KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Chiefs coach Andy Reid faces New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick for the sixth time when the two collide in the AFC Divisional Round at Gillette Stadium.
Reid is 1-4 in his career against Belichick, including a 24-21 loss in Super Bowl XXXIX. And Saturday’s game against the reigning Super Bowl champions has urgency when considering the winner remains alive in the chase for Super Bowl 50.
Don’t expect the Chiefs, however, to alter how they prepare despite the high stakes.
“Every week is a big game,” defensive end Jaye Howard said. “You approach it the same way – come in and prepare, do the things right to keep your body right and fresh for the game. It’s not different from any other game.”
Howard’s stance is a direct reflection of Reid, who impressed to his players the past regular season the importance of taking it one week at a time, one play at time regardless of opponent.
The approach is a sports cliché, of course, but the Chiefs more than lived it while climbing out of a 1-5 start to ride 10-game win streak all the way to the postseason.
And the line of attack offered familiarity to former Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback Koy Detmer, who said in a telephone interview Reid’s philosophy won’t deviate even against a Belichick-coached team.
Detmer would know, having gone through preparations 11 seasons ago to face the Patriots on the NFL’s grandest stage in Super Bowl XXXIX.
“He would tell you to break it one play at a time,” Detmer said. “That mindset is definitely what is going to be preached going into this game. That’s a formula for success and that’s what he’s built with the mindset of his teams.”
Former Eagles tight end L.J. Smith, also a member of the Super Bowl team, agreed emphatically with Detmer.
“His demeanor and his message, I think it doesn’t change,” Smith said of Reid in a telephone interview. “It’s one of the good things about Coach Reid is he’s steady and he’s always even-keeled.
“Whether we were playing a team with two wins or playing the New England Patriots, it was always pretty much prepare the same way, don’t underestimate them. We never underestimated them, but he never moved the game up more than what it was.”
Apart from the methodology, Reid and the Chiefs have a daunting task.
While the Chiefs thumped the Patriots 41-14 in Week 4 of the 2014 regular season at Arrowhead Stadium, facing New England on its home turf in the playoffs provides another challenge.
The Patriots went 7-1 at Gillette Stadium during the 2015 regular season and boast an impressive 17-4 all-time postseason record at home, which includes a 14-3 mark under Belichick.
Chiefs players aren’t likely to openly discuss what their head coach is saying outside of taking it one game at a time. But former Eagles running back Correll Buckhalter had a pretty good idea what is going on behind the closed doors.
The communication will come full circle to what current Chiefs players and Reid’s former Eagles players already know.
“Coach Reid’s message is always I would say consists of taking care of what we have to handle, doing our job not just because we’re playing the Patriots – it wouldn’t matter if it was the Ravens, the Steelers – it was all about the Eagles doing their job,” Buckhalter said in a telephone interview. “If we go in and execute the game plan and do our job individually, we got a chance to win against anyone.”
And that includes the defending Super Bowl champions.
“As I remember, he kept us level headed and humble, and just let our actions speak on the lines between the field,” former Eagles wide receiver Todd Pinkston said of Reid in a telephone interview. “Everybody wanted to beat the Patriots because they are the team of the 2000s, the most Super Bowls since 2000 I know when I came into the league. But Andy Reid’s speech was don’t be beaten, keep doing your job, don’t do anything different, don’t play the game before the game.”
Detmer reinforced Pinkston’s statement of not allowing the contest to become bigger than it already is, and players under Reid should already know that message.
“That was something else he always talked about,” Detmer said. “You don’t want to get yourself so hyped up that the night before you can’t sleep; you’re playing the game before the game.”
Detmer explained what Reid means is for players to not worry about the different scenarios, but instead focus on the details of assignments and understanding situations.
“Let the game come, and then we go play it,” Detmer said. “Just save your energy and emotion for the game.”
Smith points out maintaining focus is crucial so as not to overlook playing the game all the way to the final second, especially against a formidable and well-coached team like the Patriots.
“On one hand, you want to be that team that beats the New England Patriots because everyone is watching them and they’re the team that everyone loves to hate,” Smith said. “So, you want to be that team, you want to be the team that everyone is talking about whether it be on next Monday or next Tuesday or whatever.
“But you have to understand they’re going to be there in the fourth quarter. It’s very rare the New England Patriots are not in the game in the fourth quarter, so you have to prepare yourself for a very long fight.”
Regardless of weekly preparation, the outcome ultimately hinges on execution.
Saturday’s game features two of the winningest coaches in NFL playoff history. Belichick ranks first with 22 wins in the playoffs, while Reid’s 11 postseason wins is currently tied at eighth with Bill Parcells, Marv Levy and Dan Reeves.
Reid and Belichick are set to play a second round of postseason chess, and it is matchup Detmer looks forward to watching.
“You can talk about Xs and Os and all those things, but really and truly to me what makes them the coaches they are is how they run their teams and keep everybody focused in the same direction through the ups and downs,” Detmer said. “That’s really the mark of the great head coaches.”