FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Patriots will open the defense of their Super Bowl title under a shroud of uncertainty and with a long list of injuries when they host the Chiefs in an AFC divisional-round playoff game today at Gillette Stadium.
Even coach Bill Belichick appears worse for wear. He showed up to his first news conference of the week sporting a black eye.
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Belichick deflected all questions about how he got the shiner and told one reporter “great” when she asked how his eye felt and how he injured it. Belichick can only hope several players who played hurt or didn’t play at all down the stretch will feel the same heading into the game.
Although they weren’t enough to prevent the Patriots from winning their sixth straight AFC East title and earning a first-round bye, injuries were a major factor during the season, and they remain a concern. So does the status of defensive end Chandler Jones, who was treated Sunday for a medical emergency.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman, who missed the last seven games of the regular season with a broken foot, is expected to play. So is wide receiver Danny Amendola, who had knee problems late in the season. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was limited in practice Wednesday and yesterday because of a knee issue and missed practice Thursday, with the team announcing that he also has back problems.
Tom Brady practiced fully after suffering a sprained ankle in the Patriots’ final regular-season game against the Dolphins.
Jones practiced all week after reports surfaced that he walked into a police station in Foxborough appearing disoriented and in “desperate” need of assistance, according to a police report. He later was hospitalized, and The Boston Globe reported that Jones had a bad reaction to synthetic marijuana.
Jones apologized Thursday. “I want to start off by saying I made a pretty stupid mistake this weekend,” he said. “I feel I need to apologize to everyone.”
Belichick would not say whether Jones will be disciplined for his actions or whether he might miss some, or even all, of Saturday’s game.
The Chiefs enter the game with 11 straight victories after stumbling to a 1-5 record. Despite missing their best offensive playmaker, running back Jamaal Charles, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in October, the Chiefs reeled off 10 straight wins to earn a wild-card spot before drubbing the Texans, 30-0, in Houston last weekend.
Kansas City also has injury problems, though. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who has been a major factor in an improved offensive performance this season, is hobbled with a sprained ankle. His availability will be a game-time decision. Linebacker Justin Houston, who missed the final five games of the season with a sprained knee, returned for the Texans game but wasn’t comfortable playing with a brace on the injured knee. Fellow pass rusher Tamba Hali has a broken thumb and played in a limited role against the Texans.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid is 1-4 against Belichick and the Patriots, including a 24-21 loss in Super Bowl XXXIX when Reid was coaching the Eagles.
“[Belichick] is a friend, and he’s a heck of a football coach,” Reid said. “And Tom Brady’s unbelievable and the things that they’ve done there, I mean the accomplishments they’ve had — they’ve made history, so both of them are Hall of Famers. So we look forward to the challenge, though. That’s what this is all about — getting to play against the best. They’re the world champions. What a great challenge and an opportunity to play up there at Foxborough, great atmosphere, might be a little snow. It doesn’t get any better than that.”