Chiefs' defense makes statement in Week 14 win vs. Tom Brady, Patriots

Chiefs' defense makes statement in Week 14 win vs. Tom Brady, Patriots

FOXBORO -- The message on the Kansas City Chiefs' celebratory t-shirts after Sunday's 23-16 road win over the New England Patriots said it best: "The West Is Not Enough."

The Chiefs clinched a playoff berth in Week 14 by winning the AFC West title, but this team is capable of accomplishing much bigger goals, and the reason they're equipped to do that was on full display at Gillette Stadium.

Kansas City's defense was bad last season. There's no mistake about it.

The Chiefs nearly reached Super Bowl LIII but couldn't stop Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his offense late in the fourth quarter and in overtime of the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium. Brady picked apart a lackluster Chiefs pass defense en route to a 37-31 victory. The Patriots scored 80 points combined in two games versus the Chiefs in 2018 (both wins), but Kansas City's defense showed Sunday that it's much better equipped to slow down New England's offense (or any offense with a quality quarterback) in 2019.

Why were the Chiefs able to close out this game after failing to do so with a Super Bowl berth at stake last January.

"We got some stops in this game to (close it) out and get that win in the end," Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. "We scored the first drive after we came out for the second half and didn't score again. It felt like we didn't get a first down again, and the defense stood tall. So for them, with all the different stuff that happened in the game, for them to only give up 16 points or whatever it was, it shows that they have the mentality that they're going to come back versus adversity every single time."

The Patriots held the Chiefs offense to just three points and 97 total yards in the second half Sunday. Kansas City's defense wasn't going to be bailed out by Mahomes -- the unit had to take care of business itself.

The two most important stops for the Chiefs defense came in the fourth quarter. The Patriots got the ball back trailing 23-16 with 10:06 remaining in regulation. New England picked up two first downs and reached midfield before being forced to punt. The Patriots again got the ball back trailing by seven points with 5:04 left on the clock. Brady drove his team into the red zone and faced a 4th-and-3 from the 5-yard line. Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland broke up Brady's pass intended for Julian Edelman in the end zone to seal the win for Kansas City.

"We never focus on the offense. If the offense scores, that's a plus for us," Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said. "As a defense, (our mentality is) we don't need the offense to win games for us. I feel like last year we kinda (leaned on) the offense scoring a lot of points to win games, we don't need that (right now). We, as a defense, can stand up to anyone, or any team in this league, So, when (Mahomes) throws an interception, it's OK, we'll get the ball back for you, Pat. We're going to go out there and play our ball."

The Chiefs are a top-tier Super Bowl contender. They're the only team in the NFL that's beaten both the Patriots and Baltimore Ravens. Mahomes is able to make plays no other quarterback in the league can pull off, and the offense as a whole is loaded with elite speed and playmakers at the skill positions.

The only element missing was a strong defense, and after a brutal 35-32 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 10, the coaching staff made the necessary adjustments. The improvements Kansas City's defense has made of late -- it's allowed an average of just 14 points over the last three games -- are quite encouraging for the franchise as the playoffs near.

"I can tell you that every week, we've gotten better," Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said. "We had a little hiccup in Tennessee, but other than that, it's been consistent progress forward. I think (defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) and the coaches have done a heck of a job. Most of all, the players have bought in. I mean, they were flying around making plays. They were able to get to Tom Brady and do some nice things, do some things in the run game. And ended up putting it down right there at the end and made some plays."

Chris Jones reveals why he trash talked with Tom Brady>>>

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Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Bill Belichick was there. Josh McDaniels was there. The Patriots had a large contingent down in Mobile, Ala. for this week's Senior Bowl practices (the game will air Saturday on NFL Network at 2:30 p.m.), which should come as no surprise.

Just look at how the Patriots have drafted of late. 

In 2019, they selected Jarrett Stidham, Byron Cowart and Jake Bailey -- all of whom participated in the Senior Bowl. They also signed undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers, who played in the game. 

In 2018, they grabbed Isaiah Wynn in the first round, Duke Dawson, Ja'Whaun Bentley and Braxton Berrios after they'd competed in the Senior Bowl.

