Johnson: Watch out, 2018 Patriots found their mojo

AP Photo/Charlie RiedelFormer Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson shown here helping take down ex-Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez (88), with help from Eugene Wilson (26) during a game at Arrowhead Stadium in of 2004. 

Ted Johnson always has and probably always will go out of his way to follow his former team, the New England Patriots, the only team he ever played for.

The 2018 Patriots, from afar, have looked very familiar.

Stingy defense. Very good running game. Schemes, schemes and more schemes. And Tom Brady at quarterback, making plays when needed.

“Honestly, what they were doing is what we did when this all started in 2001,” said Johnson, who retired after the third Super Bowl win in Jacksonville in February of 2005.

“Defensively, they’ve been tough to move the ball on,” said Johnson. “They’ll let you chip away, but nothing big. And on offense, they were featuring their running game more than they have been doing the last decade, Tom [Brady] was using a lot of play-action, more than he has the past decade.”

Johnson figured they could get to the AFC Championship, at best, but not really good enough to win that game or even a Super Bowl.

But then the Jets game happened. And then the Chargers game happened.

Now, says Johnson, all bets are off. The 2018 Patriots, despite being challenged talent-wise (only two players, Brady and Stephon Gilmore, made the Pro Bowl), could actually pull this off.

“They remind me of the Cleveland Cavaliers the last few years, sort of getting through the regular season, looking OK sometimes, getting a decent seed (No. 2 in AFC),” said Johnson. “It was almost like they were saying, ‘Let’s just get this season over and everybody healthy.

“Then the season is about to end and ... bang! ... They turn it on,” said Johnson. “Brady starts spreading the ball around. The defense is going after the quarterback. This is a different team than we’ve seen all season.

“If you asked me a month ago ‘Could the Patriots go to Kansas City and win an AFC Championship game?’ I’d have given them a puncher’s chance,” said Johnson. “Now? Hell, they look like they could beat anybody, any where.”

Johnson said the Patriots’ performance against the Jets, despite the injuries and issues they had, was the best it had been all season.

“Something clicked there,” said Johnson. “And then they were even better against the Chargers, which were a much more worthy opponent. I didn’t think they had this in them. But they do.”

The high-flying Chiefs remind Johnson of a team his Patriots faced a few times during that Super Bowl excursion from 2001 through 2004 -- the Indianapolis Colts.

“I know what our mentality was when we faced those Colts teams. We punched them in the mouth,” said Johnson. “I think this Patriots team is going to try the same thing. You’re going to see them be physical at the line of scrimmage with their receivers. I’ll bet they hit [Tyreek] a lot. Same with [Travis] Kelce.”

Johnson had spent the last five years in the Houston area, where he grew up, and worked as a sports radio co-host following the Houston Texans.

But he always has kept an eye on his former team, the only team he played for from 1994 through 2004.

“I believe the Patriots smell blood,” said Johnson. “The most confident they’ve been, as a team, is right now -- today. It’s amazing. It won’t be easy in Kansas City. They are very good.

“And I know the Patriots have had issues on the road this season, but honestly, I think that doesn’t matter any more,” said Johnson. “You doubt the Patriots and you usually are wrong.”

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.

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