KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There are many places one could start when assessing the embarrassing performance turned in by the New England Patriots in their 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. It's all fair game, from quarterback Tom Brady to the overmatched defense.
But we're starting on the sidelines with Bill Belichick and his coaching staff.
This is what Belichick said in his pregame radio interview on the Sports Hub: "I think our guys are ready to go. It's been a long week, but I feel like we have improved in a lot of areas, so hopefully, we will see that tonight."
We didn't. Instead, we saw one of the ugliest games of Belichick's 15-year coaching tenure, another slow start and, ultimately, a postgame locker room in which some players acknowledged they don't know what they are right now, on either side of the ball.
That seems to be true with the coaching staff as well, specifically on offense.
This is a time of identity crisis.
The Patriots, under coordinator Josh McDaniels, have long prided themselves on being a game-plan offense that varies its attack on a weekly basis to exploit the opposition's weakness. The key has been having the varied and talented personnel to pull that off, but after Monday night, it seems obvious that those forces aren't currently in alignment.
One example: The Patriots entered with the intention of throwing the ball -- likely with the belief that the Chiefs' linebackers and secondary depth were areas of vulnerability -- as evidenced by having Brady in the shotgun on 17 of 23 first-half snaps (including penalties). It was a risky approach given the environment, a raucous Arrowhead Stadium that set the outdoor record for loudest crowd roar, for a team with just three pure receivers active.
In going that route, the Patriots never truly committed to a running game, or gave an offensive line that was starting rookies Bryan Stork (center) and Cameron Fleming (right guard) a chance to establish itself physically and settle things down. By halftime, when it was 17-0, it was too late to truly try.
Maybe it's not a coincidence that the Patriots' most consistent offensive performance this season, Week 2 against Minnesota, came when the game plan seemed most simple. The Patriots loaded the field with heavy personnel that day, got the play-action passing game going and achieved the desired balance.
On Monday night, there was hardly any balance -- seven runs at halftime against 15 pass attempts. By game's end, after Brady was pulled in the fourth quarter for rookie Jimmy Garoppolo, it was 16 rushes against 30 pass attempts.
Considering some of Brady's struggles, it again speaks to the identity crisis on offense and leads us to the conclusion that maybe the coaches are out-thinking themselves based on their personnel.
Brady completed just one of seven passes more than 10 yards down the field Monday and has now connected on a league-low 32 percent of such passes. Furthermore, according to ESPN's Stats & Information, Brady's off-target percentage (25.5) is second highest among quarterbacks to start every game this season and is four percentage points higher than he's had any season since 2006, when ESPN began tracking that data.
Some of that is on Brady himself, as his 11.6 total QBR on Monday was his lowest in a game since 2007. But it also speaks to the players around him -- from the offensive line to those catching the passes -- as nothing is clicking.
How to start the process of getting back on track?
Brady talked after the game about "finding out what we do well consistently" and then building from there, and it obviously starts with the coaching staff correctly identifying what that is. This is a position Kansas City's Andy Reid, whose offensive plan kept the Patriots off balance all day, has been in before.
"I've got the ultimate respect for Bill Belichick. We know the quality not only the coach that he is and the coaches that he has, but also their players," Reid said. "Sometimes, things get a little one-sided in the National Football League, but he still has a very good football team. I think they prove out with time."
Maybe it will, but an ugly performance like Monday's still leaves a mark.
Belichick thought the Patriots were ready to go, but they clearly weren't, which further speaks to the overall disconnect between the sideline and the field.