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Three of their four draft picks from 2017, plus two undrafted rookies, were in the Senior Bowl. 

From 2013-16, they brought aboard 20 Senior Bowl participants as rookies.

"The great thing about the Senior Bowl is that you're seeing some of the best players," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said last spring. 

"There have actually been some underclassmen who have been incorporated into that mix. So you're seeing them against good competition and it's a different dynamic or different situation that they've been placed in. You're kind of taking them out of their environment that they've been in and kind of giving them something new and seeing how they handle it against good people."

The small-school players -- or the players who are asked to do something they didn't do much as collegians -- are the ones who have an opportunity to really land on radars during Senior Bowl work. For the Patriots, who constantly harp on the benefit of having seen players work against great competition on a regular basis when they hail from an SEC program, seeing some of the best in the country work against one another matters.

"It’s one thing if they do it against a lower-level team," Caserio said back in 2016, when asked about the Senior Bowl. "I mean, look, not all teams are created equal. Not all conferences are created equal. That’s just a fact. We can’t control that. So when you can see them actually play against really good players or good players that are at a comparable level of competition that they’re going to see every Sunday, that has to be a part of [the evaluation], no question."

The next year, the Patriots took two Senior Bowlers from smaller programs: Youngstown State's Derek Rivers and Troy's Antonio Garcia. 

"Where [the Senior Bowl] probably helps a little bit is players on a lower level that maybe haven’t competed against the same level of competition," Caserio said back in 2017. "Obviously, they’re making a big jump. . . Garcia was down there. That’s going to be a big jump in competition because this is what they’re going to be playing against. 

"With all due respect to whatever conference Youngstown State is in, there’s not a lot of NFL players in that conference. I mean, that’s just the way that it is. You’re going to have to see him against NFL competition, which the Senior Bowl is usually a pretty good indication of that because you’re talking about the top seniors in the country. It’s a part of the process. You’re not making a decision based off of that, but maybe a player who doesn’t have as much experience against that level, you’re going to see how he fares, and then you just kind of continue to move forward."

Some small-school prospects who may have caught Belichick's eye this week? 

Dayton tight end Adam Trautman was already considered one of the better tight ends in the draft class and seemed to only help his stock.

Safety Kyle Dugger -- who hails from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University -- impressed. Ditto for Division III offensive lineman Ben Bartch out of Saint John's, who saw rushers from Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss and other high-end programs and reportedly held his own.

Perhaps the most recent success story out of Senior Bowl week for the Patriots wasn't with a small-school prospect, though. It might've been with Shaq Mason, a guard coming out of a run-heavy system at Georgia Tech. The Patriots simply hadn't seen him do much in the way of pass protection for the Yellow Jackets.

But Mason got to the Senior Bowl, took to the coaching he received, and the Patriots took notice. 

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"The thing I’ll say about Shaq," Belichick said after drafting Mason in 2015, "is just watching him at the Senior Bowl, I mean it was only one week, but he made a huge improvement just in those, whatever it was, four or five practices, whatever it was down there. His stance is different. You could see each day progressively how he was taking to the coaching down there and his footwork and his hand placement and his body position. I know it was basic. It wasn’t like it was a big scheme thing at the Senior Bowl, but just doing things on a daily basis better than the day before, looking more comfortable doing them. And it was different than what they did at Georgia Tech."

Big school. Small school. Everyone had something to gain in Mobile this week. And that includes the Patriots. That's why -- with more time off this year than recent years -- they were well represented down there.


NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

The New England Patriots reportedly have made an addition to their coaching staff.

According to Jim McBride of The Boston Globe, they've hired ex-Los Angeles Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.

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Fisch's official role with the Patriots offense is to be determined. But now that there's an opening at wide receivers coach with Joe Judge joining the New York Giants, Fisch could be a candidate for the job.

He brings plenty of experience to the table having coached Denver Broncos wide receivers in 2008 and Michigan receivers from 2015-16. Fisch also coached Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks in 2010 and was the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive coordinator from 2013-14.