In late September and with the New England Patriots coming off their second straight loss to drop to 1-2, we wrote an article addressing the team’s slow starts — and comparing them to the NFL’s most prolific offense, the Kansas City Chiefs’. The story titled The Patriots are the anti-Chiefs noted that finding themselves in a hole early on was a recurring theme during New England’s road losses against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Detroit Lions.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, were the best first quarter team in the league at that point — something they still are four months later. Heading into this week, Kansas City scores an average of 9.5 points in the first period while surrendering just 3.3. The point differential of 6.2 is clearly the highest in the league and head and shoulders above the second ranked Dallas Cowboys and their +3.3 mark.
The Chiefs’ quick starts continued into the playoffs, on both sides of the ball. In the divisional round against the Indianapolis Colts, the team jumped to a 17-0 lead before the opponent had even gained a first down. Safe to say that getting into the games quickly is an integral recipe for head coach Andy Reid’s formula to success this season — and something that the Patriots need to withstand on Sunday as best they can.
“You always want to start fast. You always want to play from ahead. You always want to get off to a good start,” Bill Belichick said during his press conference earlier today. “But I think these are 60 minute games and this time of year you’re going to have to battle all the way through, but it’s always good to try to get off to a good start. There is, I think, historically no better fast starting team than the Chiefs.”
Limiting the team early in Sunday’s game will not be an easy task, even though New England looked tremendous to start its divisional round game: the Patriots found the end zone on four consecutive drives against one of the NFL’s better defenses, all while the Los Angeles Chargers were able to score a grand total of seven first half points. Before Los Angeles added points to the scoreboard again, the club was already down 38-7.
For the Patriots, this was the best start into a game all year and a clear improvement when compared to their inconsistencies in this particular area earlier during the year. Overall, New England ranks just eighth in the league in first quarter scoring differential at +0.9. Their performance against L.A. is therefore one the team needs to find a way to replicate on Sunday. After all, a quick start in all three phases will be imperative on the road against Kansas City — for multiple reasons.
The first and most obvious is the crowd. Arrowhead Stadium is as loud a venue as there is in the NFL, and might be even more so in the first conference title game the club has reached since 1993. Taking the crowd aspect out of the game early is something that would make New England’s job easier — even though Belichick recently brushed off the potential impact noise might have on a game and the team’s performance particularly on offense.
That being said, just think back to the AFC title game three years ago: playing at Denver’s Mile High Stadium, the Patriots needed to go to a silent snap count after failing to get off to a positive start. While center David Andrews will likely not tip off the snap in a way Bryan Stork did against the Broncos, giving the crowd a reason to stay fully invested in the game from start to finish can ultimately be a disadvantage for a team. It certainly was in January 2016.
Another reason why it is important to get off to a quick start — which against the Chiefs pretty much constitutes keeping it a one-score game — is that it forces Kansas City to play a game it is comparatively unfamiliar with: the Chiefs function best when they play from ahead as they can pin their ears back and go after the quarterback more aggressively on defense, all while controlling the ball, clock and rhythm on offense.
“Coach Reid’s always done a great job of [starting quickly] and they’ve outscored their opponents by I think it’s about 100 points or so this year. That’s a big advantage to play the last three quarters with. Certainly we don’t want to be in that position, nor do they I’m sure,” said Belichick about Kansas City’s fast starts — and his numbers were only off by 5 points: the Chiefs outscored their opponents by a total of 105 points in first quarters this season.
The total number of points only tells one part of the story, though. In its 17 games this season, Kansas City also took a multi-score lead into the second quarter on six occasions — New England, for comparison, did the same just once (last Sunday) — and was down after 15 minutes just four times. The Chiefs are used to playing from ahead, and they do a marvelous job at it whenever they get the opportunity.
New England can therefore not afford to play into Kansas City’s hands this week, even though Belichick also noted that a game is not decided in the first 15 minutes. “Everybody’s going to compete for 60 minutes or longer, however long it takes this weekend and that’s what we have to be ready for,” the Patriots’ coach said. “But yeah, of course we want to do well early and we want to do well in the fourth quarter too.”