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Six Takeaways from Patriots 27-17 Loss to the Chiefs

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Kansas City Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon (1) enters the end zone for a touchdown as New England Patriots linebacker Marte Mapu (30) tries to defend during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The New England Patriots faced an uphill battle with the Kansas City Chiefs coming to town. For a half, they were able to keep pace with one of the NFL’s powerhouse teams. New England had some highlight plays throughout the afternoon. The Patriots proved once again they are still playing to win. But ultimately too many mistakes, and too many big plays for the Chiefs, proved their downfall. Kansas City prevailed 27-17.

Six takeaways from the Patriots performance at Gillette Stadium on Sunday…

1. Hunter Henry Gets Involved Again

The Patriots ignored Hunter Henry too often this season. After their season opener, I wrote about how nice it was to see Henry be ignored no more. Henry recorded 11 receptions on 13 targets (6.5/game) through two weeks. He amassed 108 yards receiving in those games, scoring in both. But over the next 10 games, New England forgot how effective their tight end can be. Quarterbacks targeted Henry 36 times (3.6/game). He totaled 21 receptions, 205 yards receiving, and one touchdown during that stretch.

Henry got back involved in the Patriots win over the Steelers in Week 14. Despite only being targeted three times, Henry made the most of it. He finished with three receptions for 40 yards and two touchdowns. On Sunday, Hunter Henry was once again a featured player for the New England Patriots. The strategy worked. Bailey Zappe targeted Henry six times in the first half, completing all of them. He had 57 yards and a touchdown. Henry also scored a second TD that was called back by a holding penalty. He had another nine-yard catch in the third quarter before exiting the game injured.

2. Marte Mapu: A Tale of Two Plays

Mapu has struggled this season. The rookie looked more uncomfortable playing the further he lined up from the line of scrimmage. This led to less playing time. Mapu played only eight defensive snaps in the four games leading up to Sunday. He had not played more than 10 snaps in a game once since Week 5. But Mapu got more of an opportunity against the Chiefs. Initially, Mapu made the most his opportunity. He recorded the first interception of his NFL career off Patrick Mahomes in the first half. The takeaway helped set up a go-ahead field goal, giving New England a 10-7 second quarter lead.

But on the Chiefs final offensive play of the first half, Mapu was victimized on a Kansas City touchdown. He was bumped off the line by Chiefs wide receiver Justin Watson. This enabled Jerrick McKinnon, who Mapu was covering, to get wide open in the flat and score to make it 14-10 Kansas City at halftime. Mapu did not identify that Watson might interfere with him on the play. The lack of awareness led to an easy score. Just more growing pains for an NFL rookie.

3. Costly Penalties Kill New England

Penalties are costly against any NFL opponent. It is especially true when a struggling team is going against the defending Super Bowl champions. The New England Patriots did themselves no favors in this department against the Kansas City Chiefs.

On their second drive of the game a Demario Douglas reception deep in Kansas City territory was called back. Douglas was flagged for a 15-yard facemask penalty while running his route. No idea how often or recently that has been called. The Patriots were forced to settle for a field goal attempt, which Chad Ryland missed badly from 41 yards out.

Hunter Henry’s second touchdown of the game was wiped out by a holding call against Conor McDermott on the play. It was the correct call.

On Kansas City’s opening possession of the second half, Jonathan Jones caused a fumble, which was recovered by Jabrill Peppers. The turnover would have given New England the ball back trailing 14-10 near midfield. Instead, a defensive holding penalty was called against Alex Austin. The Chiefs retained possession, and would go on to score a field goal on the drive to extend their lead. New England never got momentum back in their favor again.

4. Defense Makes Big Plays

The New England Patriots defense has been excellent this season. But despite being solid, there has not been a lot of big plays. New England’s defense ranked near the bottom of the NFL is both takeaways and sacks heading into Sunday. Against the Chiefs, they showed up in both categories.

Marte Mapu and Jahlani Tavai each intercepted passes. Peppers had the negated fumble recovery. They brought down Patrick Mahomes for three sacks. Mack Wilson, Sr. led the way with 1.5 sacks. He continued his excellent play of late.

5. Momentum Shifts

New England had several opportunities to use momentum in their favor in this one. Several of these shifts were caused by the penalties noted above.

When the Chiefs missed a field goal on their opening attempt, New England had a chance to take the lead. But the Douglas penalty held them to a field goal attempt of their own. When Chad Ryland missed, New England felt like they were losing a scoreless game.

Mapu’s interception resulted in only three points, courtesy of McDermott’s holding penalty. New England’s lead was 10-7 instead of 14-7. Instead of a halftime tie being the likely worst case scenario, the Patriots trailed at half.

The Austin penalty negated another turnover. Kansas City went on to kick a field goal on their opening possession of the second half to increase their lead to 17-10. When New England got the ball back, Bailey Zappe threw an interception on their first play. It was both a poor pass and a poor decision. The Chiefs went down and scored to take a 24-10 lead. The win was never in jeopardy again for Kansas City.

6. Kevin Harris Impresses

The New England Patriots elevated Kevin Harris to the active roster prior to the game. He did not see much action in the first half, as Ezekiel Elliott handled the bulk of the workload. Elliott gained only 25 yards on 11 carries, with a long run of five yards. When Harris was called, he made the most of his opportunities.

In his first carries of the season, Harris finished the game with 25 yards on four carries. This included an 18-yard touchdown run that cut the Kansas City lead to 10. It was too little too late for New England, but was still an exciting play. Kevin Harris earned himself a longer look for the remainder of the season. And the Patriots proved to anyone doubting them, they are willing to fight until the final whistle, regardless of score or record.

Award-winning blogger, Dan's work has also been featured on Fox Sports, Boston Metro, Barstool Sports, MLB.com, and many other outlets.