When the Kansas City Chiefs invade Gillette Stadium on Sunday, the Patriots will find themselves in somewhat uncharted territory. After relishing the role of underdog during the first two weeks (and in the postseason last year), New England is a prohibitive favorite over Kansas City.
Judging from the reaction of the players in the Patriots locker room, that won't change the team's preparation one bit.
"They're a good team and just because you guys say they aren't doesn't mean anything," wide receiver Troy Brown said. "If we listened to all of what people were saying about us last year how would we have done."
True enough. The Chiefs could pose some problems for the Patriots, especially on offense. Priest Holmes was the NFL's leading rusher a year ago and he's off to a solid start in 2002 with 206 yards and four touchdowns in two games. Tight end Tony Gonzalez is the league's best and already has eight catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns. They also have a solid offensive line that does a good job of opening holes and protecting the passer.
KC's trouble spot on offense may be quarterback Trent Green, who tends to alternate periods of brilliance with mistake-prone play. Week One against Cleveland he was on the upswing before crashing back down with a lackluster performance against Jacksonville last week. If New England lets him get comfortable mixing Holmes with a dangerous passing game, the Patriots could be in for a long afternoon.
But one fear that shouldn't be on any Patriots fan's mind is overconfidence. Safety Lawyer Milloy erased those thoughts quickly when asked to address that as a possibility.
"No way," he stated emphatically. "We worked too hard to get to this point to toss it away without giving it our best effort. Those are good football players coming here and if we're not ready to play we'll be walking out of here with a loss."
The players said all the right things and Bill Belichick has been remarkable getting his troops ready from week-to-week. But the Patriots haven't really been expected to win a game since the season ending triumph over Carolina last year. How they handle themselves – not just on Sunday but during the week while the coaches are implementing the game plan – will be crucial to the game's result.
"You look at Kansas City's defense and see they're not ranked very high (last against the pass and in yards allowed)," Brown said. "What were we ranked on offense last year? We were like 25th or something like that. You can't just assume a team can't do something. They're 1-1 and they're coming here expecting to leave 2-1. We have to make sure that doesn't happen."
Belichick reported no changes to the team's injury report, which still lists linebacker Roman Phifer as questionable with a leg (hamstring) injury and linebacker Tedy Bruschi (shoulder) and wideout David Givens (leg) as probable.
One injury-related item of note deals with cornerback Leonard Myers. Myers underwent groin/abdominal surgery at the start of training camp and was placed on the physically unable to perform list, giving him an additional six weeks to recover without losing the entire season.
Belichick reported that Myers was improving and could be ready to be activated when he's eligible after the sixth game (Oct. 27 against Denver). He would be eligible to return the following week at Buffalo on Nov. 3 but would still have until Week 12 before the team would have to either add him to the active roster or place him on injured reserve without losing him.