(CBS Boston) — The New England Patriots struggled early in their Week 3 matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders. But the sputtering offense started to purr by the second quarter. The Patriots never looked back, delivering the Las Vegas Raiders their first loss of the season. They’ll face another undefeated team this Sunday in Kansas City.
While the Chiefs have been known to start slowly too, they rarely remain in first gear for long. Against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3’s matchup of leading AFC Super Bowl contenders, that wasn’t an issue. Quarterback and defending NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes led his offense on lengthy touchdown drives on four of the team’s first five possessions. They then held off the Ravens to win 34-20.
The Ravens’ defense really had no answer for Mahomes, who went 31-42 for 385 yards and four touchdowns, spreading the ball around with efficiency and creativity. Four receivers had at least five catches; five receivers racked up at least 60 yards. Mahomes also ran for another touchdown.
The Chiefs defense, on the other hand, was able to slow Lamar Jackson, at least through the air, holding him to just 97 yards on 15-28 passing. The Ravens ran for another 158 yards on the ground, 83 of them on Jackson’s nine carries. But it wasn’t enough to keep up. In a postgame press conference, Jackson called the Chiefs his team’s “kryptonite.”
The Chiefs have had that effect on a lot of teams, continuing a winning streak that dates back through the Super Bowl and well into last season. But Bill Belichick has a knack for finding weaknesses in seemingly unbeatable opponents and then exploiting them. And he does it by leveraging the talent he has to gain an advantage.
The Patriots offense has focused on the run early in their first three games. While that approach didn’t last in their Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the game plan played out much better in Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins and Week 3 against the Las Vegas Raiders. Having a mobile quarterback like Cam Newton certainly helps. The Patriots piled up 217 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in their opener and 250 yards rushing and two touchdowns last week. Sony Michel is coming off a nine-carry, 117-yard performance.
The Patriots controlled the time of possession in both of their wins. And a ball-control offense that keeps an opposing offense on the sideline may be the best way to defend against the Chiefs. Mahomes can’t lead a scoring drive from the sideline.
“The number one thing is, you have to switch to the offense of the Patriots, and say just keep Mahomes off the field,” said NFL On CBS lead sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson. “If you can do that, you can have some success. If you can have some long drives offensively and keep them off the field as long as possible.”
The Patriots lead the league in rushing yards with 534 yards through three games. The Chiefs, meanwhile, have been burned in the running game so far. Kansas City has given up 459 yards in three games, sixth worst in the NFL.
But at some point the Patriots will have to slow down Mahomes. And it’s not clear that they can. Mahomes has 898 yards passing and nine touchdowns so far. He has yet to throw an interception. The Patriots pass defense has dropped off some from last season. While they currently rank 11th in passing yards allowed, they’re sixth-worst in yards allowed per passing attempt. The Patriots are also allowing opposing offenses to complete 72 percent of their passes, which is among the worst in the league. Their best hope is to limit the big plays.
The Patriots play the Chiefs Sunday, October 4 @ 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS.