KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – Breaking with time-honored coaching convention, Dick Vermeil has dared to stop playing them one game at a time.

The boss of the Kansas City Chiefs (6-4) is not only looking beyond today’s match with New England. He’s openly discussing the importance of every game the playoff-hopeful Chiefs have left on a tough and bruising schedule.

“Our challenges over the next six weeks are a complete package with variations of strengths and almost no weaknesses, starting with New England,” said Vermeil. “In our minds, we have to approach every single game that we play from here on out as a playoff game. Try to create that same kind of focus and preparation, that same kind of pressure that exists when you’re playing a playoff game.”

The Chiefs will host a New England team which is also 6-4, but is sitting atop the AFC East. The Chiefs’ 6-4 record is good only for a second-place tie in the AFC West, two games behind Denver.

With the home advantage and a young running back, Larry Johnson, who rushed for a franchise-record 211 yards last week at Houston, the Chiefs were 3-point favorites over a Patriots team which has spent the past nine months in transition and tumult. Both coordinators left for other jobs and linebacker Tedy Bruschi had to recover from a stroke before getting back on the field.

In addition, coach Bill Belichick excused himself from the team during the week for the funeral of his father, who died Nov. 19.

Nevertheless, signs are popping up that the Patriots may finally be coming together.

Beating New Orleans 24-17 last week gave the two-time defending Super Bowl champions their first two-game winning streak of the year.

Defensively, the Pats were even able to field the same 11 starters in back-to-back games for the first time all season.

There’s hope the defense is finally coming around. A year ago, New England allowed 15 points or fewer in eight regular-season games. So far this season, everybody the Pats have played have scored at least 16.

“The more you win, the more confident you are, but winning two in a row wasn’t our goal,” said linebacker Don Davis. “Our goal is obviously to continue winning. We’re used to winning a lot around here and that hasn’t happened in a while.”

Defensive end Richard Seymour and linebacker Bruschi were back on the field together for the second week in a row, and Mike Stone became the first Patriot in seven weeks to start two consecutive games at strong safety.

“It’s a much better feel around here this week,” said quarterback Tom Brady, who threw for 315 yards last year in a 27-19 victory in Kansas City.

“This week is probably going to be very similar to a lot of the games we had earlier in the year on the road – Denver, Atlanta and Pittsburgh. It’s a tough environment against a very good team. Hopefully we’re ready for the challenge. I know everyone’s excited about it.”

With a rushing defense that’s struggled most of the year, the Patriots can figure on seeing plenty of Johnson. The third-year running back has rushed for more than 100 yards in the first half of each of two games since Priest Holmes went on injured reserve..

His 211 yards against the defensively challenged Texans represent the best total of the year in the NFL.

“Johnson’s a guy that has a lot of elusiveness, but he’s a downhill runner and likes to get those positive yards quickly,” said Bruschi. “Just as soon as he sees the hole he’s going to hit it. Plus he’s got Will Shields over there, he’s got (Brian) Waters over there, two Pro Bowl offensive linemen that are doing a great job for him, and he runs like he’s got a chip on his shoulder.”

AP-ES-11-26-05 1009EST

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