FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — For about a decade, nearly every Patriots loss is met with the same question over the course of the ensuing week.

Did (insert team here) just create the blueprint to shutter Tom Brady?

Thing is, blue prints must be replicable, and that’s not exactly the case with the Chiefs’ defensive execution against the Patriots in their 42-27 win in the season opener. Few teams in the NFL have the necessary talent to slow down an offensive attack that was advertised all summer as indefensible. And in light of safety Eric Berry’s ruptured Achilles, not even the Chiefs have the talent to mimic their own defensive masterpiece if the teams meet again in the playoffs.

Berry, one of the league’s best safeties, bore the brunt of the burden against Rob Gronkowski (two catches, 33 yards). It wasn’t Berry’s exclusive responsibility, and he had plenty of help with jams at the line from Justin Houston and assistance in coverage from roaming linebackers. But in terms of running with Gronk, Berry’s performance was only short of Kam Chancellor’s regular-season masterpiece against the tight end in 2016.

And in a twist, the Chiefs used star cornerback Marcus Peters on Chris Hogan for the majority of the game. The strategy made sense because Peters has blossomed into a shutdown corner, so he took away Hogan (one catch, 8 yards), which eliminated a trustworthy option and a downfield threat at the same time. To an extent, this allowed the Chiefs to shade safety Ron Parker in Brandin Cooks’ direction.

The Chiefs basically dared Brady to remain in consistent rhythm with Cooks (three catches, seven targets, 88 yards) and Danny Amendola (six catches, 100 yards before leaving with a concussion). Brady had a field day against No. 2 cornerback Terrance Mitchell, but the steadiness with Cooks could be improved.


The Chiefs’ physicality was the other element at play. They turned the line of scrimmage into an alley fight and disrupted the Patriots’ releases at the snap. Even though the Chiefs didn’t dial up much of a pass rush into the fourth quarter, the jams at the line bought an extra split second of time for the three- and four-man rushes. The victors were also really physical with crossing patterns inside of five yards.

Again, there aren’t many defenses that can be confident enough in their game plan to try to wipe out Gronk and their preferred receiver. The Broncos in Week 10 will be tough if safety Darian Stewart and linebacker Brandon Marshall team up on Gronkowski, and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris present challenges to Hogan and Cooks. The Buccaneers (Week 4) and Falcons (Week 7) don’t have the known commodities in the back end of the defense, but they’ve got some intriguing young talent that could present issues.

And in a different type of test, the Texans (Week 3), Panthers (Week 4) and Raiders (Week 11) have tenacious defensive fronts, but they don’t have the coverage ability to present a Chiefs type of problem.

The Patriots will have to tinker with their counterpunching when presented with similar matchups this season. For starters, with the Chiefs paying so much attention to the crossing routes and the middle of the field, it left more space in the flats, and Brady didn’t overwork his running backs. James White (three catches, 30 yards) and Rex Burkhead (one catch, 8 yards) combined for a quarter of Brady’s completions.

By spreading the field laterally, the Patriots could have theoretically taken attention away from their bread-and-butter routes over the middle.

Cooks had some success with vertical routes, but those throws aren’t always of the high percentage variety. In the future, it might make more sense to shorten those route patterns, especially in a matchup advantage against someone like Mitchell. Let Cooks open spots in the coverage in other ways.

Finally, the Patriots’ play calls were far too vertical in their last two series. The Chiefs gave huge cushions to guard against the deep ball, and the Pats were sending two and three receivers on fly routes at a time, which conflicts with their philosophy. Nickels and dimes pay the bills, too.

Offensively, Brady and company will have a far easier time against a less-talented Saints defense on Sunday. And by comparison to the Chiefs’ talent and execution, it’s hard to find another team this season that can pose the same problems to Gronkowski, Hogan and Cooks, especially if the Patriots make the proper adjustments.

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