FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts — It was back before the start of training camp, with expectations high, that Julian Edelman labeled talk of a perfect 19-0 New England Patriots season as “stupid.”
On Thursday night, the Patriots begin their quest for a sixth title in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era when the Kansas City Chiefs come calling, and they will have to seek another title without Edelman.
Brady’s ultra-talented slot receiver, he of that unreal catch in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons, sustained a non-contact ACL tear of his right knee in an Aug. 25 preseason game. He is gone for the year, but Brady has tight end Rob Gronkowski back, and deals were made to bring in wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett.
Dorsett, a former first-round draft pick, was just acquired from the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who had the game of his professional life in the preseason finale.
“He’s a pretty talented player,” Belichick said of Dorsett on Sunday, after the Patriots made a flurry of moves to get their roster of 53 almost set. “He was a first-round draft pick. We’ll see. We’ll start working with him today and see how it goes.
Don’t forget, Dorsett will be working with Brady, who recently turned 40 with no end in sight.
The Chiefs were a 12-4 playoff team last season, dropping an 18-16 home playoff decision to the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is no easy opener, the game to be played after the Patriots unveil their fifth banner (they had to redo the top of Gillette Stadium to make it fit).
“You love it. You love competition,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Sunday. “If you’re in this business, that’s what you thrive on, and I’d tell you both sides feel that way. The players, that’s why they play the game. They want to play against the best.
“You want to coach against the best — that’s a beautiful thing.”
Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston feels the same way, saying, “I think it’s a great opportunity, not only to see where we’re at, but just our mindset. It’s going to a great atmosphere, it’s going to be loud — pretty much like a playoff atmosphere when you go there. We’re going to see where we’re at mentally and where we’re at on the field.”
Asked what he might have to do to handle Brady, Houston laughed and said the Chiefs have to hit him, adding, “Because the ball comes out so fast, he’s a smart guy. My main thing is the defense, don’t lose confidence in what you got going on because he’s going to make plays. It’s Tom Brady. Just got to stay together through four quarters.”
Brady, aging like a fine wine, is 101-17 at Gillette, where Belichick is a mere 110-26.
“There will definitely be nerves and being anxious,” Brady said Monday, “but once you get out there, those things calm down.”
The New England roster continued to be in a state of flux Monday with running back/special teamer Brandon Bolden brought back after being released Saturday. He is taking the roster spot of Shea McClellin, who was placed on injured reserve but is a candidate to return during the season.
WEEI.com reported Monday that defensive lineman Vincent Valentine, who missed the last three practices leading up to the preseason finale and then the game against the New York Giants, would not play in the opener.
Neither Valentine nor Patriots offensive tackle Cameron Fleming practiced Monday, while tight end Travis Kelce was among those limited for the Chiefs.
The Patriots also lost punt returner Cyrus Jones for the season to a knee injury. Danny Amendola will slide into that spot.
Amendola said Monday he loves returning punts, comparing it to playing on the highway.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, not the most popular person in New England, is scheduled to be at the opener, which would mark his second visit to Gillette already this year.
In case you missed it, Goodell suspended Brady for the first four games of last season for the Deflategate drama, and Brady returned with fire in his eyes.
The Chiefs have never won at Gillette Stadium, and they haven’t beaten the Patriots in Foxborough in five tries dating back to their last win in 1998.
It was against the Chiefs in the 2008 opener that Brady was lost for the season with a knee injury.