The last time the Patriots faced the Kansas City Chiefs, Rex Burkhead rumbled into the end zone for an overtime touchdown, sending the Patriots to Super Bowl LII with a 37-31 win at Arrowhead Stadium.
On Sunday, the teams will meet for a rematch of January’s epic AFC Championship in a game that was circled on NFL calendars when the schedule was released in April.
Both games last season (the Patriots also beat the Chiefs, 43-40, in Week 6) followed a similar script. The Patriots built a comfortable halftime lead, the Chiefs offense had a prolific second half, and the Patriots won on the game’s final play.
In a conference call with New England media on Wednesday, Chiefs coach Andy Reid discussed the importance of starting fast when he was asked whether the inexperience of quarterback Patrick Mahomes played a factor in the slow starts last season.
“I don’t know, We’ll have to see – see how it goes, you know,” Reid said. “We’ll have to see, see how we play. We’ve got to get ourselves ready. We’ve got to get through this week and get ourselves ready to play. You never go in and say, ‘Listen, we’re going to start slow.’ I haven’t done that – we always try to do that [start fast]. I think our players try to do that. We’re not going to change that part. We’re going to try to do it the best we can.”
The Chiefs enter Sunday’s game ranked fourth in the league in yards per game (384.7) and third in points per game (29), but they’ll have a tough challenge against the league’s top defense on the road. Reid had high praise for the Patriots defense and play-caller Bill Belichick.
“Lights out, man. They’re playing great. They’ve done a great job,” Reid said. “Yeah, you’re talking about the best in the business. He’s done a heck of a job, and I’m sure he’s enjoying it … You can see him doing some different things, yeah, sure. Putting the things that – there are things that he likes that you can tell, which is with every play-caller. You see certain things that they favor over maybe a different guy.”
The 10-2 Patriots are currently the No. 2 seed in the AFC, while the 8-4 Chiefs sit in the No. 4 spot, which means Sunday’s matchup will have a pivotal factor on the playoff picture. The Chiefs know this game is important if they want to reach their goal of winning the Super Bowl.
“We have to beat them,” Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins said. “It’s something we have to do. The path that we want to go on, the things we want to achieve this year, this is a have-to win.”
Mahomes echoed his receivers’ comments about the importance of beating the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
“As far as it looks, you’re going to have to go there to win at some point,” Mahomes said. “It’s kind of been a thing where we came close last year. When Alex [Smith] was here, we did get to go there and get the win [in 2017]. So the guys on the team know how to. It’s about trying to find the best way to do it.”
It's on. pic.twitter.com/2Sm7VH2BWw
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) December 4, 2019
Following the Patriots’ loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday night, the takes poured in about Tom Brady’s decline and the struggles of the Patriots offense, but the Chiefs aren’t buying it.
“It’s a myth,” cornerback Bashaud Breeland said. “People said the same thing about Aaron Rodgers. He’d have slow starts, and then he’d turn it on. Once you’re a GOAT (greatest of all-time) and you have that GOAT status, at any moment you can turn it on. Brady can hit that switch anytime he’s ready.”
Defensive end Alex Okafor believes the Patriots’ offense is just finding its footing.
“I think they’re a team just trying to find their identity,” Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor said. “When you watch film, you see different variations of things across the board. Some things are working for them, some aren’t, but don’t get it twisted because they’re still the Pats. We’re preparing for that same team.”
The Chiefs defense allowed 80 points in the two games against the Patriots last season, and they’ve upgraded that unit by acquiring defensive end Frank Clark and safety Tyrann Mathieu. Kansas City is 16th in points allowed per game (22.8) this season after finishing 24th (26.3 points per game) in the same category last season
“It will say a lot about where we are as a team,” Mathieu said. “This is a good test for us going forward. They present a lot of different things. They’re a game plan team. They’re going to try to target what they feel are the weaknesses in our players … If we can succeed against a team like this, a good team, a quality team, a championship team, then you realize you can do it against anybody.”
This will be the third time Mahomes and Brady face off, and the 42-year old Brady has a 2-0 record against the reigning NFL MVP. Mahomes doesn’t believe this will be the final matchup between the two.
“I’ve known for a while that it’s not going be the last year any time soon,” Mahomes said. “I mean, he’s still playing at a high level. Unless he just doesn’t want to play, which I don’t see, I expect to see him for at least a couple more years. Whenever you play a guy like this, who’s won all these championships, you want to go out there and give your best effort, obviously, and you want to try to find a way to win.”
Kickoff between the Patriots and Chiefs is schedule for 4:25 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.