KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The last time the Kansas City Chiefs played against Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback looked fresh enough at the end that he could have gone for another 60 minutes of football. The Chiefs barely laid a hand on him because they rarely got close enough.
The Chiefs pressured Brady just four times in his 42 pass attempts. They didn’t sack him at all and allowed him to throw for 300 yards and two touchdowns in the Patriots’ 27-20 win in the divisional round of the 2015 playoffs.
The Chiefs will be back for another try against Brady and the Patriots in Thursday night’s season opener and have reason to feel better about their chances for defensive success. Linebacker Justin Houston, Kansas City’s top pass rusher, is healthy after hobbling around on one battered leg for the playoff game. The Patriots are without injured wide receiver Julian Edelman, who caught 10 passes against the Chiefs two seasons ago. The Chiefs may have learned a lesson or two about how to defend the Patriots.
It all starts with more consistent pressure on Brady.
“He was throwing the ball very quickly,’’ Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “He gets rid of the ball probably as fast any anybody in our league. Like we tell our players, if we brought 20 guys or none, he’s going to throw the ball that fast. In that game, that was effective for him.’’
The Chiefs have had success against Brady, none better than in 2014. The Chiefs sacked him twice and intercepted him twice, returning one for a touchdown in a 41-14 win at Arrowhead Stadium.
So their recent history against Brady isn’t all bad. Other than cornerback Steven Nelson, who won’t play after having core muscle surgery last week, the Chiefs have a healthy group and nine starters back on a defense that last season forced more turnovers than any other NFL team and allowed fewer points than all but six.
“The two most important things about the [Kansas City] defense are the two most important things about defense in football, period, and that’s points and turnovers,’’ New England coach Bill Belichick said. “They do a great job in those two areas. They don’t give up a lot of points, and they turn the ball over. What else is there? That’s what defensive football is, those two things ... that’s a problem for us and a problem for any offense.
“They’re a very opportunistic secondary. Those guys have great ball skills, led by [Marcus] Peters. Of course, [Eric] Berry, [Ron] Parker ... they all play the ball well, attack the ball well. In their coverage schemes, they have a lot of free players. They have a guy reading the quarterback and everybody else playing man to man, kind of rovers back there that you have to be careful of.’’
The Chiefs didn’t force a New England turnover in that 2015 playoff game and allowed 27 points.
For their part, the Patriots won’t have Edelman, who tore his ACL in the preseason. They will have, among others, Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught seven passes and scored two touchdowns against the Chiefs two years ago.
Since they last saw the Chiefs, the Patriots also added some parts, including receivers Brandin Cooks, who caught 215 passes and scored 20 touchdowns over the past three seasons for the Saints, and Dwayne Allen, who caught 35 passes but six for touchdowns last season for the Colts.
“The common denominator is they’re good football players,’’ Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “They have different redeeming qualities, but they’re good players. They’ve got that that guy playing quarterback that’s pretty good, too. He knows how to find them.’’
Getting an early lead would help the Chiefs. They fell behind early in the playoff game by allowing Brady to complete three third-down passes, the last to Gronkowski for a touchdown, on the first possession. They chased the Patriots the rest of the game but never caught up.
In the 2014, the Chiefs got the early lead, led 17-0 at halftime and then did what they do best.
“We saw the worst of it when we played them in 2014,’’ Brady said. “When you get behind, they can really make you pay ... They play really well when they’re playing from ahead because that really plays to some of their great strengths, which is rushing the quarterback and then making plays on the ball in the secondary.’’