The fast starts Kansas City typically manufactures are not something to take lightly.
The Chiefs have outscored opponents 161-56 in the first quarter, a key reason why they earned the top seed and home-field advantage they enjoy entering the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium against New England on Sunday.
And the Patriots are well aware.
“You always want to play from ahead. You always want to get off to a good start,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick recently told reporters. “But I think these are 60-minute games and this time of year you’re going to have to battle all the way through.”
That is where Tom Brady comes in.
“We talk about in these games, it’s not like a special play or there’s a special formula,” the five-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback told the media. “It’s just excelling at the right time.”
Few, if any, have played quarterback better than the New England great, whose ability to close out wins is unrivaled. Case in point, Week 6’s meeting between the Chiefs and Pats.
Brady drove New England to the Kansas City 9-yard line in less than three minutes, setting up Stephen Gostkowski for a walk-off 28-yard field goal that gave the Pats a 43-40 victory — handing the Chiefs their first loss of the season. New England gained 500 yards, did not punt and was not penalized. Yet the Patriots almost blew a 24-9 lead they built by, uhh, starting fast.
Don’t expect the Chiefs to buy into Brady’s claim that “everyone thinks we suck” — a startling proclamation he made immediately after New England thumped the Los Angeles Chargers 41-28 in the divisional round last weekend.
“This isn’t their first rodeo here,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid told reporters of his team’s opponent. “They have done this a few times. Arguably, if not the, one of the greatest dynasties in the history of the game.”
No question. The AFC Championship Game appearance is the eighth in a row for New England — which has played in eight Super Bowls and won five of them with Belichick and Brady.
Arctic blast predicted
Yet Kansas City is the home favorite Sunday for a night game that will be played in freezing temperatures.
The conditions only add to potential problems Patrick Mahomes could face as a first-year starting quarterback coping with the pressure attached to a conference championship game and the Super Bowl berth that goes to the winner.
But Mahomes has excelled at virtually any test he has faced this season, earning All-Pro honors after passing for more than 5,000 yards and joining Brady and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks with 50 touchdown passes in a season. Although Mahomes did not pass for a touchdown in the divisional round, he skillfully engineered a 31-13 romp over Indianapolis.
The Chiefs have averaged 35.8 points in the four matchups Reid has coached against Belichick’s Patriots, going 2-2.
With Mahomes, the Chiefs are as explosive as any time in their history, which has never before involved a conference championship appearance at home. The Chiefs’ last Super Bowl trip came after capturing the AFL title in the 1969 season, beating Minnesota in the last of four pre-merger Super Bowls.
“It means a lot to just make it this far,” linebacker Justin Houston said. “We’ve never had this opportunity. It would mean a lot to me, the organization, the city.”
Defeating perennial power New England, which is playing in its 15th conference championship game, would further punctuate that feat — and the Patriots were only 3-5 on the road this season.
Pressure on Patriots’ D
To maintain that dominance, the Patriots will attempt to keep Brady clean against a Kansas City defense good at pressuring quarterbacks but suspect in other dimensions. Defensively, the Patriots are capable of containing the run but must account for Mahomes and a deep receiving corps led by tight end Travis Kelce and wideout Tyreek Hill.
The Chiefs activated offensive guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif this week. He practiced along with two starters who missed the divisional round, running back Spencer Ware (hamstring) and free safety Eric Berry (heel).
Defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. missed the divisional round with an ankle injury and remains the Patriots’ biggest injury concern.
–Field Level Media