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So much for another stab at 19-0.
Seven months after shutting down the Atlanta Falcons late in a dramatic Super Bowl comeback win, the New England Patriots defense couldn't find the brakes Thursday night, giving up 28 second-half points in a stunning 42-27 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. It was the most points allowed by New England under coach Bill Belichick, with Kansas City piling up 537 yards on offense.
The Patriots also lost starting linebacker Dont'a Hightower to a knee injury. The defense was already weaker up front following the retirement of veteran linebacker Rob Ninkovich and the departure of defensive end Chris Long in free agency, so Hightower's absence could be an especially destabilizing blow.
Long strikes proved the biggest problem, including a 75-yard touchdown catch by Tyreek Hill to give Kansas City its first lead early in the third quarter, and a 78-yard touchdown catch by Kareem Hunt in the fourth quarter that put the Chiefs back in front for good.
The secondary blundered throughout. Cornerback Malcolm Butler's pass interference in the end zone set up Hunt's 3-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Stephon Gilmore also badly blew a coverage on Hill's long touchdown. And with Hightower sidelined, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and defensive end Cassius Marsh allowed Hunt to get behind the defense on his 78-yard romp.
"It was different things on each one," safety Devin McCourty said. "I gave up one where I could have definitely played better. But we gotta watch it and see."
It was a particularly humbling debut for Gilmore, who signed a five-year, $65 million contract as a free agent this offseason. The Patriots hoped he and Butler would make a formidable duo.
Instead, they both looked pedestrian Thursday, with both caught at times seeking help over the top that didn't come.
"You gotta play with a hungry attitude, and I don't think we did that as a team," Gilmore said.
The Patriots offense looked as expected at times, scoring two early touchdowns and taking a 17-7 lead with quick-strike drives and Brady spreading the ball around the field.
Other times they were stagnant, including getting stopped twice on fourth-down runs.
But tight end Rob Gronkowski said the shortcomings were hardly just a defensive problem. He said everything about the loss was "a wakeup call."
They were left with nothing to do but look forward to their Week 2 trip to New Orleans.
"When they score 42 points and beat you on opening night, there aren't really any positives," safety Duron Harmon said.
RARE COMPANY: Since Belichick's first season in New England in 2000, only two quarterbacks have passed for at least 300 yards and four touchdowns without an interception: Drew Brees in 2009, and now Alex Smith, who passed for 368 yards and four scores.
SUPER BOWL TURNAROUND? The last three times the Patriots lost their opener they went on the win the Super Bowl. They bounced back to win the championship in 2001, 2003, 2014.
BERRY OUT: Chiefs safety Eric Berry left the game with what coach Andy Reid feared was a torn Achilles tendon that would keep him out for the rest of the season. But the coach said the injury didn't spoil the mood in the locker room.
"Eric's not going to allow that to happen," Reid said, adding that the four-time Pro Bowl selection would remain part of the team. "I told him to get his coaching career started."
BANNER NIGHT: Patriots fans came to celebrate the unveiling of a fifth Super Bowl banner and to boo Commissioner Roger Goodell, still angry about the interminable "Deflategate" scandal that resulted in Brady's four-game suspension.
But few in the crowd remained when the Chiefs celebrated at the end of the game.
"You can't take for granted how talented, how well-coached, how skilled and how tough teams are," Patriots offensive lineman Nate Solder said. "We've got to give everything we've got to win a game."
SIGNS OF AGING? In his first game as a 40-year-old, Brady completed 16 of 36 passes for 267 yards and zero touchdowns. His .444 completion percentage was the sixth-worst in his 272-game career (including playoffs).
"We had it handed to us on our own field," he said. "It's a terrible feeling, and the only people that can do something about it are in that locker room. We've got to dig a lot deeper than we did, because we didn't dig very deep tonight."
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