Foxborough, Mass. - It's very possible that one of the smallest players on the field will have a disproportionately large impact on the game when the Patriots meet the Kansas City Chiefs Monday night. Chiefs' Pro Bowl return man Dante Hall - all 5-foot-8 and 187 pounds of him - could present problems for a Patriots team that has allowed two special teams touchdowns this season.
The Patriots have struggled at times on kick coverage this season, allowing both a punt and a kick return for touchdowns, both against Buffalo. They rank 28th in the league in average per kick return (23.7 yards) and 22nd in punt returns (10.1), one of only seven teams to allow a punt return for a score this season.
Despite - or perhaps in spite - of his diminutive size, Hall carries an exceptional return resume. He entered his name into the NFL record books last season with four kick returns for touchdowns, tying the all-time record. He has seven scoring returns over the last two seasons - three kickoff return touchdowns and four via punt returns - easily the most in the league. The impact of Hall, who also lines up as a third receiver, is evident by the Chiefs' 6-0 record when he registers a touchdown via the return.
"I think that he has the dimension when he is on the field that is special," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "He has exceptional speed. He has great quickness. He literally can go from sideline to sideline not only on any play, but within the same play. He is a hard guy to tackle. He has good balance. He is strong for his size. He is able to get underneath some people. In a way, his size kind of works for him because he is sometimes hard to focus on, especially when you are running downfield as a returner or the reverses they run him on."
This season, he has returned 32 kickoffs for 706 yards and ranks third in the NFL averaging 13.1 yards per punt return, but has yet to take one to the house. No matter. Belichick showed his team game film displaying Hall's ability Friday morning.
"He has had plenty of returns," Belichick said. "It is not like you can turn on the film and say, 'Gee, he hasn't broken a punt return. He hasn't broken a kick return.' He has broken plenty of them. Some have been called back. Some have gone 30 or 40 yards, but they just didn't go all the way."
Belichick, who said he "regrettably" didn't do a lot of scouting on Hall before he was a fifth-round pick by Kansas City in 2000, said the Patriots will have to be cautious to not over-play Hall's returns. Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown - who has 225 career punt returns for over 2,000 yards and three touchdowns - had high praise for Hall.
"They have probably the best returner to ever play game in Dante Hall," Brown said.
Blaylock On The Backup
The Chiefs have all but ruled out running back Priest Holmes for Monday night's game, meaning the Patriots will see a lot of reserve Derrick Blaylock. Kansas City head coach Dick Vermeil said Thursday that Holmes, who is officially listed as "doubtful" in Friday's injury report, would not play against the Patriots. Holmes leads the NFL with 15 rushing touchdowns despite missing last week's 27-20 loss to New Orleans. Blaylock, in his fourth season, made his first career start last week and rushed for 186 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries.
Belichick said the Patriots will defend the Chiefs similarly with Blaylock, who shares many elements of Holmes' running style.
"I think there are a lot of elements of Blaylock's running style [that can compare] to Holmes'," Belichick said. "I'm not saying that anybody is Holmes. Holmes is Holmes. But, I think Blaylock has a similar style there. In his opportunities he runs plays more like Holmes does. So, I think defensively you have to defend it in a comparable way."
Brady On Late Night
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be making his first appearance tonight on "Late Night with David Letterman." The segment, which was taped Monday, featured Brady attempting to throw footballs through the open windows of moving taxi cabs. It was mostly a non-speaking part for Brady, who joins Belichick and kicker Adam Vinatieri as recent Patriots on the show.
"I didn't do a lot of talking," Brady said. "I was throwing footballs at cabs and embarrassing myself. [My completion percentage] was poor. We wouldn't be winning any games if I was throwing the ball like that."
The only change to the Patriots injury report Friday was the addition of nose tackle Keith Traylor, who is listed as "questionable" with the flu. The team reported Traylor missed a portion of team practice Friday. Cornerback Ty Law (foot) is out, while cornerback Tyrone Poole (knee) remains doubtful. Wide receiver Deion Branch (knee) and linebacker Matt Chatham (hamstring) are both again listed as "questionable," meaning there is a 50-50 chance they will not play.
Quarterbacks Brady (shoulder) and Jim Miller (shoulder) remain probable.
Vermeil was asked what he would say about his team for a Monday Night Football promo. "Don't be surprised if this team doesn't play outstanding or is capable of playing better than our three win record." ... Belichick on second-year defensive end Ty Warren, who has 37 tackles and two sacks this season: "I think Ty is having a good year. He is gaining confidence every week. A lot of the things he is doing now he has done a lot of times before and is continuing to react better and read quicker. I think he has shown up on a lot of plays that he needs to show up on." ... The Chiefs have won consecutive games at home against division leaders, defeating Atlanta 56-10 (Oct. 24) and Indianapolis 45-35 (Oct. 31) this season. ... Kansas City leads the NFL in total offense (422.1 yards per game) and rushing offense (164.2), and is third in the NFL in scoring at 28.6 points per game. ... The Patriots have not won in Kansas City since 1964, recording an 0-6-1 record in their last seven visits.