FOXBOROUGH — It’s not a receiver, per se, whom Patriots coach Bill Belichick is worried about as the Chiefs’ top receiving threat.
“I mean, you can call [Travis] Kelce whatever you want,” Belichick said Wednesday. “He’s one of the best receivers in the league. He’s their leading receiver. You can put him up against any receiver in the league and statistically he’ll match up with anybody you want to put him against, basically, over the last five years. So, you can call him whatever you want to call him.”
Only 10 NFL players have more catches than Kelce this season and only eight have more yards.
And while Tyreek Hill’s speed routinely strikes fear in opposing defensive coaches, Kelce leads the Chiefs in targets, catches, and yards, and no one is really close. Even on a per-game played basis, he still slightly leads Hill, whose numbers are impacted by the fact that he’s played four fewer games than Kelce, for the highest mark on the team in yards per game (76.9).
Last year, the Patriots started the AFC Championship game with cornerback J.C. Jackson doing most of the work on Kelce. Jackson struggled to contain Kelce without committing penalties, though, so Stephon Gilmore switched on to Kelce mid-game and held him without a catch in the fourth quarter. He may do the same job Sunday.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Wednesday he knows the challenge of playing against Gilmore too well.
“I feel like I’ve gone against that guy more than any corner in the National Football League,” Reid said. “When he was in Buffalo, we seemed to play him it seemed like every year, and then he goes here and we play the Patriots quite a little bit. He’s a heck of a player. I’ve watched him mature over the years and he sure does a nice job.”
Last week, Belichick remarked that it would have been tough to play a game mid-week because of the illness that went through the team. On Wednesday, it would have been tough, or at least strange, for a different reason.
The Patriots had no kicker.
After cutting Kai Forbath following Sunday’s game in Houston, the Patriots did not sign a kicker Wednesday. Nick Folk, who had an appendectomy last week and was cut to make room for Forbath, did not have a nameplate in the locker room and was not, as of Wednesday afternoon, back on the team. The only potential kicker on the roster was punter Jake Bailey, who spent practice alone working on the game field as special teamers often do. Bailey was a kicker and punter in high school.
Here’s one theory: The Patriots might have been waiting to see if kicker Chase McLaughlin, who was cut by the 49ers, got to them on waivers. If they were, they missed out, since the Colts, who are ahead of the Patriots in the waiver wire order, picked up McLaughlin.
That move did spark one conspiracy theory — that the Patriots could potentially get Adam Vinatieri back from Indianapolis if the Colts are going in a different direction. That seems far-fetched, though, since Vinatieri is on the injury report with a knee injury so it seems as if Indianapolis was just looking for insurance.
After a few thin practice reports ahead of the Texans game because of all the players who were sick, things were getting closer to normal Wednesday.
Only center Ted Karras and defensive lineman Byron Cowart were missing from the chilly session, held on the lower practice field at Gillette Stadium.
Six players, linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (knee), right tackle Marcus Cannon (illness), safety Patrick Chung (heel), receiver Julian Edelman (shoulder), cornerback Jason McCourty (groin) and receiver Mohamed Sanu (ankle) were limited.
Quarterback Tom Brady was on the report, listed with toe and right elbow injuries, but was a full participant.
Cannon, the only remaining ill player on the injury report, had two large cartons of soup in his locker.
Without Karras, James Ferentz again performed starting center duties. Ferentz stepped in when Karras went down Sunday night and said it’s his job to make sure he’s ready for those moments.
“It’s been all season, we rotate in there in practice. Obviously, you can’t simulate a game in practice but you just try to take advantage of those reps and those opportunities to just gel and mold in case the need ever comes to step in there,” he said.
Nora Princiotti can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NoraPrinciotti.