FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quarterback Cam Newton and the New England Patriots have come a long way in a short time. Now they can measure how far they have to go in Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS).
"We know we're going to have our work cut out for ourselves in Kansas City. It's a championship football team," coach Bill Belichick said. "We'll have to play our best game. And coach it."
The script has been flipped a bit in that regard.
The Patriots have served as a measuring stick for the majority of the NFL in recent years, but 2020 has been a year of transition, with quarterback Tom Brady moving on and significant parts of the roster undergoing turnover.
The defending champion Chiefs (3-0) are now the standard-bearer, with their most recent showing -- a 34-20 road win over the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football -- naturally catching Belichick's eye.
"Another impressive performance, like usual," he said. "Really dominant in the first half, basically scored 31 points there in a half of football on the road, against a good football team. They're an explosive group."
The Patriots (2-1) have also been explosive at times this season, surprisingly so given some of the tempered external expectations surrounding the team. Consider that they were 15th in ESPN's preseason power rankings, and they currently hold the No. 9 spot.
The Patriots can decisively insert themselves as part of the conference elite with an upset win Sunday at Arrowhead, where they last visited in the 2018 AFC Championship Game and pulled off a 37-31 overtime victory by using an impressive formula of complementary football.
One of the key statistics in that game was the Patriots' dominant time-of-possession advantage -- 43:59 to 20:53. It was a shining example of limiting Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes by keeping him on the sideline.
"Ball control and points. We've got to score some points because you know they're going to score some points," running backs coach Ivan Fears said. "I don't care how we do it. Dink and dunk, quarterback sneak -- I don't give a s---. Just get it done."
The Patriots' ability to control the ball was a defining characteristic in their first two victories of the 2020 season. They held a 34:39-25:21 time-of-possession edge over the Miami Dolphins in Week 1, and a 34:49-25:11 advantage over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday.
In their Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, they were on the short end of time of possession, 31:19-28:41.
Of course, the Patriots' victory in the AFC title game two seasons ago also showed the Chiefs' knack for striking quickly with blazing speed.
"They're built on big plays. They want to stress the defense as much as they can vertically and see if they can get you with some of the motions, some of the stuff that they do pre-snap to try to get less ideal matchups [for the defense]," said Patriots safety/linebacker Adrian Phillips, who regularly faced Kansas City in the AFC West during his six years with the Los Angeles Chargers.
"Limit the big plays, that's really how you have to attack these guys. They try to make the game as close to college as they can -- just get the guys in space, and they're basically saying, 'My guys are better in space [than] yours.'"
Defending that approach is easier said than done, of course.
"This is the fastest team I've seen on tape this year," cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino said.
A Week 4 Patriots-Chiefs game in Kansas City naturally brings back memories of the unforgettable 2014 meeting between the teams. The Patriots were blown out 41-14, dropping them to 2-2 as Brady was pulled from the out-of-reach game with 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
There were a lot of questions about the Patriots in the aftermath. Ultimately, they were "on to Cincinnati" and the first of three more Super Bowl championships.
So to say Sunday's game is a tell-all for the 2020 Patriots would be an overstatement. It's still Week 4.
But a measuring-stick type of game that could reshape the conversation surrounding the team?
"Next obstacle," starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn said. "They're world champions, and we are looking forward to going down there and just playing how we play."