FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bill Belichick seemed to anticipate what was coming, and he quickly made it known that he won’t be playing along with the narrative leading into Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
His New England Patriots are 3-5 on the road this season, marking the first time since 2009 that one of his squads has accrued a losing record away from home. So, he was asked, is better execution on the road a point of emphasis this week?
“We try to play well every week, so that’s what we’re going to do this week,” Belichick said in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI, swatting away the topic. “At home. On the road. We try to play well every week in all three phases.”
The Patriots have obviously accomplished that goal much better at Gillette Stadium, where they were 9-0 (including playoffs) this season. At home, the challenge of pre-snap communication isn’t as daunting.
One of the obvious questions this week is whether the Patriots can put together the type of decisive performance they did against the Chargers when they face the Chiefs in one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. Quarterback Tom Brady recently said one key characteristic of road games is that things can change on one play, and the energy of the crowd can create a tidal-wave effect. The Patriots will need to have the mental toughness to counter such a situation, as they did in road wins this season against the Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.
As for the road losses, the most devastating came on a final-play, 69-yard touchdown to the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 9, a costly miscue that played a significant role in the AFC Championship Game taking place in Kansas City instead of New England.
The Patriots lost at Pittsburgh the following week in a game that Brady said basically came down to one play. Brady recently explained that if each of those two games had flipped on one play, the Patriots’ home-vs.-road narrative wouldn’t be what it now is.
Meanwhile, road losses against the Jaguars (Week 2) and Lions (Week 3) came when the team was still forming — Julian Edelman was serving a four-game NFL suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing-substances policy, and Josh Gordon had just been acquired in a trade. So, though those games shouldn’t simply be dismissed, the timing of when they were played adds context.
But there was no sugarcoating a Week 10 loss in Tennessee, which was a dud from start to finish. Brady said the team was physically outplayed throughout.
New England’s uneven performance on the road throughout the 2018 season is one reason Brady and the Patriots are a three-point underdog, per Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. This game will break a streak in which Brady has been favored in 67 consecutive starts, dating back to the 2015 season (the longest such streak by a quarterback in the Super Bowl era).
“We play half our games on the road, half at home. We’ve been in those situations, both ways, plenty of times, as have all of our opponents,” Belichick said Monday in his day-after-game conference call. “It is what it is. We’ll deal with the conditions as they come up just like we always do.”
He added in his weekly radio interview: “Again, I think the most important thing this week is to be ready to play the Chiefs. Whatever the weather is, whatever everything else is, it is. We can control our preparation and performance.
“The hardest thing about playing at Arrowhead is the Chiefs, and they are a great football team, the top seed in the AFC this year. Obviously they’re very good. Playing them anywhere is hard. We’re going to have to do a great job competing against the Chiefs and whatever else it is, it is — weather, crowd noise, there’s nothing we can do about any of that. What we can control is our performance and our execution, and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”