By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots have posted mostly below-average grades on the road this season. And now, they head to Arrowhead Stadium for finals.
It should be their toughest road test of the entire season. All five of the Patriots’ losses in the 2018 regular season came on the road, and they were all to non-playoff teams. This time they get the No. 1 seed Chiefs, in soon-to-be-arctic Kansas City, led by top MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. Fortunately they’ve already proven capable of beating this team, but beating them on their own field should be a different beast.
The Patriots are also likely to get the loudest crowd they’ve dealt with all season. It’s hard to find any stadium in America that cranks more decibels than Arrowhead. In fact, Guinness recognizes the crowd noise from the Chiefs’ 2014 beatdown on the Patriots as the loudest ever recorded at a sports stadium (142.2 decibels).
Communication will be an entirely new challenge, especially on the offensive side of the ball. But it’ll be key in all three phases. It certainly will be for a defense that settled in and dominated after an early communication breakdown against the Chargers. Now they have to slow down the NFL’s most explosive offense.
“We understand that in order to be successful, you’ve got to start off with good communication,” said defensive end Trey Flowers after the Patriots’ 41-28 win over L.A. “As far as the defense, everyone’s got to be on the same page. That’s important going into next week. We understand we’re going to have a hostile crowd, but we’ve just got to turn the communication up that much [more].”
This won’t be the first time the Patriots had to deal with crowd noise this season. Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, and Hard Rock Stadium in Miami are among the louder environments in the league, definitely among the toughest the Patriots dealt with this season. The hope, now, is that it helped them prepare for what’s to come in Kansas City.
“Every environment’s different,” said Flowers. “Obviously it’s the playoffs. It’s going to be just as loud or louder. Just got to be able to execute well in that environment, understand that we’ve got to be on our A-game.”
With the crowd noise and unfamiliar environment, the real test will be for the Patriots offense. Penalties and miscues showed up more often on the road than at home this season, especially as the season went along. Blame for the team’s 17-10 road loss to the Steelers can be squarely placed on the offense. It looked strangely un-Patriot-like, despite facing an opponent they’d historically succeeded against and playing so late in the season.
For at least one round in January, the offense figured things out.
But they figured it out at home.
As impeccable as the entire offense looked against the Chargers, executing at that level of flawlessness is an entirely different challenge in Arrowhead Stadium. Few on the Patriots know that better than Tom Brady, whose last trek to Kansas City resulted in one of the most infamous losses of his career.
By the way, if you didn’t want to hear about the Kansas City Massacre of 2014 – which launched some of the most infamous hot takes of this entire Patriots run – then your best course of action is to just go off the grid until Sunday.
“That was a pretty crappy loss that night,” said Brady, recalling the now-famous defeat that sparked the team’s resilient run to its fourth Super Bowl championship. “We’ve had some other ones. I think we showed a lot of perseverance, a lot of toughness. This team is showing it. We’ve had some tough losses this year too but you just keep fighting. That’s what football is all about.
“We played good today. That’s why we won and Kansas City’s had a hell of a year. … It’ll be a tough game. They’re well-coached. They’ve got a good offense. They played well defensively against the Colts. It’s going to be a lot of fun to go back there and play in a championship game and try to advance.”
The Patriots ended up 3-5 on the road this season. They did come within the Miami Miracle of finishing a perfectly average 4-4. But that play was emblematic of how different this team has looked away from Gillette Stadium.
And although that play was on the defense, the biggest statement in this game needs to come from Brady and the offense. They averaged just 19 points on the road as a unit, and if would be fairly stunning if that number was good enough to outscore Mahomes and the Chiefs offense on Sunday.
Bright side? The Patriots are heading into the AFC Championship Game on the highest of notes. But there were too many downturns away from Foxborough to assume that they’ll bring the same performance with them on the road. They’ve put themselves in a position where they need to crush that narrative.
But they’ve made a point to crush some narratives lately. They’re one crushing away from going to their third straight Super Bowl.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.