Sport Patriots aren’t the favorites in the AFC anymore

06:52  09 december  2019
06:52  09 december  2019 Source:   bostonglobe.com

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the- patriots -should-still-be-considered- the - favorites - in - the - afc | sport I'm talking about the yearly tradition of the New England Patriots being slept on in the AFC after a few poor showings. Currently, they are the No. 2 seed in the AFC and have a first-round bye. They have the Chiefs, Bengals, Bills

The Patriots are a pretty good football team in the here and now, however. Lewis caught a touchdown, ran for one and returned a kickoff for a They can potentially be going to the Superbowl by winning 1 “top tier” opponent the whole season and that will be in the AFC title game either Pitts or KC.

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FOXBOROUGH — Hades has frozen over. Swine are accumulating frequent flier miles. LeBron James is getting called for traveling. All Supreme Court decisions are unanimous. And the Patriots are not the prohibitive favorites in the AFC anymore. Well, one of those unimaginable things rings true right now.

You can’t call the Patriots the favorite in the AFC anymore, not after they lost games to elite quarterbacks Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, and Patrick Mahomes and to fellow AFC contenders the Baltimore Ravens, the Houston Texans, and the Kansas City Chiefs. After an 8-0 start, the Patriots entered the most meaningful and meaty part of their schedule, a six-week, five-game stretch of real teams and real quarterbacks. They finished that stretch sub .500 at 2-3 with an offense that is significantly substandard.

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The Patriots have captured seven of 16 AFC crowns since 2001. They’ve won five Super Bowls. This is a look at why the Patriots should still be viewed as the favorites in the AFC . At some point, he won’ t be Brady anymore . Even Vader died in the end.

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Sunday’s officiating-aided 23-16 loss to the Chiefs at Gillette Stadium knocked the Patriots from the top perch in the AFC and rendered them 0-3 against fellow AFC division leaders/winners. With back-to-back losses to Watson and Mahomes, they’re now staring up at the 11-2 Ravens in the standings. I hear Baltimore is lovely in late January.

The disheartening defeat highlighted the tight-rope the Sons of Foxborough have to walk to wins. The defense did its job, limiting Andy Reid’s rocket-fueled offense to 23 points, 6 below Kansas City’s season average. Mahomes (26 of 40 for 283 yards with a touchdown and an interception) had just 57 yards passing in the second half after he guided KC to a 20-7 halftime lead. It was still too much for an overmatched and underwhelming offense that was robbed of a touchdown by shoddy officiating, but also lacks the punch or precision necessary to carry its end of the Belichickian bargain.

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These calls aren ’ t the reason the Patriots are headed to another Super Bowl, though. Jaguars players know that officiating isn’ t the reason Tom Brady and the Patriots pulled off that comeback win in the AFC Championship game.

The Patriots may not be the best team in the AFC right now, but the road to the Super Bowl got a lot easier after Sunday’s games. The Chiefs are still the favorites to earn the top seed, and only need to defeat Oakland at home next week to do so. But the Chiefs can drop all the way to No. 5 if they lose

Some of the Kansas City players’ equipment arrived late to Gillette Stadium because of a cargo unloading snafu. Tom Brady is still waiting for the Patriots’ offensive equipment to arrive this season. This doesn’t look like an offense equipped to win a suddenly competitive AFC.

We can lament the officiating calls that negated a pair of touchdowns — a fumble return at the end of the third quarter and a N’Keal Harry touchdown reception early in the fourth that was a mind-boggling bad out-of-bounds call. That ineptitude clearly cost the Patriots, but so did their own on offense. They suffered from the same issues they have all season, the ones that render the Patriots part of the pack in the AFC instead of sitting on their usual pedestal.

The Patriots finished 1-3 in the red zone, failing to punch it in three tries from the 3-yard line after the Harry ruling and seeing their final drive end at the Chiefs’ 5. They can’t convert on third down, posting an abysmal 2 of 12 conversion rate. The epitome of the Patriots’ offense was back-to-back plays on a second-quarter drive that netted no points. Jakobi Meyers dropped a pass on third and 7. Brady then overthrew Julian Edelman when Bill Belichick — chasing points or fearing Nick Folk — made the curious decision to go for it on fourth and 7 from the KC 29 with his team down, 17-7.

