Will Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes be dancing into the end zone Sunday in Foxborough … or seeing ghosts? Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — After dominating the competition during its first eight games, the New England Patriots’ defense has experienced a few bumps in the road.

The Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans hit them up for 37 and 26 points. Coach Bill Belichick’s top unit didn’t pass the test against either of those top teams.

Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ backfield ran them off the field Week 9. Deshaun Watson had a breakthrough with their secondary, throwing for three touchdowns on Sunday in Houston.

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Another big-time offense, with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs coming to town. Looking at the final four games, this is the last chance before the playoffs for the Patriots’ defense to reassert itself as an elite defense against one of the league’s best offensive units. Cincinnati, Buffalo and Miami don’t have the same kind of firepower as the Chiefs. Those teams aren’t in the same league offensively.

So it’s the last opportunity for the defense to show it can hold down a top team, especially if the offense can’t get its act together.

Let’s just say, if the Patriots can’t stop Jackson, Watson and Mahomes during the season, what makes anyone think they’ll stop them in the postseason, and get back to the Super Bowl? Baltimore, Houston and Kansas City are the very teams likely to stand in their path on the AFC side. If they can’t shut down the Chiefs, the outlook would be bleak.

Looking back, the defense performed well against the Eagles and Cowboys, the latter with a top offensive outfit, but the Ravens and Texans games stuck out because the quarterbacks involved extended plays and are good at diagnosing defenses, which is another way of saying they don’t see ghosts, and play efficiently.

Mahomes also fits that bill. He’s going to challenge the Patriots much like Watson did. Only he has an even more explosive offense around him.

“He’s a great player. He spreads the ball around, he gets it to everybody, they have a lot of explosive plays, they have a lot of explosive players,” Belichick said of Mahomes. “But, his job really is to get the ball to the explosive players so that they can do something with it, and he does a very good job of that. So, he’s got excellent vision, accuracy, and when the defense doesn’t defend the play well or properly, then he’s usually able to take advantage of it.”

Last year, even with the defense essentially shutting down Mahomes a half each time, the Chiefs still put up a ton of points. They lost the regular-season game to the Patriots, 43-40. The Patriots then beat them in the AFC Championship 37-31 in overtime.

Mahomes has a number of weapons, including wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Stopping him, means shutting down those targets. Last season, they were very creative in how they handled the assignments. During the AFC Championship game, Belichick moved his fastest defender, slot corner Jonathan Jones, over to the boundary to take on the blazing Hill. He had help over the top from safety Devin McCourty. Speedy ex-Patriot corner Keion Crossen was also utilized for eight snaps, as Hill was basically shut down, with one catch for 42 yards.

As for Kelce, cornerback J.C. Jackson started on him before Stephon Gilmore ultimately took over. He was taken out of the game as well, with 3 catches for 23 yards.

The Chiefs do have other weapons, be it Sammy Watkins or rookie Mecole Hardman. So the Patriots’ secondary will have its hands full.

“It’s like a chess match. We have to be able to match what they do early in the game, what they do in the middle of the game, and what they do late in the game. It’s not really going to stay the same,” said Patriots defensive co-captain McCourty. “Whatever we’re doing to them, if it’s working well for us, they’re going to come and do something else. I think it’s like going against ourselves. We’re very similar to that from a defensive standpoint. We’re going to try to game plan, take away what you do best, and go from there. We just have to be ready to adjust when they adjust.”

While the Patriots surrendered only 276 yards and allowed the Texans to hold the football for only 25 minutes, the NFL’s top-ranked defensive unit did give up four passing touchdowns and failed to get off the field on six of the Texans’ 11 third-down attempts. The Patriots know they have to improve and do a better job against an even better offense.

“Going against this outfit, I don’t care if we only gave up one touchdown all (year),” said McCourty. “It’s not going to matter against Kansas City. They have so many threats. You go the last two or three years, they’ve been one of the top offenses for a reason. We have to play our best. Giving up four touchdowns passing probably won’t be a good thing for us Sunday.”

Making Mahomes see ghosts is the preferred option.

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