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Chiefs head into Patriots showdown with ground game in flux

NFL notebook

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs will head into arguably their biggest game of the season today in New England with the very real possibility that their leading rusher could be a running back that joined the team just a few days ago.

Not that it seems to make much difference for them.

For all the high-flying, record-setting performances by quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense, the one thing that has been missing for the better part of two years is a consistent ground game. The Chiefs have cycled through numerous running backs, tried wide receivers on jet sweeps and end-arounds, and even utilized Mahomes on scrambles and bootlegs, all with the same underwhelming results.

Now, the Chiefs visit the Patriots in a rematch of their riveting AFC championship game without two of their leading rushers, Damien Williams and Darrel Williams, and Spencer Ware back in the fold after signing earlier this week.

“They all practiced and took rotation in there,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I can tell you we’re comfortable with any of them playing. We’re going to see how it goes once the game gets going.”

That is basically the approach the Chiefs have taken all season.

Without a running back such as Saquon Barkely or Ezekiel Elliott, the Chiefs have fully embraced the committee approach. They’ve had five different leading rushers through their first 13 games, including Mahomes in a win over the Chargers in Mexico City. It was Darwin Thompson, a sixth-round pick, who led them last week against the Raiders by piling up yardage in the fourth quarter, when the Chiefs were salting away an important AFC West victory.

The Chiefs have had only one running back eclipse 100 yards in a game — Damien Williams ran for 125 against the Vikings. But even that performance came with an asterisk: He gained 91 yards on one spectacular touchdown run.

Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy insisted this week the Chiefs are comfortable with anybody they put in the backfield, in part because of the guy handing off the ball.

Elsewhere:

n Jets running back Le’Veon Bell has been ruled out for New York’s game against the Miami Dolphins on today because of an illness. Bell practiced fully on Wednesday, but then sat out Thursday and Friday. He was listed Friday as questionable for the game after being sent home to rest. The team announced Saturday that Bell would not play.

n The Panthers have signed Shaq Thompson to a four-year extension, keeping the linebacker under contract through the 2023 season.

n Atlanta Falcons punter Matt Bosher is done for the season after re-injuring his right groin.

n The Patriots have re-signed kicker Nick Folk a week after releasing him following an emergency appendectomy.

n The Detroit Lions have been fined $75,000 for violating the NFL’s injury report policy before quarterback Matthew Stafford missed a Nov. 10 game at Chicago.

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