After their longtime quarterback, Tom Brady, departed for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the offseason, it was pretty easy to dismiss the New England Patriots as an AFC contender in 2020. It became even easier when no fewer than eight Patriots chose to exercise their right to opt out of the season because of coronavirus pandemic.
Despite all that, the Patriots are coming into Kansas City this Sunday with a 2-1 record. Their only loss has been to the 3-0 Seattle Seahawks — a game they could have wrestled away from Seattle on its final play.
The Kansas City Chiefs — specifically head coach Andy Reid — never doubted New England would continue to be a contender.
“[Bill Belichick] is a phenomenal coach — obviously a future Hall of Fame coach who will go down as one of the greats... ever,” Reid told reporters on Friday as the team continued its preparations for Sunday’s matchup. “I had no doubt that he would put together a good team. Sound, fundamental football — that’s what he does. He fits people into different positions and plays to their strengths.”
Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman agreed with Reid’s assessment.
“I think they’ve got a unique defense,” he said on Friday. “I think Belichick does a good job of putting guys in the right place for them to succeed. They do something different that a lot of teams don’t do: they’re good at taking away what you’re good at — [to] make you beat them in other kinds of ways. I think they do a great job of that.”
Hardman said that the key for the Chiefs to pick up their fourth victory will be to play a clean game.
“We definitely have to minimize anything — turnovers, penalties, mental mistakes, mental errors.” he said. “We’ve got to eliminate all of those. We can’t play a perfect game, but try to play as perfect as we can. That will help us out in the long run, because this team that’s coming in this week, they capitalize off of turnovers. They capitalize off of mistakes. They use that to their advantage. We can’t beat ourselves going into this game.”
Hardman said that the Chiefs offense will have to continue to do what it’s been trying to focus on doing since the season began: take what defenses will give them.
“As a team, we’ve just got to go in and take advantage of what they give us and go from there,” said the second-year receiver. “And then whenever the big play presents itself, we’ve got to capitalize on it; they’re not really a team that gives up big plays like that. Basically, we just [have to] keep nickel-and-diming all the way down the field — and I think we’ll be fine.”
On defense, the Chiefs don’t seem to be particularly worried that New England now has former NFL MVP Cam Newton — a quarterback who is famous for being a running threat. And why should they be worried?
“We’ve been tested [by mobile quarterbacks] every week,” said Chiefs defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon, noting that the team had already beaten offenses led by Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson. “It really comes down to lane integrity, In those pass rush lanes, everybody making sure that they know what lane they have — if they hop out of one, coming back into theirs — and that just goes back to us meshing together and gelling together. We know how we’re going to rush. We have a lot of plans — a lot of different games. I’m just excited to see what’s about to happen.”
Kpassagnon acknowledged that he’s been watching the 31-year-old Newton’s highlights since he was a kid, but said that he (and his fellow Chiefs defenders) approach every quarterback they face with respect.
“We know his game,” he declared. “We’ll play it.”