KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Nov. 23, 2005) -- The New England Patriots might be on their first winning streak of the season and in first place in the AFC East, but quarterback Tom Brady knows his team's health is a major concern.
New England, which had to prepare this week without coach Bill Belichick, will look to extend its winning streak to a season-high three games when it visits the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Patriots have won the past two weeks while battling injuries to several key players. In a 23-16 victory against 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.
Only Pass and Graham returned in New England's 24-17 victory against New Orleans on Nov. 20, while wide receivers Troy Brown and Bethel Johnson missed the game with injuries.
"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."
The Patriots have won back-to-back games 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 past 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 is 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 returns.
The Patriots are 24-2 after Nov. 1 since 2003 and have won 10 of their past 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 also could help the Patriots down the stretch. New England is two games ahead of Buffalo (4-6) and still has one game remaining against the Bills and Dolphins (3-7), and two games left against the New York Jets (2-8).
The Chiefs rebounded from an awful performance on offense against Buffalo two weeks ago to rout the Houston Texans 45-17 on Nov. 20. Larry Johnson rushed for a franchise-record 211 yards and scored two touchdowns, and 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," Kansas City coach Dick Vermeil said. "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 past 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 might 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 will finish the season with six consecutive 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 since arriving in Kansas City in 2001.
"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."
STANDINGS: Patriots -- 1st place, AFC East. Chiefs -- 2nd place (tied), AFC West.
PATRIOTS LEADERS: Offense -- Brady, 2,782 passing yards and 17 passing TDs; Dillon, 441 rushing yards and 7 rushing TDs; Deion Branch, 55 receptions, 707 receiving yards and 4 receiving TDs. Defense -- Willie McGinest, 3½ sacks; Mike Vrabel, 2 INTs.
CHIEFS LEADERS: Offense -- Trent Green, 2,371 passing yards and 10 passing TDs; Johnson, 849 rushing yards and 8 rushing TDs; Tony Gonzalez, 54 receptions; Eddie Kennison, 646 receiving yards and 4 receiving TDs. Defense -- Jared Allen, 7 sacks; Greg Wesley, 3 INTs.
PATRIOTS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense -- 84.4 yards per game (27th in NFL); Passing Offense -- 267.5 ypg (4th); Total Offense -- 351.9 ypg (9th). Rushing Defense -- 119.5 ypg (23rd); Passing Defense -- 263.4 ypg (31st); Total Defense -- 382.9 ypg (31st).
CHIEFS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense -- 140.7 ypg (4th); Passing Offense -- 221.1 ypg (11th); Total Offense -- 361.8 ypg (7th). Rushing Defense -- 89.6 ypg (5th); Passing Defense -- 241.4 ypg (29th); Total Defense -- 331.0 ypg (25th).
LAST MEETING: Nov. 22, 2004; Patriots, 27-19. At Kansas City, Mo., Dillon rushed for 98 yards and two TDs, and Brady threw for 315 yards and a score for New England.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Patriots -- New England has won 30 of its past 31 games, including the playoffs, when allowing fewer than 100 yards rushing. ... Brady has a 113.8 rating in two career starts against the Chiefs. ... K Adam Vinatieri has made 23 consecutive FGs in the fourth quarter. Chiefs -- Johnson has averaged 150 rushing yards over the past three games and needs 151 for his first 1,000-yard season. ... Gonzalez is the first TE in NFL history to have eight 50-catch seasons in a row. ... The Chiefs haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 17 consecutive games.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Patriots -- 3-2 on the road; Chiefs -- 3-1 at home.
The Associated Press News Service
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