FOXBOROUGH — Patrick Mahomes has left little doubt about his ability as the Chiefs’ unflappable young quarterback — the poised passer with a rocket-like arm who’s leading Kansas City (5-0) and the league’s top-scoring offense.
“He gets the ball to all of his receivers quick, quick release, sees things quickly, can extend plays, got a great arm, got a fabulous arm, can throw the ball out of the stadium,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday of Mahomes, who’s thrown 14 touchdowns. “He makes good decisions, accurate, gets the ball out on time.”
Behind Mahomes, the Chiefs have been piling points at an impressive rate — a testament to both the ability of the offense and the necessity to mask a porous defense that’s allowed a league-worst 461.8 yards per game.
The Chiefs’ defense showed up Sunday, bullied the Jaguars into five turnovers and five sacks. The narrative flipped from the first four weeks, the defense carrying the team in a 30-14 win as Mahomes threw his first two interceptions of the season.
Whether the Patriots see that unit or the version of the Chiefs defense that allowed an average of 28.8 points in the first four games will be determined Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.
Kansas City is still without Eric Berry, their star safety who’s been sidelined since August with a heel injury. They traded top corner Marcus Peters to the Rams in the offseason — and pieced together a secondary with several new faces, including Kendall Fuller, Orlando Scandrick, and rookie Tremon Smith.
“They have good players on that defense and they can get it together,” Patriots wide receiver Phillip Dorsett said. “They’re going to put their best foot forward and we need to put ours forward. We know it’s a big game. We’re just trying to execute as an offense. I don’t get into stats too much on defense. I don’t know numbers, where they rank, it doesn’t matter.”
The Chiefs’ most impressive defensive play Sunday came from defensive end Chris Jones, who sniffed out Blake Bortles’s screen pass and returned it for a touchdown. They pressured the Jaguars often with 11 quarterback hits – including three from linebacker Dee Ford — a departure from the team’s struggle in the first four games of the season.
Though the Chiefs defense has been challenged, the Patriots expect a tough test from Kansas City.
“They’re not going to sit in one thing and do it over and over and over again,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “They’re a difficult preparation. They challenge your ability to identify what they’re doing. They do a great job of not letting you get comfortable, not letting you get into a flow or a rhythm as best they can.”
Tom Brady threw two interceptions on consecutive drives in the third quarter against the Colts last Thursday — the first of which bounced off Chris Hogan’s hands and directly into those of Colts defensive back Matthias Farley. The Colts fumbled on the ensuing possession, but the next Brady interception — intended for Rob Gronkowski — ultimately resulted in an Indianapolis touchdown that cut the Patriots’ lead to 24-17 early in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots went on to a 38-24 victory, but the second-half turnovers made the game closer than the final score indicated. Both turnovers occurred in Colts territory, which underscored an unfamiliar trend for the Patriots, who’ve turned the ball over at least once in every game this season.
“Haven’t had a game yet without a turnover so that’s definitely a goal for us every week, so we’re hoping we could hit that this week,” Bill Belichick said on a conference call Monday morning.
Brady has six interceptions this season, only two fewer than in 2017 — a reflection that Patriots are still trying to find a rhythm in the passing game.
“It’s part of the execution,” Belichick said of dropped passes that result in interceptions. “Sometimes the timing between the quarterback and receiver, where the ball is located, what the receiver does at the end of the route, if he does what the quarterback thinks he’s going to do or vice versa. Those are things you just have to work on and fine-tune and execute. That’s why the execution of the passing game needs to be so precise in this league. Defenders are close by and if the ball is not caught cleanly it could get into their hands.”
Playing a Thursday night game meant the Patriots had more days off than during a usual week. They’re scheduled to return to practice Tuesday after the weekend break, allowing players to catch an extra bit of rest.
“You’ve got to get that body right, you’ve got to rest up, and you’ve got to get the energy going again for the following week,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio. “It’s a lot different from when I was the first couple years in the league to where I am now so, literally dude, just post up, watch the baseball playoffs, watch some [UFC]. Just stuff like that.”
Gronkowski touched on a variety of other topics, including the importance of Julian Edelman’s return from a four-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.
“The energy he just brings to the locker room is awesome,” Gronkowski said. “The way he can get open underneath, the way he can run routes, help us keep getting first downs, move the chains, it’s just awesome to have him back.”
Barner, Part III
The Patriots re-signed running back Kenjon Barner after they released him last week to make room for Edelman. It’s the third time they’ve brought Barner back into the fold since initially singing him Sept. 11. He was released Sept. 19 and then re-signed Sept. 26.
It was somewhat surprising to see the Patriots enter last Thursday’s game with just two active running backs, Sony Michel and James White, along with fullback James Develin.
Veterans Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead have both sustained season-ending injuries.
New England also released defensive linemen Vincent Valentine and running back Ralph Webb from the practice squad and replaced them with defensive lineman Frank Herron and linebacker Calvin Munson.
Ben Volin of the Globe staff contributed to this report.