Setting the scene: Patriots-Chiefs
|11.21.11 at 12:23 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Clear skies and temperatures in the low-to-mid 30s are expected for kickoff tonight (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) as the Patriots look to take a stranglehold on the AFC East against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Tonight will be the chilliest game of the season to date, falling below the 40 degrees in Pittsburgh on Oct. 30, and the previous coldest Gillette game of the season, a not-so-frosty 54 on Nov. 6 for the Pats-Giants.
The last time these two teams met on Monday night was back in 2004. While most of New England was still reveling in the end of a certain 86-year-old curse three weeks earlier, the Patriots went into Kansas City and won for the first time ever at Arrowhead and for the first time in Kansas City since 1964 by virtue of a 27-19 win. Corey Dillon had a pair of TD runs in the win.
And obviously, no one forgets the last time the two teams met overall. It was Opening Day 2008 and the only game Tom Brady would play in that season. He dropped back to pass near midfield in the first quarter when safety Bernard Pollard rolled into his left knee, tearing up his ACL and requiring reconstructive surgery.
Matt Cassel came on to lead the Patriots to a 17-10 win and 11 wins in the ’08 season before falling just short of the playoffs.
The Patriots enter the game with a 6-3 mark and can take a two-game lead over the Bills and Jets for the division lead, with the Jets and Bills both losing earlier in the Week 11. The 4-5 Chiefs have been the definition of an up-and-down team this season. After losing their first three games, they rebounded to win their next four and apparently seemed destined for a title defense in the AFC West.
But what seemed a easy two-game homestand against the Dolphins and Broncos turned into a nightmare as they lost 31-3 to the previously winless Fish and 17-10 to the Broncos. They need tonight’s game desperately, just to remain one game behind the 6-4 Raiders in the AFC West.
Adding injury to insult, they lost Cassel indefinitely to a hand injury that required surgery last week. As a result, UFL castoff Tyler Palko – a lefty out of the University of Pittsburgh – gets his first NFL start.
There’s little doubt the Chiefs will try to establish the run more than any team the Patriots have faced this season. They enter the game fifth in the AFC in rushing at a clip of 124.4 yards per game. The quartet of Thomas Jones, Le’Ron McClain, Dexter McCluster and Jackie Battle will rotate their touches and attempt to take the load off Palko. Check out Chris Price’s “10 Matchups” for more insight to the contest.
The Patriots have already ruled out linebackers Dane Fletcher (thumb) and Brandon Spikes (knee) while Devin McCourty (shoulder) is doubtful. The Patriots listed 13 others as questionable for the game.
Other things to watch tonight:
Brady enters the game with 3,032 passing yards and needs just 295 more to set a new NFL record for most passing yards in the first 10 games of a season. Drew Brees has the top two marks of all time with 3,326 this season and 3,251 in 2008.
Brady looks to get back on the winning track at Gillette after losing a regular season home game for the first time since 2006 in his last outing, a 24-20 defeat to the Giants.