New England Patriots

By Matt McCarthy,

The Patriots defense cost Tom Brady a sixth Lombardi trophy 11 months ago. On Sunday, it will be on them to give Brady another chance at a Super Bowl ring.

Whether or not the Pats defense plays well in Kansas City will be the determining factor in whether the Patriots win or lose.

Here’s what I know for sure: getting into a shootout with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs on the road is asking for trouble. The Patriots escaped their shootout with the Chiefs in Foxboro with a win, but I don’t like their chances of winning the same type of game away from home.

Here’s what I don’t know for sure: whether this Patriots defense is actually any good.

The stats will tell you they are good. The Pats ranked seventh in the NFL in points allowed this year. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

They’ve contained strong offenses such as the Chargers, Steelers, and even this Chiefs offense for a half earlier in the year. Slowing down Kansas City for half a game is a hell of a lot more than most units around the NFL can say.

Oct 14, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower (54) is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs tight end Demetrius Harris (84) after Hightower caught an interception thrown by quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

But at the same time, they’ve been putrid against lousy offenses. They let Blake Bortles shred them in Jacksonville. Matt Stafford ripped them apart in Detroit. They made Mitchell Trubisky look like Michael Vick in Chicago. Marcus Mariota looked like a world beater against this defense. Ryan Tannehill of all quarterbacks put up 34 points against them.

What gives?

And all of those bad performances happened on the road. Isn’t there an old adage in sports that defense travels?

Not this defense, apparently.

They’ve shown at times they can’t stop the run. They became the first team in five years to let a Lion go off for 100 yards on the ground. Some no-name guy named Samuels gashed them in Pittsburgh. I can’t remember his first name. I won’t even bother to look it up because he’s a nobody, but he’s a nobody who owned this Patriots defense.

The Patriots are going to have to get stops on Sunday. To win this game, the defense will have to come through in a big way.

Even the great Tom Brady can’t win every game by himself. Super Bowl LII is proof of that.

What there is no proof of is whether this Patriots defense is good enough, or perhaps consistent enough, to stop one of the best offenses in the NFL on the road. They were good enough for a half in October in Foxboro, and then they weren’t good enough in the next half.

We’ll see which version shows up on Sunday. A trip to the Super Bowl depends on it.

You can hear Matt McCarthy on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MattMcCarthy985.