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I uploaded this video but I love the fact that the views just exploded overnight because the Patriots won the Super Bowl. I'm so happy right now.

New England couldn’t establish the run against a Kansas City defense that ranked 30th in the NFL in run defense. Sony Michel had five carries for 8 yards in the first half and then went into witness protection. Brady has gone from seething frustration to reluctant resignation after registering his fourth consecutive game completing fewer than 56 percent of his passes playing inside the quarterback cage Belichick has constructed for him. Forget the past shootouts between these teams, Brady had just 106 yards after three quarters and finished 19 of 36 for 169 yards with a touchdown and a cringe-worthy interception that led to Kansas City’s second touchdown.

The Patriots scored on the opening drive on the strength of a pair of third-down pass interference penalties against the Chiefs and a flea-flicker. Brady took a pitch from James White and hit a wide-open Edelman for a 37-yard score. In hindsight, this was an omen and not a favorable one. This offense is beyond limited. It’s crippled.

If it’s not a trick play or a short field created by a blocked punt or a defensive turnover, the vast green acreage the Patriots used to consume at will seems like an insurmountable trek across a trail of tears.

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While the Patriots ' 86-24 record against the AFC East is staggering, their winning percentage (134-44, .753) against everyone else is the best in the NFL, while they New England's record against eventual division winners (24-14) makes them the only team in the NFL with a winning record in this category.

The Patriots still should be the favorites in the AFC , though. We’ve seen this scenario several times in recent seasons — the Patriots stumble in September and don’ t play particularly well, only to kick into high gear as winter approaches. The Pats have advanced to seven consecutive AFC Championship

“You just have to find a way to get things going and help the defense and the special teams out,” said White.

Josh McDaniels spun the dial of formations and pulled out two trick passes.

On offense, the Patriots used 12 (one back and two tight ends) personnel and hurry-up. They dusted off the old Rob Gronkowski-Aaron Hernandez strategy where they went hurry-up with two tight ends and challenged teams by changing formations without changing personnel. The problem is it’s less effective without a Gronk or Hernandez-level matchup nightmare and with Matt LaCosse as one of the tight ends. McDaniels also rolled out sets with two backs and three wide receivers and one back and four wide receivers.

For all the mental gymnastics McDaniels engaged in, his offense could only muster 16 points. I know, I know, Harry was robbed of a touchdown. Belichick was unable to challenge because a few plays earlier he was forced to waste his final coach’s challenge after the officials botched a Travis Kelce fumble, not only ruling him down, but blowing the play dead as Stephon Gilmore sailed to paydirt and a TD that could have pulled the Patriots within 23-20 at the end of the third.

Now you know how the rest of the NFL feels when miraculously and mystifyingly calls go in favor of the Patriots. Touchdowns that were evaporate like steam from a kettle. It’s not right. It’s not fair, but the sun has smiled on the Patriots dynasty more times than not. And a vintage Patriots offense would have shrugged off the injustices.

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“It’s obviously a tough pill to swallow because obviously we feel like we had some plays out there that were negated by the officiating crew, and it’s just tough because that’s a really good team,” said safety Duron Harmon. “Obviously, those plays and those touchdowns that we thought we had we obviously could have used against a really good team like that.

“You can’t take nothing away from Kansas City. They did a good job of creating the lead and being able to play from ahead. We felt like we had a chance to win. This one is tough. This is probably one of the toughest losses I’ve had.”

This loss shows just how narrow the path to playoff victory is for the Patriots. The defense managed to keep this contest in the 20s. That’s all you could ask, especially after KC built a 23-7 third-quarter lead.

“We’ve just got to do a better job of just playing a little better in the first half,” said Harmon. “It was just a couple of plays, the long touchdown between me and [Jonathan Jones]. It happens. It’s a good football team. You’re not going to go out and limit them to 10 points. It is what it is . . . You’ve just got to make it tough, and we did a good job of that in the second half.”

It’s a strange day in the NFL. The Patriots are offensively deficient. They’re the ones getting jobbed and robbed. They don’t have the inside track for home field.

Wonders never cease, but the Patriots better hope their inability to match up with the best teams in the AFC does.

Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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