New England, which had to prepare this week without coach Bill Belichick, looks to extend its winning streak to a season-high three straight games when it visits the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Patriots have won the last two weeks while battling injuries to several key players. In a 23-16 victory over Miami on Nov. 13, wide receiver David Givens, tight end Daniel Graham, linemen Matt Light and Tom Ashworth, and running backs Kevin Faulk and Patrick Pass all sat out.
Running back Corey Dillon didn’t return after injuring his calf on the first play and center Dan Koppen suffered a season-ending shoulder separation in the third quarter.
“We are so far away compared to a Super Bowl team,” Brady said. “When we start getting some guys back, we’ll see what kind of team we’ve got. We are just trying to hang on until we get some reinforcements. Hopefully, we get some guys back this week.”
New England has 14 players listed on its injury report this week.
The Patriots have won two straight for the first time all season, and are getting contributions from unlikely sources. Fullback Heath Evans, who joined the team on Nov. 1, has rushed for 158 yards in the last two games.
“I fit in here right now,” said Evans, who had been released by Miami and had only 108 rushing yards in his first 68 career games.
Receiver Andre’ Davis, who has been released and re-signed by the Patriots this season, caught a 60-yard touchdown pass against the Saints.
New England had been preparing without Belichick, whose father Steve passed away earlier this week in Maryland at the age of 86. Belichick left assistant head coach Dante Scarnecchia in charge until he returned.
The Patriots are 24-2 after Nov. 1 since 2003 and have won 10 of their last 11 road games in November, including seven in a row.
“It has been challenging for this team,” Brady said. “We are fighting, it seems like we are in every game in the fourth quarter. We have to keep battling as hard as we can and lay it out there every week. … There is no bigger game that we play this year than this week against Kansas City.”
The lack of quality teams in the AFC East could also help the Patriots down the stretch. New England is two games ahead of Buffalo (4-6) and still has one game remaining against both the Bills and Dolphins (3-7), and two games left against the New York Jets (2-8).
The Chiefs rebounded from an awful offensive performance against Buffalo two weeks ago to rout the Houston Texans 45-17 on Sunday night. Larry Johnson rushed for a franchise-record 211 yards and scored two touchdowns as Kansas City remained in the crowded AFC playoff picture.
“We went to Houston with the thought that the last seven games of the season are like an NBA playoff schedule,” said Kansas City coach Dick Vermeil. “It may take more than the best of seven for us to win, but at least we got it started correctly by winning the first of seven. Now we have the challenge of facing New England.”
Kansas City has lost its last three meetings with New England, including a 27-19 loss at Arrowhead Stadium last season. But the Chiefs put together a balanced offensive attack (226 rushing yards, 220 passing yards) against the Texans and may get offensive tackle Willie Roaf back for this game.
“He said he’s much better,” Vermeil said. “He said he’s ready to go. (He) worked out and finished with great confidence. Now we have to see if he can apply it to football.”
The Chiefs are tied with San Diego for second place in the AFC West, two games behind Denver. They finish the season with six straight games against opponents with winning records.
“Our challenges over the next six weeks are a complete package with variations of strengths and almost no weaknesses, starting with New England on Sunday,” said Vermeil, who has led the Chiefs to one playoff appearance in five years.
“When New England won its first Super Bowl a few years back, they started out exactly like they are right now: 5-4 to 6-4. So maybe they’re a good example for us as well. You’ve got to think if they can do it and get on a run, we can do it.”