Tomase: This will be the end of the road for flawed Patriots in Kansas City

John Tomase
January 20, 2019 - 9:21 am

Don't be seduced by San Diego.

The Patriots steamrolled the Chargers in a shocking divisional round performance last week that we nonetheless should've seen coming. Defenses as inflexible and predictable as Gus Bradley's Cover-3 are like a nightshade-free, anti-inflammatory-rich all-you-can-eat buffet for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Wherever he looked, he was going to find something delicious.

Add a hyperactive meltdown from Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and homefield advantage in Foxboro, and the ensuing runaway train left the Patriots looking like world beaters again after a so-so season, at least by their standards.

Now comes Sunday's AFC title game in Kansas City, and the natives are restful. The Patriots may be Vegas underdogs, but there's a strong feeling -- at least locally -- that they're in the midst of another mind-bending Super Bowl run.

Colleague Ryan Hannable has caught the fever, as he detailed in a column on about why he's now picking the Patriots after spending most of the week believing the Chiefs would win.

I'm here to tell him he should've stuck by his guns. He laid out five reasons the Patriots will win. Here are five reasons they'll lose.

1. Mother Nature

Nothing slows a high-octane offense like hypothermia. With initial forecasts projecting game-time temperatures around zero and windchills well below that, the conditions seemed perfectly suited to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who is 5-1 lifetime in games played at 20 degrees or lower, including playoff victories in 4-degree weather vs. the Titans and 11 degrees vs. the Steelers.

Chiefs wunderkind Patrick Mahomes has played exactly one game in his career below 20 degrees, and it came in his NFL debut last season in Denver. He has no experience throwing a football when it hits his receivers like a cinder block, and it was entirely possible the weather would neutralize him.

Alas, the forecast didn't hold. The latest predictions call for temperatures in the 20s. That's colder than Mahomes is accustomed to, but not so frigid as to turn the Arrowhead sod into cement or Mahomes' throws into lead balloons.

The extreme weather advantage is gone.

2. The Kansas City pass rush

The Chiefs defense stunk all season, particularly during a 43-40 loss to the Patriots in Week 6. But much like the 2006 Colts, who found their defensive footing just in time to ride it all the way to a Super Bowl, Kansas City has played much better down the stretch.

Per the Ringer, since Justin Houston returned in Week 10, Kansas City has recorded 26 sacks and forced 15 fumbles, good for second and third, respectively, in the league.

It's not just that the Chiefs are capable of producing pressure, but how. The Chargers relied exclusively on edge rushers last week, and it was sad watching Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram get ridden upfield while Brady either stepped past them in the pocket or unloaded the ball before they could arrive. Their jerseys might as well have read, "Sisyphus."

Kansas City attacks the quarterback right where Brady hates it, with tackle Chris Jones recording 15.5 sacks and wreaking havoc on the interior of the defense. The Chiefs neutralized the high-flying Colts last week by assaulting quarterback Andrew Luck with the trio of Houston, Jones, and Ford to the tune of three sacks, five quarterback hits, and four passes batted down from those three players alone.

While Houston and Ford mostly scream off the edge, they can stunt up the middle, too. One of Houston's sacks last week came when he twinned up outside with Ford before curling back inside to shoot the gap between the center and guard.

By now we all know the keys to beating Brady, even if teams like the Chargers perplexingly ignored them, and No. 1 on the list is getting pressure in Brady's face with the front four. The Chiefs can do it.

3. Man to man

That brings us to item No. 2 on the defensive blueprint, which isn't just about the pass rush, because Brady is stout in the face of pressure. What gives him trouble is when consistent four-man pressure is paired with man-to-man defense. The Chargers never gave themselves a chance, because their zone played right into Brady's quick-throwing hands. The Chiefs, however, play as much man-to-man defense as any team in the league, and that could be a problem.

The key will be disrupting Julian Edelman and James White at the snap. Give them free releases, and they'll combine for 24 catches, like they did last week. Mess with their timing, and you take away Brady's primary options against pressure.

With Josh Gordon gone and Rob Gronkowski broken, the Patriots lack downfield threats. That has hardly stopped Brady before, but it could make his job more difficult on Sunday, especially if physical safety Eric Berry has sufficiently overcome the foot problems that have plagued him all season.

4. Arrowhead jinx

A forgotten horrible game in Brady's career came during the 2005 season in Kansas City, where he threw a career-high four interceptions in a 26-16 loss. The offense had a hard time communicating in the raucous road stadium, and if he thought it was loud then during a random November matchup, it will be deafening on Sunday.

Brady is 1-2 lifetime at Arrowhead with three touchdowns and six interceptions, the infamous "On to Cincinnati" loss his last visit four years ago.

Then there's this: the Patriots haven't won an AFC title game on the road since 2004. They have, however, lost in Indianapolis once and Denver twice.

The Patriots went 3-5 on the road this season for a multitude of reasons, and we'd like to believe that one game at home fixed them, but that hasn't been their pattern all year and it's very un-Patriots-like to be betting on hope.

5. The season's story

Brady may be miffed that people think his team sucks and can't win any games, but this obvious overstatement exists for a reason. Like 2009, the Patriots haven't really been good enough all year, and eventually it will be their undoing.

If they are meant to fall short, on the road against the No. 1 seed and best young quarterback in the league is as good a place as any to take their final bow.

We've wondered what was wrong with the Patriots all season. It will finally catch up to them on Sunday.