One Minute Preview (AFC Championship Edition): New England Patriots
Coach Andy Reid held up two fingers in the Arrowhead Stadium locker room following the Chiefs’ 31-13 win over the Indianapolis Colts in Saturday’s AFC divisional-round playoff game.
“Two more,” Reid told his team.
Indeed, for the Chiefs to be NFL champions, they’ll need to win two more games, including the Super Bowl. To get to Super Bowl LIII, the Chiefs will have to beat the New England Patriots in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium.
That’s the two-time defending AFC champion Patriots, who will be playing in their eighth straight AFC title game.
Here are five things to know about the Patriots ahead of Sunday’s game, which kicks off at 5:40 p.m. and will be broadcast on CBS:
1. Tom Brady
Sunday’s contest will be the 39th postseason game for New England quarterback Tom Brady.
Brady, 41, completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 4,355 yards with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season. However, his 97.7 passer rating was his worst since 2014 (97.4).
The NFL Network reported Sunday that Brady had “battled an MCL sprain, sources say, one that took him a few weeks to overcome.” The report said Brady was “healed” now, and there was no structural damage.
On Sunday, Brady looked like his, well, old self. He completed 34 of 44 passes for 343 yards and a touchdown.
New England’s offensive line is ranked first in the NFL in pass-blocking by Football Outsiders. The Patriots would do well to continue to protect Brady from the Chiefs’ fierce pass rush, because Brady has excelled in a clean pocket, as this stat shows:
2. Running wild
While the knee injury limited Brady, the Patriots’ rushing game pounded out 517 yards in their final two regular-season games.
New England ran for 155 yards in Sunday’s 41-28 win over the Chargers, and Sony Michel had a huge game. He rushed for 129 yards in 24 attempts with three touchdowns.
Here is one of the touchdowns:
The Patriots have used receiver Cordarrelle Patterson at running back, too. He had 21 catches for 247 yards and three touchdowns this season. He also ran the ball 42 times for 228 yards and a touchdown.
3. Pass defense
The Chargers’ Philip Rivers was the first quarterback to top 300 yards passing against the Patriots since Week 7. But most of Rivers’ yards came in the fourth quarter, when the game was out of reach.
Los Angeles had just 183 yards of offense and 14 points through three quarters. The Chargers were just the third opponent in the Patriots’ eight games to score more than 17 points.
In the regular season, New England ranked 22nd against the pass, allowing 246.4 yards per game. They allowed the seventh-fewest points (20.3 per game).
4. Gostkowski’s foot
Per the Los Angeles Times, Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski ranks second in NFL history in postseason points behind Colts (and former Pats) kicker Adam Vinatieri, who had a dreadful performance in Saturday’s loss to the Chiefs.
Gostkowski has kicked the three longest field goals in New England’s franchise history, the Times story noted, and became New England’s all-time leading scorer four years ago.
5. Taking care of the ball
New England, which was second in the AFC (fifth in the NFL) in turnover margin (plus-10), had the only two takeaways in Sunday’s game against the Chargers.
Since the start of 2013, New England is plus-seven in turnover margin in 14 playoff games. They are 11-3 in those contests. Brady hasn’t thrown an interception in the playoffs since Atlanta had a pick-six in Super Bowl LI.