KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs unveil a defense that struggled against the run for much of the regular season, giving up an average of 132.1 net rushing yards per game. It ranked No. 27 in the NFL.
That same defense made monstrous strides in a 31-13 beatdown of the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC divisional playoff game last Saturday at frozen Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs yielded only 87 yards on the ground in the lopsided triumph.
Yet the Chiefs’ defense will be encountering a far different beast in the AFC Championship game: the New England Patriots and star-studded quarterback Tom Brady. Kickoff is set for 5:40 p.m. at Arrowhead in a nationally televised contest on CBS. The Chiefs also will have to defend better against the pass than they did during the regular season, allowing an average of 273.4 passing yards per game, which ranked No. 31 in the league.
Steeped in postseason lore, the Patriots are playing in their eighth-straight AFC championship game. The Patriots have a 10-4 record in conference title games in franchise history, and Brady has appeared in 13 of them, having gone on to win five Super Bowls since 2001.
“They’re a heckuva team,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said of the Patriots. “I mentioned this before, you’re talking about a dynasty, if there is such a thing, in the National Football League.
“They’ve been that. You’re talking about a head coach (Bill Belichick) that I think the world of him. I think he’s done a phenomenal job keeping that thing together. We’re getting ready to get their best shot — offense, defense and special teams.”
The Chiefs are playing in their first conference championship game in 25 years, the first time since Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana was playing in the twilight of his career in Kansas City after leading the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowl triumphs in four tries.
The Chiefs lost to the Buffalo Bills in the 1993 AFC title game, 30-13, the last of four straight AFC championships followed by Super Bowl appearances that all ended in defeat for quarterback Jim Kelly and his Bills teammates.
It all starts for the Patriots with Brady, a living legend. At 41 years old and a 19-year NFL star, Brady also has guided the Patriots to the aforementioned five Super Bowl crowns (2001, 2003, 2004, 2014 and 2016).
“I haven’t seen any decline,” Reid said. “I haven’t seen him get any slower. That’s not his deal; he’s not going to run a lot unless he has to.
“He is as accurate. He sees things better even than when he did when he was younger. I’m wearing glasses, he doesn’t. The aging hasn’t hit him. He’s an amazing guy.”
Brady, who holds the NFL playoff record for wins for a quarterback with 28, finished the 2018 regular season with 4,335 passing yards, along with 29 touchdown passes against 11 interceptions.
“It’s difficult any time you play them — whether it’s here or there — because they’re smart,” said Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston, who had two tackles, two sacks for minus-15 yards, two tackles for loss, one pass defensed and one fumble recovery vs. the Colts.
“They have a coach on the field (Brady). He sees everything. He’s been playing for a while, so there’s nothing you can throw at him that he hasn’t seen. To give us the best chance of winning we have to keep him off the field and keep our offense on the field.”
Here are Brady’s NFL records that include postseason play:
•Most combined passing yards, regular season and playoffs: 81,083
•Most passing touchdowns, regular season and playoffs: 589.
•Playoff touchdown passes: 72
•Playoff passing yards: 10,569
Comparatively-speaking, for single-season success, the Chiefs’ second-year standout quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, accumulated 5,097 passing yards, completing 383 of 580 attempts and totaling 50 touchdown passes against 12 picks.
Mahomes’ quarterback rating was 113.8 during the regular season.
Indianapolis was the top team in the NFL during the regular season for successful third-down conversions before they were shut out on nine occasions by the Chiefs.
To be successful against Brady, who gets the ball out of his hands faster than most, it should bode well for the Chiefs to try to put him in third-and-long situations.
“We have to do a great job of stopping the run,” Houston said. “If it’s third-and-short, the ball’s coming out fast.
“If you put him in third-and-long situations, then he has to hold the ball a little longer. Hopefully it will give us a little time to get there.”
The Chiefs went for it on fourth down and was successful all three times against the Colts.
“Possibly,” Reid said of going for it on fourth downs Sunday. “It’s all dependent on the situation and the game that you’re playing. Then what you have there and what you have left on your script. Every situation is different.
“I’ll tell you: I liked it last week. I can’t tell you that I’d do that this week. I’ve got to go through the whole process here and be ready for this group.”
The odds makers in Las Vegas have installed the Chiefs as three-point favorites.
“I don’t think about it too much, what people might say or think,” Brady said. “We’re playing against a very good football team, and you know, they’re the No. 1 seed for a reason.
“They’ve had a great season, and we’re going to have to go into a real tough environment and play our best football. It’s going to be a great opportunity for us and hopefully, we can take advantage of it.”