In his 41st year, at 17th in the National Football League, Tom Brady, of all people, should know that scripts are written to be torn up.
The Kansas City Chiefs, talented offensively and defensively but always closer to "very good" than "elite," walked into Gillette Stadium on Thursday night and chased Brady and the Patriots out of Foxborough.
Rookie running back Kareem Hunt tore up the Patriots’ defense for 246 yards from scrimmage, a record for a player on his NFL debut. The feat was all the more remarkable for the fact that Hunt fumbled on his first-ever NFL carry.
Alex Smith, damned with faint praise as a “game manager,” completed 28 of 35 passes for four touchdowns, no interceptions and 368 yards. Smith repeatedly found Tyreek Hill, whose outlandish speed was too much for the Patriots’ defense to handle. Hunt was also effective in the passing game.
Unable to pressure Brady up front, Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton dropped eight men into coverage, slowing a Patriots offense that scored easily on its first drive of the game.
As for Brady? In his first game since turning 40, the quarterback had a rare off day, completing just 16 of 36 passes for 267 yards and no touchdowns.
“We didn’t make a lot of plays tonight,” Brady said in quotes reported by the Boston Herald. “We need to be a lot better in a lot of areas. Start with our attitude and our competitiveness.
“I just think we need to have more urgency and go out there and perform a lot better,” Brady continued.
“We had it handed to us on our own field. It’s a terrible feeling.
“The only people that can do something about it are in that locker room. We've got to dig a lot deeper than that. We didn’t dig very deep tonight.”
Brady coming off a loss as heavy as this one—the 42 points conceded by the Patriots is a record in the Bill Belichick era—is almost more dangerous than when the Patriots are winning. Expect the New Orleans Saints’ porous defense to feel Brady’s wrath when he visits the Mercedes-Benz Superdome next Sunday.
And yet it was possible last night to believe all those people who say that any quarterback over the age of 40 will go into decline may be right—as well as doom-laden. Only two have ever made the Pro Bowl—Warren Moon in 1997 and Brett Favre in 2009. Brady, though it doesn’t seem like it at times, is more human than a cyborg destined to dissect defenses for eternity.
The next few games should reveal if the Patriots’ problems are systemic, or Brady-related, or a combination of both. Already without Julian Edelman through a season-ending injury, the Patriots lost Danny Amendola on Thursday to a possible concussion. Brady will almost certainly rebound, as he always does, even if he has no one quite like Hill to stretch defenses downfield. But on a thrilling opening night, the upstart Chiefs left Brady and the Patriots with more questions than answers.