- Kansas City’s shock win over the Patriots was marred by the loss of their best defensive player, and the potential replacements, either on the roster or from the street, can’t possibly match what he brings
Among the biggest plays in Thursday’s surprise Chiefs win in New England (and perhaps the biggest, given the early momentum) came when Kansas City safety Eric Berry stalemated RB Mike Gillislee on a early 4th-and-1.
It was the type of moment the Chiefs have come to expect from Berry, who also drew the assignment of slowing down Rob Gronkowski much of the night. Berry is a versatile, intelligent defender, and is borderline irreplaceable.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, they’ll now have to find some way to try to fill Berry’s shoes. Andy Reid confirmed Friday that Berry ruptured his Achilles in the second half, as was the fear when Berry came up hobbling and had to be carted off.
There is no easy fix here. The “next man up” approach could push Daniel Sorensen into a more prominent role—he stepped into expanded duty as a sub-package linebacker last year after Derrick Johnson suffered an injury. Eric Murray, a 2016 fourth-rounder, is the other possibility. The Chiefs roll three safeties a decent amount, so they’ll need to add depth, if not a bigger name.
Among those names, though, are the likes of current free agents Rashad Johnson and Jairus Byrd. Johnson was among the more underrated safeties in the league during a long stint with the Cardinals, but a 2016 stop in Tennessee proved far less productive.
But, to reiterate, anything the Chiefs come up with will be a stopgap measure compared to the impact offered by Berry. After his bout with Hodgkin’s lymphoma sidelined him during the 2014 season, he was named Comeback Player of the Year in ’15 and was a first-team All-Pro last season, his such nod since entering the league in 2010.
Few safeties in the NFL can match up with Gronkowski-caliber talents and hold their own. Berry provided a physical battle for Gronk, but did so without racking up penalties, even on a night in which the Chiefs were hit with 15 flags.
Beyond the X’s and O’s, Berry is an emotional leader on that Kansas City defense.
A productive pass rush could help Kansas City offset Berry’s loss in the secondary. Justin Houston’s stellar showing vs. the Patriots certainly provides hope there.
If there is anything of a silver lining for Berry himself, it’s that he just signed a $78 million extension this offseason—a long-term injury like this one without stability for the future can be devastating for a player. He’s still just 28 and is signed through 2022, so there will be a place for Berry back at his usual spot once he’s healthy.
That doesn’t do much for the Chiefs this year, though. They believed they were Super Bowl contenders before Thursday, and a lot more people figure to have that view after their upset win. To maintain that status, however, they’ll have to figure out how to plug the gap left by arguably their most important defender.
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