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Peter King
October 19, 1998
Best of the RestIf not for the Broncos, the Patriots might be the team to beat in the AFC
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October 19, 1998

The Nfl

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Dick Hantak



Ron Winter



Bill Carollo



Phil Luckett



Ed Hochuli



Best of the Rest
If not for the Broncos, the Patriots might be the team to beat in the AFC

In a pivotal matchup in the AFC Second Fiddle Tournament on Sunday, the Patriots destroyed the Chiefs with a show of brawn and finesse that suggested New England is as good a candidate as any to take on the top-dog Broncos in the conference title game. In fact, this Patriots team may turn out to be better than any of the four that Bill Parcells coached, including the one that went to the Super Bowl two years ago.

" Kansas City and Denver were supposed to be the lead dogs in the AFC," said New England cornerback Ty Law, whose club lost its season opener to the Broncos 27-21 but manhandled the Chiefs 40-10. "We showed we're a big dog when it counts."

The game turned in the first quarter on two plays that revealed which team had the most guts. Trailing 7-0 and facing third-and-one at its 47, Kansas City sent its 232-pound bowling ball of a back, Donnell Bennett, behind center Tim Grunhard. Bennett ran into a wall of bodies and didn't gain an inch. With the home crowd at Foxboro Stadium roaring, Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer made an emphatic first-down motion with his right arm, signaling his offense to play on. This time 232-pound fullback Tony Richardson made a charge behind Grunhard. But defensive tackle Chad Eaton submarined Grunhard and slowed Richardson enough to allow an avalanche of Patriots to come down on him. "That was tire game," Eaton said.

"After that," said New England linebacker Chris Slade, "they quit."

The next six Patriots possessions ended with a field goal, a touchdown, a touchdown, a field goal, a touchdown and a field goal, giving New England a 37-0 lead after 41 minutes. Here are three reasons to like this 4-1 club:

1) Rookie running back Robert Edwards is shaping up as a solid replacement for the departed Curtis Martin. In his last three games Edwards, the first-round draft pick from Georgia, rushed for 92, 97 and 104 yards. On Sunday he ran for one score and caught a pass for another. Judging by his punishing style, Edwards looks as though he will be a more effective back in cold weather—a key to New England's late-season and playoff success—than Martin was. Against the Chiefs the 218-pound Edwards ran hard between the tackles, and although he has few of Martin's outside moves, he might be better suited to getting the tough yards. Edwards is averaging 4-3 yards per carry, while Martin, a restricted free agent who signed with the Jets in the off-season, has a 3.5-yard mark and missed Sunday's game against the Rams with a bruised thigh.

2) Drew Bledsoe is a better passer than he was a year ago. New offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese has helped Bledsoe develop a quicker release, make more precise drops and eliminate careless throws. Bledsoe has completed 60% of his attempts with eight touchdown passes and only three interceptions. "Ernie demands precision from the receivers too," Bledsoe says. "They're almost always exactly where I think they'll be." It's more than that. At 26 Bledsoe is more mature and better able to make good things happen amid the chaos.

3) Law is a corner who can shut down top receivers. In the off-season Law talked coach Pete Carroll into letting him cover the opponent's best receiver each week. On Sunday, when the Chiefs' Elvis Grbac dropped back to throw 33 times, wideout Andre Rison didn't get a sniff against Law, predominantly in man coverage. Rison's one reception went for five yards and came when Law was on the opposite side of the field. For the season Law has held the opponents' top wideouts to a total of 13 catches and has not given up a touchdown pass.

He attributes much of his success to the six-week off-season training session he had with track coach Bob Kersee. " Deion Sanders and Dale Carter always take the best guy, and I want to be in their league," says Law, a 1995 First-round draft pick who leads the AFC in interceptions, with four. "Training with Bob helped because I believe it gave me the deep-ball speed I lacked. I already thought I could play with anybody, and now I'm sure of it."

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