Patriots

Bill Belichick says Patriots' mental toughness can improve, but how quickly?

Bill Belichick says Patriots' mental toughness can improve, but how quickly?

You've seen the clip by now.

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were standing on the sidelines in New Orleans back in 2009. It was the end of a 38-17 Week 12 blowout. Belichick's headset was off. There was nothing more he could do so he went to his best player to talk. To vent. 

"We got a long way to go," Belichick said, captured by NFL Films for their "A Football Life" special on the Patriots coach.

"We got a long way to go. I'm telling you. We just have no mental toughness. We go on the road, we have no mental toughness. We can't play the game the way we need to play it. 

"And it's not them, either. It's totally us. Just totally us. Gonna have to find a way here to be a tougher team when we get on the road . . . I just can't get this team to play the way we need to play. I just can't do it. So [expletive] frustrating."

Brady shook his head.

"We do it in spurts," he said. "We just don't do it for four quarters."

"No," Belichick replied, "and the tougher it gets, the less likely we are to do it."

With that, Belichick sighed.

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The 2018 Patriots don't have the same DNA that the 2009 iteration of the team did. That was a team that had just lost Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison. It was a team with a second-year captain in Jerod Mayo. It was a team in transition, separating the first half of the Patriots dynasty with the second. 

But this year's team has some of the same issues that one did. It's the first team to lose five regular-season games since that 2009 squad. It's the first team to lose five road games since 2009, when the Patriots lost six away from Gillette Stadium. 

Belichick's primary gripe that night nine years ago in New Orleans was with his team's mental toughness. It would be hard to believe he was thrilled with what this year's team has shown in that regard, particularly after a loss in Pittsburgh where they racked up a season-high 14 penalties, went 3-for-10 on third down and 0-for-3 in the red zone. 

On a conference call Monday I asked Belichick how he'd gauge the mental toughness this year's team has shown. 

"I think it’s a tough group of players," Belichick said. "Like anything, like every year, there’s always room for improvement and that’s the way it is every year. We always try to perform at our best in every area, whether that’s mental toughness, situation football, running game, passing game, kicking game, you name it.

"I mean, we always try to perform at our best, and being physically and mentally tough is a big part of this game, so we always try to do our best at that and there’s always room for improvement."

It's the amount of room there is to improve in those critical areas that's the surprise. Unlike 2009, this is a team that has much of its core from back-to-back Super Bowl seasons intact.

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Brady is at the center. Rob Gronkowski is healthy enough to play. Julian Edelman and Patrick Chung, toughness personified in the Patriots locker room for years, are both still available. Dont'a Hightower, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Matthew Slater, James White, Trey Flowers, four-fifths of the starting offensive line -- all either captains, former captains or key pieces to at least one Super Bowl title (and in several cases two) -- remain.

Mental toughness doesn't seem like something that should be bothering this group. But when I asked Belichick if that is an innate quality, something a player might bring with him from high school through college and something that would get scouted and drafted, he said no.

"No, I think we all need to work on it all the time," he said.

The question is this: Can the Patriots make up enough ground between now and when they'll be tested next -- maybe as soon as Wild Card weekend?

"You can't get it in a week," Rob Ninkovich, a member of that 2009 team, said on The Ex-Pats Podcast this week. "It's like an attitude. It's a demeanor. It's when you are kind of backed up into that corner -- are you going to accept the fact that you're there? Or are you going to jump out and try and claw someone's face?

"Are you just going to sit there and let it happen to you? Or are you going to do something about it?"

There are players on this Patriots team who've done their share of fighting out of tight spots in the past. Super Bowl LI is the easy example for many of players to point to and say, "See!"

But they're through almost a full season and the faces clawed in critical situations have been few and far between when away from Foxboro.

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NFL Rumors: Patriots in consideration to host 2022 NFL Draft in Boston

NFL Rumors: Patriots in consideration to host 2022 NFL Draft in Boston

Could the NFL's biggest spectacle outside the Super Bowl be coming to the City of Champions?

The league is considering Boston as one of its potential host cities for the 2022 NFL Draft, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday night. 

"My understanding is what the NFL wants to do is go a little city, big city, and kind of alternate,” Rapoport said. “Obviously Nashville (in 2019) and then Vegas next, they’re basically saving a spot for a bigger city.

"And some of the ones that have been mentioned to me: Boston, potentially, with the Patriots hosting, that would be one. Washington, D.C., with the Redskins. Maybe Houston with the Texans, although usually these are reserved for teams that do not host Super Bowls. But figure that (2022) spot is saved for one of the bigger NFL cities."

The NFL has venues set for the 2020 (Las Vegas), 2021 (Cleveland) and 2023 (Kansas City) drafts, but according to Rapoport is eyeing a bigger NFL market for the 2022 draft. Boston would fit that mold, as the defending champion Patriots are one of the league's most visible teams.

Where in Boston the draft would take place is a different question, as the event has shifted to open-air venues in recent years after being held indoors at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

TD Garden is an obvious indoor candidate, while City Hall Plaza, the site of several Patriots Super Bowl send-off parties and championship rallies, could be an outdoor possibility. The Boston Common is one of the largest public gathering spaces in the city and might be considered an option.

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Duron Harmon dresses as Jon Snow of 'Game of Thrones' in hilarious Instagram post

Duron Harmon dresses as Jon Snow of 'Game of Thrones' in hilarious Instagram post

Duron Harmon is a massive "Game of Thrones" fan, but what did the Patriots safety think of the series finale?

The answer to that question will have to wait until Harmon's recap this Sunday, which he previewed with a hilarious Instagram post showing him dressed as one of the show's main characters, Jon Snow.

See for yourself below:

That's dedication.

Prior to last week's series finale, Harmon gave his prediction on how the show would end. Since his prediction didn't come true, it'll be interesting to see what he thought of the series' polarizing ending.

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