brady into tight throwing lanes and making big tackles throughout the game. The seventh-year pro from Newberry recorded 11 tackles, including 10 solo. He also added in three passes defended and a tackle for loss.
If the Chiefs can get this type of safety play from Berry and Parker while seeing Marcus Peters shut down one corner of the field their defense is going to be borderline dominant this season. That was magnified Thursday night when they held Brady to a sub 50 percent completion mark.
Tyreek Hill, wide receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
Domination. Utter domination. on Thursday, Hill became the first player in NFL history to put up a 65-plus yard touchdown in five consecutive regular season games. It came in the form of the aforementioned 75-yard strike from Smith. In total, Hill recorded seven receptions for 133 yards and a score on eight targets.
There was some concern that Hill might struggle in a No. 1 receiving role following the release of Jeremy Maclin. But he more than proved himself capable, especially considering the second-year receiver was lined up against Malcolm Butler for the vast majority of the game. If Thursday’s performance is any indication, Hill’s sophomore season will be better than his rookie campaign. That’s shocking in and of itself.