Whether the Patriots are playing in Foxborough, Kansas City, or elsewhere, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels says there’s no denying the importance of getting off to a strong start.
“Playing well is more important than the venue, so if we can go out there and execute what we’re doing and get out in front, then that’s always a positive regardless of the site of the game,” McDaniels said on a conference call Monday.
Against the Los Angeles Chargers in the divisional round Sunday, the Patriots couldn’t have asked for a better opening half, tallying touchdowns on each of their first four drives. With scores from Rex Burkhead, Phillip Dorsett, and Sony Michel, New England racked up 35 points and punted only once in the first 30 minutes. McDaniels noted that by executing the game plan well early, the team was able to alleviate a sense of urgency later on.
“For us to go out there and get off to a decent start, I think that lends itself to having the ability to stay with things and balance out everything as you go,” McDaniels said. “If you fall behind, certainly it’s tougher. The better you start, the more chance you have to be patient and allow things to kind of develop as the game goes on.”
So, what was the secret behind New England’s prolific production right off the bat? According to McDaniels, there’s no sure-fire approach to the offense. The coaching staff aims to provide players with a digestible game plan that allows them to “play fast and be aggressive.”
“I think in any of these games where you’re playing a one-game season, it’s always best to try to start fast, however you choose to that — run, pass, or some other way of doing it,” McDaniels said. “There’s no magic plays and the guys know that. In order to start well, we have to play well.”
Against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship next Sunday, the Patriots will face an additional challenge: the crowd at Arrowhead Stadium. The last three conference championship games New England played on the road — all against retired quarterback Peyton Manning — resulted in losses. McDaniels, however, expressed confidence in the team’s ability to manage the ruckus that comes with playing away from Gillette Stadium.
“There’s noise in all the other stadiums,” McDaniels said. “There’s going to be noise in this one. We know that. We’ve experienced it before. But we know how to handle that, and again, it comes down to how well we play this week. It doesn’t matter any other week that we’ve played, the last game we played them or there or some other place on the road. What matters is how our team this week can prepare and then go out and perform and execute on Sunday night.”
The Patriots finished the season perfect at home but 3-5 everywhere else.
On to Kansas City
Asked to identify what stands out to him about the top-seeded Chiefs, safeties coach Steve Belichick couldn’t pinpoint just one thing about Kansas City’s offense.
“Honestly, everything,” Belichick said. “They do everything well. They’re doing everything at a high level right now. I remember last time getting ready for them, [Patrick] Mahomes was completing left-handed passes for first downs. Now, he’s completing no-look passes.”
In his second year in the league, Mahomes threw a league-best 50 touchdowns this season. He completed 66 percent of his passes for 5,097 yards — just 32 yards behind league leader Ben Roethlisberger. Among the pass catchers in his arsenal are tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who both recorded at least 10 touchdowns and 1,300 receiving yards this season.
“They scored 40 points on us [in October], so we have our work cut out for us,” Belichick said. “It just keeps getting more and more challenging with these guys. They’re playing at a high level. They’re the best team we’ve played, obviously, so we’re looking forward to the challenge, but they sure do present a big challenge.”
Like McDaniels, Belichick stressed the importance of mitigating a potentially hostile road environment. For his position group, he wants the players to remain calm no matter the last series.
“I can’t even put into words how important it is — just keeping your poise [and] playing the next play,” Belichick said. “There’s just endless examples of things that happen that no one thought would in football games. So, you’ve just got to play the next play, live the next down, and give your best.”
The Patriots-Chargers game delivered a 45.9 local household rating and 76 market share in the Boston television market Sunday, which marked the team’s highest rating of the year and the team’s highest divisional-round rating since the 2012 season. The game averaged 1.8 million viewers.