FOXBORO, Mass. — One of the New England Patriots’ most important offensive players will experience the AFC Championship spotlight for the first time this Sunday.
That would be rookie running back Sony Michel, who has been a key cog in New England’s offense this season.
Michel amassed 931 rushing yards in 12 games during the regular season, then racked up 129 and three touchdowns on 24 carries in last week’s divisional-round beatdown of the Los Angeles Chargers.
It was the fifth 100-yard performance of the first-round draft pick’s young NFL career, and he could be in line for another this weekend against a Kansas City Chiefs defense that has struggled mightily against the run.
Asked about his nerves ahead of his biggest game as a pro to date, Michel said he feels excited, not anxious, because he believes he’s put in the necessary preparation.
“It’s like taking a test,” Michel said Friday after the Patriots’ final practice of the week. “If you walk into the class and you’re prepared for it, you’re going to ace it. If you walk in not prepared, now you’re nervous and you feel like you’re going to fail.”
He added: “It’s all about what I did this week, and I’m ready for … this Sunday.”
Though they’re best known for Tom Brady’s passing prowess, the Patriots ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing attempts, third in rushing yards and tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns during the regular season and third in both carries and yards in Weeks 12 through 17.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, ranked near the bottom of the league in nearly every rushing category: 27th in yards allowed, 31st in yards allowed per carry, tied for 29th in touchdowns allowed and 32nd in run defense DVOA. They surrendered 100-plus yards on the ground in each of their final five regular-season games (average per game: 164.2), and while the Indianapolis Colts managed just 87 last Saturday in the divisional round, they averaged 6.2 yards per tote.
Against Kansas City in Week 6, Michel finished with 24 carries for 106 yards and two touchdowns in a 43-40 Patriots victory. New England as a team tallied 173 rushing yards in that game, its fourth-highest total of the season.
“I’ve just got to be prepared for a good matchup,” Michel said. “I’m sure they’re going to come out and be swinging. You’ve just got to get up and swing back.”
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images