Gridiron Audibles: Moving on to the Chiefs

GRIDIRON AUDIBLES by Christian A. Guarino
GRIDIRON AUDIBLES by Christian A. Guarino

After 474 days, we’re finally moving on to Kansas City. And I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way.

When the Patriots divisional round matchup was confirmed following the Pittsburgh Steelers dramatic 18-16 win over the hapless Cincinnati Bungles, ahem I mean Bengals, fans across the 6-state region of New England let out a collective gasp.

Not the Chiefs!

Not the team that demolished the Patriots 41-14 at Arrowhead Stadium in September of 2014. In that game the Chiefs struck early, piling up 303 yards in the first half on their way to 443 total yards. Those 303 yards remain the highest first half total surrendered by a Bill Belichick defense. The games outcome marked what many called the end of the dynasty for New England. Super Bowl XLIX dissuaded that talk.

With his team scheduled to kick off against the Chiefs this Saturday at 4:35 pm, Belichick, sporting a black eye (what’s up with that?), dismissed the notion of past accomplishments or failures playing a role in this game. “I don’t think any of that really matters at all. We haven’t played Kansas City (this season), so it doesn’t matter what we did against somebody else or didn’t do against somebody else. It will all come down to how we match up and how we perform against the Chiefs. That’s really all we’re looking at. I don’t really care how it went in some other game.”

Fueling fans, the apprehensive media in these parts have pushed the ‘Patriots don’t want to play the Chiefs’ agenda by regurgitating stats and other examples geared to aid their case. Primary of these being that game from 18-months ago, mixed in with the Chiefs current 11-game winning streak and their fresh off the presses manhandling of the Houston Texans 30-0 last Saturday.

Wait…I just did the same thing. Heck, looking at all these numbers is starting to make me weary of the game.

Excuse me for pumping the brakes, but those were the Texans that Kansas City just beat. Yes, the 9-7, cream of the AFC South trash heap Texans quarterbacked by Brian Hoyer.

I know the past month has been rough, a 2-4 finish will have that effect, and coupled with a shaky offensive line and the prospect of facing a resurgent Chiefs defense with playmakers at all three levels, has Patriots fans running scared. A once confident fan base wearing red, white and blue are now mopping around waiting for what they perceive to be an inevitable failure.

As tough as the Chiefs have been defensively down the stretch of the 2015 season, the Patriots offense will easily be the toughest challenge they have faced in three months. The Chiefs have grown accustomed to running over the bottom feeders in the NFL. Those games have helped pad stats, like ranking fifth in takeaways with 29. Well Brady and company rarely turn the ball over, leading the league with only 14 giveaways.

“They force you into mistakes. They have a lot of playmakers on defense,” said a typically politically correct Brady during his weekly segment on WEEI sports radio. “You can’t fall asleep for one play or else it’s a turnover and they turn those into points. Then you get behind and it’s a one-dimensional game, and it just snowballs.”

While the Patriots have looked rather putrid in their last two games, the week off ensured the return of injured stars, wide receiver Julian Edelman and linebacker Dont’a Hightower, arguably the two most impactful players on offense and defense respectively.

Conversely, the Chiefs may be without injured star wide receiver Jeremy Maclin who suffered a high ankle sprain in the third quarter of the win over Houston. Maclin led the Chiefs in receptions (87), receiving yards (1,088) and receiving touchdowns (8). The Chiefs main playmaker, his potential absence coupled with the mid-season loss of running back Jamaal Charles, will make stopping tight end Travis Kelce the primary objective for safety Patrick Chung and the rest of the Patriots pass coverage.

“Kelce’s good. He’s explosive, good hands, good run-after-the-catch. That’s the key with him. That team wouldn’t be in the playoffs if he wasn’t– we’ve just got to try to limit his production as best we can.”

Notice I didn’t even mention Gronk’s effect on this game.

So sure, it would have been relatively effortless to play the Texans and only moderately more problematic to face the Bengals, but as “easy” as those matchups would have been this one is the one you should want.

Fear not Patriots fans, your football team respects the Chiefs but doesn’t cower at the thought of playing them and neither should you.

Now say it confidently…We’re moving on to the Chiefs.

Oh, and bring on the Broncos.

Christian A. Guarino, a Boston North End resident, writes about football and soccer for the Boston Post Gazette.