The New England Patriots are no strangers to facing hostile environments on the road. After all, they are by far the most successful team of the 21st century and encounter a mix of jealousy and hatred nearly everywhere they go. In that sense, they are well prepared for their upcoming AFC Championship matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. However, traveling to Arrowhead Stadium is still a bit different than your run-of-the-mill road game.
After all, the stadium is known to be one of the most hostile venues in all of football and arguably the loudest in the NFL. And Sunday’s game makes for a perfect combination: not only are the Patriots coming to town, Kansas City is also hosting its first ever conference championship game. It is not a stretch of the imagination to say that Arrowhead Stadium will be at its loudest tomorrow — and the Patriots know they need to be ready.
“I would certainly agree that it’s the loudest in the country based off of my experiences in this league,” said special teams ace Matthew Slater earlier this week. Wide receiver Julian Edelman echoed Slater’s remarks on Friday. “It’s going to be a hostile environment. You expect that. They have an unbelievable fan base over there that loves their football just as ours, so you know they’re going to be all riled up.”
Both Slater and Edelman have experience playing at Arrowhead: they were both with the team when it was defeated 41-14 in week four of the 2014 season (one that nevertheless ended in a world championship for New England). That day, the Kansas City faithful broke the world record for loudest roar in a stadium — and it would not be a surprise if tomorrow rivaled that Monday night four years ago.
“I can imagine it’s pretty loud there. I’ve heard about it. I’ve never played there, but I’ve heard it gets pretty loud,” said one of the Patriots who has no experience of traveling to Kansas City, Shaq Mason. The starting right guard was still in college the last time New England played at Arrowhead, but he is well aware that the team has to be well prepared for the noise and the issues it can create especially in regards to communication.
“Communication is going to be tough but it just goes to us being a solid unit and relaying back to all of the things that we worked on this week [...] we’re very much looking forward to the task at hand,” Mason said. The 25-year old, who will have to go against one of the most talented defensive lines in football on Sunday, was not the only player to mention the preparatory work the Patriots did this week in order to prepare for the noise.
“You try to do everything in your power during the week. Coach has the stereo blaring and working on nonverbal communication and all of those types of things,” the aforementioned Julian Edelman said. Center man David Andrews, who like Mason joined the Patriots after their last trip to Missouri, also pointed out that the team has to make sure it in-week preparation is applied correctly on Sunday as not to have the noise impact the game.
“I think you just have to be very thorough. You can’t leave anything assumed and need to make sure everybody’s on the same page. You can’t work on a snap count so you have to be on the silent but I think that’s something we can do a good job of,” Andrews said. Like the rest of his teammates speaking to the media, however, he also acknowledged that playing at a noisy Arrowhead Stadium will be a test.
“It’ll be a big challenge. It’s going to be a great environment for a football game, that’s for sure,” the 26-year old team captain, who joined the Patriots alongside Mason as part of New England’s 2015 rookie class, said. “I’ve never been [to Arrowhead], so I don’t know what the atmosphere is like there, but I’m sure it will be loud and we are prepared for it. On Sunday we are going to do the things we’ve done in practice.”
“It’s going to be loud, man. Their fans, their stadium, it’s a great atmosphere. We know that going into it,” said safety Patrick Chung before also adding the team’s common theme this week: it will not let the noise become a factor. “Really it means nothing. We’re going out there to win a game, and they’re trying to win, also. It’s going to be a battle. Home or away, it doesn’t matter. It’s win or go home. So, we’re going to show up to play.”
Matthew Slater shared Chung’s thoughts on the team’s abilities to counter the atmosphere. “The one thing that we can do to control that is to try to play well and execute at a high level starting from the opening kickoff. Knowing we are going to have to deal with it at some point, we’ve worked hard to prepare ourselves to deal with so we will see how it goes,” the 33-year old team captain said.
Executing at a high level from the very first snap will be a key for the Patriots to take the crowd factor out of the equation as well as possible. What also adds to this is the fact that Kansas City is the fastest-starting team in the NFL — one that outscores its opponent by an average of nearly a touchdown in the first quarter this season — and generally built for playing with a lead, especially when it comes to its pass defense.
But for all that has been made of the noise at Arrowhead Stadium, leave it to Bill Belichick to put it all into perspective. “I think it’s about the team you play,” the Patriots’ head coach told reporters on Friday. “The Chiefs are good, so they’re tough. If you play them anywhere, they’re tough. They were tough here.”