New England Patriots

Patriots-Chiefs takeaways: Self-inflicted mistakes doom Pats in 11th loss

Zappe fever ran out in a frustrating second half for Patriots.

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The New England Patriots weren't able to put on a good show with Taylor Swift in attendance for Sunday's Week 15 game against defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots put up a decent fight in the first half and even led 10-7 in the second quarter. But a dominant second half performance from the Chiefs earned them a 27-17 victory.

The loss drops the Patriots' record to 3-11 at the bottom of the AFC standings. It marks the first time New England has lost 11 or more games in a season since 2000, which was Bill Belichick's first as the head coach of the Patriots.

The Patriots will travel to Denver for a Christmas Eve matchup against the Broncos in Week 16. Before we look ahead to that matchup, here are four takeaways from Patriots-Chiefs.

Tale of two halves for Bailey Zappe

For the second straight week, Patriots starting quarterback Bailey Zappe played great in the first half and then average-at-best in the second half.

Zappe completed 17 of 19 pass attempts for 141 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions over the first two quarters against the Chiefs. He stood tall in the pocket and delivered accurate throws consistently. He also escaped the pocket and completed a few passes on the run.

The second half was a different story.

Zappe completed six of 12 pass attempts for just 39 yards with zero touchdowns and a costly interception. The turnover came in the third quarter and set up a first-and-goal for the Chiefs at the 7-yard line. It took Kansas City just three plays to find the end zone and increase its lead to 24-10.

Zappe still deserves to start the Patriots' final three games of the season. The offense does look better with him under center, and his ability to handle pressure in the pocket and still make a play is better than Mac Jones.

But the Patriots have to figure out why the offense looks so good early in the game and then struggles so much in the second half. Opposing defenses are making effective halftime adjustments against Zappe, and the Patriots have had no answer for that over the last two weeks.

Self-inflicted mistakes prove costly for Patriots

Penalties made the Patriots' already difficult challenge of beating the Chiefs much, much harder.

The Patriots' first penalty came on the opening kickoff. Wide receiver Jalen Reagor returned it 46 yards to midfield, but a holding penalty on Brenden Schooler negated the return and put the ball on the Patriots' 13-yard line instead of the 49-yard line. New England went three and out and punted on their first drive.

Later in the first quarter, a Demario Douglas facemask penalty stalled a promising drive and pushed the Patriots outside the red zone. That drive ended with a field goal miss by rookie kicker Chad Ryland from 41 yards out.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was penalized for intentional grounding late in the first quarter that would've resulted in third-and-long. But Mahomes' penalty was offset by an illegal contact penalty by Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones on the play. Kansas City found the end zone three plays later.

The most costly penalty came in the second quarter when Zappe did well to escape the pocket and find Hunter Henry in the end zone for a touchdown. But the play was called back because of a holding penalty on left tackle Connor McDermott. Instead of taking a 14-7 lead, the Patriots settled for a field goal at 10-7.

The Patriots forced a turnover to open the third quarter when Skyy Moore fumbled the ball and it was recovered by Patriots safety Jabrill Peppers, who returned it into KC territory. But a defensive holding penalty by rookie defensive back Alex Austin wiped it out.

New England's first turnover came in the third quarter when Zappe threw an interception that gave the Chiefs great field position at the Patriots' 7-yard line. The Chiefs scored a touchdown on a Mahomes pass to Clyde Edwards-Helaire two plays later to increase their lead to 24-10.

Self-inflicted mistakes like penalties and turnovers have cost the Patriots many wins throughout the season. They simply aren't good enough, particularly on offense, to overcome these types of errors and beat quality opponents.

Patriots should re-sign Hunter Henry

The Patriots have some key free agents in the offseason, and one of them is tight end Hunter Henry. After an excellent performance in Week 14 against the Pittsburgh Steelers when he caught three passes for 40 yards and two touchdowns, Henry found the end zone again in Week 15 with a 16-yard reception in the second quarter.

The Patriots decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the Chiefs' 16-yard line. Zappe was under pressure in the pocket but was able to deliver an accurate pass to Henry.

Henry finished with season highs of seven receptions and 66 receiving yards, plus the touchdown.

Regardless of how the Patriots decide to handle the quarterback situation going into next season, they need players like Henry on the roster. It's extremely valuable to have a sure-handed tight end who a quarterback can trust in key situations on third down and in the red zone. Henry has shown during his three seasons with the Patriots that he's a reliable target. He leads the Patriots with 17 receiving touchdowns since the start of the 2021 campaign.

The Patriots absolutely should make a strong effort to re-sign Henry. They don't have a serviceable tight end signed beyond this season, and their draft history at tight end since taking Rob Gronkowski in 2010 is pretty bad.

Does Henry want to be in New England if the franchise is about to undergo a multi-year rebuild? That remains to be seen. But there's no doubt he should be a top priority for the Patriots during the offseason.

Patriots maintain No. 2 pick in upcoming draft

Losing was actually the best outcome for the Patriots because it helped them hold on to the No. 2 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, at least for now.

The Patriots own the league's second-worst record at 3-11. The Arizona Cardinals also would fall to 3-11 on Sunday if they lose to the San Francisco 49ers in the late afternoon window.

If the Patriots and Cardinals are tied for the second-worst record after Week 15, the team with the worst strength of schedule will have the tiebreaker for the No. 2 pick. The Patriots currently have a .524 strength of schedule, while the Cardinals were at .556 entering their matchup with the 49ers.

The Patriots will be guaranteed at least a top-three pick if they lose each of their final three games. Another win would open the possibility of the Patriots sliding to the No. 4 pick.

New England still has a chance to get the No. 1 pick, too. The Carolina Panthers improved to 2-12 with an upset win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, which means the Patriots are just one game from the bottom of the league standings.

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