Red Zone

Halftime observations from New England: Patriots 17, Chiefs 14

Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt (right) tried to get around a Patriots defender in the first half on Thursday night.
Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt (right) tried to get around a Patriots defender in the first half on Thursday night. deulitt@kcstar.com

It’s halftime of the Chiefs’ 2017 season opener, and they trail the New England Patriots 17-14 at Gillette Stadium. Here are my quick thoughts.

1. Don’t sweat Kareem Hunt’s fumble

Rookie running back Kareem Hunt fumbled only one time in his college career and has shown no signs of fumblitis in the NFL, so his first-quarter fumble was highly unusual. It didn’t even cost the Chiefs, thanks to a red-zone stand on the Patriots’ resulting drive. My advice to fantasy players? Don’t sweat it. Hunt has flashed power, vision and burst in the first half and has the ability to be a very good NFL running back. I think the team’s decision to go into this game with only two true tailbacks is an indication of their confidence in him, and he’ll only get better from here.

Kansas City Star Chiefs beat writer Terez Paylor spoke with Chiefs rookie running back Kareem Hunt live on Facebook after Wednesday's practice at the Arrowhead Stadium practice facility. Terez also spoke with Blair Kerkhoff of The Star about the p

2. The Chiefs showed mental toughness early

Kudos to the Chiefs’ defense for standing up to the Pats on a fourth-and-1 in the red zone early in the first quarter. It was a borderline disrespectful call against a good defense, and the Chiefs’ run-stuffers up front did a nice job sniffing out the ensuing running play. It also served as a major momentum swing early on, as the Chiefs’ offense promptly jogged on the field and scored a game-tying touchdown via a 12-play, 90-yard drive.

3. Andy Reid is bringing out the wrinkles

Reid was at the peak of his playcalling powers on that scoring drive, by the way. The Chiefs used multiple personnel groupings and formations to score, and throughout the first half, Reid has attempted to spice things up by lining up Tyreek Hill at running back and even giving tight end Travis Kelce a touch as a wildcat quarterback. All this is well and good, there’s just one problem ...

4. The Pats are taking away Kelce

The Patriots are famous for taking away the things an offense loves to do, and for the Chiefs, that means taking away Kelce, Alex Smith’s favorite target. The Chiefs have spread the ball around, connecting on passes to at least five different receivers, but the offense has yet to connect on a dynamic passing play for 20 yards or more. And with the Patriots suffocating Kelce, someone else has to step up on offense and consistently win 1-on-1 battles. The drive before the end of the half was nice – and critical – but chances are Smith will have to convert some tough downfield throws at some point in the second half. Otherwise, the Chiefs might have tough sledding offensively against a team of this caliber once they’ve made adjustments.

5. The Chiefs’ defense doesn’t have many answers

We knew this could happen. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is ridiculous, and while the Chiefs’ defense has had some nice moments, Brady and his assortment of lightning-fast wideouts have sliced them up about as much as you’d expect in man-coverage situations. The Chiefs sacked Brady once, but if the Chiefs are to win, they’ll likely have to get to Brady more. The Pats have also been able to get traction on the ground at times, as James White and Mike Gillislee have done a nice job finding lanes and cutting upfield.

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