Chandler Jones' status unknown for Kansas City game
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. >> The New England Patriots would have loved to spend the week with nothing else to worry about except Saturday's playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Then Pro Bowl defensive lineman Chandler Jones wandered over to the local police station, shirtless and disoriented, leaving his house reeking of burnt marijuana. Suddenly, the defending Super Bowl champions were back on defense.
Fortunately, they're pretty good at it.
"I mean, are there any more questions about the Chiefs here?" coach Bill Belichick said Thursday after nine straight unanswered questions about Jones' unusual weekend. "The rest of it, I'm done talking about. We issued a statement, that's it."
Jones apologized to his teammates and the New England fans on Thursday, saying he made a "pretty stupid mistake," but he declined to elaborate on what happened. Belichick refused to say whether Jones would be benched for fear of revealing valuable strategic information to the Chiefs.
In the Patriots' locker room, the players said they would have no trouble putting the incident aside on Saturday. And it's hard to doubt them, after what they have gone through over the last 12 months and beyond.
Hours after New England's 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game last January, the team was accused of illegally deflating the footballs. Even before the league investigation that would find them guilty, the Patriots plugged up their ears and dug in their heels.
And went on to win the Super Bowl.
A season earlier, New England recorded its now-customary 12-win season, AFC East title and trip to the conference championship game despite releasing tight end Aaron Hernandez over the summer, shortly before he was charged with first-degree murder. (He was convicted in April 2015, a few months after his former teammates' Super Bowl victory.)
"I think coach Belichick does a great job of really just, like, brainwashing us," defensive back Duron Harmon said this week. "We just try to ignore all the distractions, whether it's that situation or 'Deflategate,' or any other distraction. We just try to ignore the noise."
If Jones is benched for part of the game, the Patriots will be giving up a pass-rusher whose 12 1/2 sacks were the fifth most in the NFL this season.
Here are a few other things to look for in Saturday's game:
WE ALL WANT TO BE BIG, BIG STARS: Kansas City won 10 in a row to close out the regular season and then added a 30-0 win over Houston in the wild-card round. The winning streak is the longest in team history and longest active streak in the league.
"You don't win 11 games in a row by accident," Patriots special teamer Matthew Slater said. "There are not a lot of things that they haven't been doing well."
New England has lost four of its last six games, but still coasted to its 12th division title in 13 years and its sixth straight first-round bye.
STANDING IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Steven Jackson was out of football when Belichick called just before Christmas, looking for someone to replace injured running backs Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount.
"I understood that this is probably the last opportunity that I will have a chance, a significant chance, to win a Super Bowl," said Jackson, 32. "This is the week ... we're talking about, why I decided to take coach up on the offer."
Jackson hadn't been in the playoffs since he was a rookie in 2004 with the Rams. He is expected to share carries with James White and Brandon Bolden for as long as his conditioning holds up.
"It's a long time coming for me," Jackson said. "The last two or three weeks have been a whirlwind."
STARING AT THE VIDEO: Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he isn't worried about "Spygate," "Deflategate," or any of the other allegations of Patriots misdeeds.
"I mean, I've heard of things happening, but I haven't had any of those problems," he said this week. "You go play. You worry about all that, that's not how you win the game, right?"
The Patriots were penalized by the league in 2007 after they were caught videotaping opposing coaches' signals, and again this offseason after an NFL investigation found they used improperly inflated footballs in the AFC title game.
Other reports have accused Belichick and his minions of rifling through the trash in the visitors' locker room or providing opponents with warm Gatorade. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wondered aloud why the headsets always go out when he plays in New England.
Some opponents have said they brought extra security or barricaded their locker room door when visiting Gillette Stadium.
Reid isn't changing anything.
"You concentrate on getting better at your fundamentals, techniques and those great players you've got to play against," he said. "All that other stuff (is a) distraction."
SO COME DANCE THIS SILENCE: It's the only game this weekend that isn't a rematch from the regular season; the teams have never met in the postseason. That doesn't mean they have no history.
The Chiefs beat the Patriots 41-14 in Week 4 of 2014, chasing Brady from the game in the second-biggest loss of his career. Afterward, fans wondered openly whether the then-37 year-old quarterback was no longer effective. (He rebounded OK, winning his fourth NFL title and third Super Bowl MVP.)
This week, Belichick finally broke his lengthy silence on that game.
"It has relevance," he said. "But we're certainly going to have to prepare and coach the team a lot better than we did that night. So that's what we'll try to do."
TELL EACH OTHER FAIRY TALES: This week's game is less about the rosters than the injury reports.
Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski has knee and back injuries that have kept him out of practice two of four days this week. New England is also hoping to get receiver Julian Edelman and offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer back; all three players are listed as questionable.
The Chiefs have also had to shuffle their offensive line, with Mitch Morse and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif out with concussions. But the big question for them is whether leading receiver Jeremy Maclin, who did not practice all week and is listed as questionable, will be available.
Reid said the team was lucky it wasn't more serious than a mild high ankle sprain.
"I was happy for the kid," he said. "It looked (bad) on the test, but it all worked out."
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