Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO -- Mind-guiding slogans have been a staple of the Patriots organization for nearly two decades. 

Ignore the noise. 

Do your job. 

It is what it is. 

They love their highly-digestible, easily-repeated mantras designed to get the organization -- and often the fanbase -- moving in the same mental direction.

Suggestion for 2018? 

Forget About It.

MORE TOM E. CURRAN

We all know Super Bowl losers traditionally have a difficult time moving on from the previous year’s disappointment. Since 2000, eight teams have failed to make the postseason after losing the Super Bowl. Not since the Buffalo Bills in 1993 has a team has made it back to the Super Bowl the year after losing. 

But couple that history with the still-mystifying decision by Bill Belichick to let Malcolm Butler rot on the sidelines while his secondary got riddled and you have a perfect storm for a paralyzing Super Bowl hangover. 

Closure clearly isn’t coming. 

From minutes after the game ended (here are nine outraged postgame questions posed to Matt Patricia) to the owners meetings in March to persistent probing of players, the questions about Butler have been asked over and over. 

 

The replies can be distilled down to a collection of wordy, weary shrugs. Players say they don’t know. Coaches won’t say. So the corpse of 2017 lies there awaiting a burial that isn’t coming. 

In Belichick’s training-camp-opening press conference on Wednesday, Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe poked at the body a few more times. It was a necessary exercise because, as Shaughnessy noted, “Everywhere we go, folks want to ask about Malcolm Butler . . . " 

Even though we knew what the answer would be, the questions needed asking because they still haven’t been answered. 

And now Belichick’s on the record for the rest of camp with his answer, “Right now my focus is on the 2018 season. Not 2017, not 2014, not 2007, not 2004, not 2001, not 2000. I'm not focused on any of those seasons. They're done."

Getting his team to follow suit will be one of the great challenges of Belichick’s Hall of Fame coaching career. Because they still aren’t over it, and probably won’t ever be. 

“It’s always tough to lose a Super Bowl,” Matt Slater told me on Saturday. “It’s gut-wrenching. It’s emotional. Obviously there’s been a lot of noise going on outside (this offseasom) but we gotta be able to ignore the noise, move past last year and focus on today. The approach has to be the same as it is every year. We have to come out hungry, we have to come out willing and ready to prove ourselves and the only way that can be done is by putting the work in. That’s where our focus needs to be, not on where we’ll be six months from now or six months ago. 

“You gotta have a short memory in this game,” Slater added. “We gotta hit the reset button, we gotta realize nothing’s promised to us. The only way we do that is working.”

The time for air-clearing has long passed in the opinion of former Patriots linebacker and captain Jerod Mayo. If it was going to be done, it should have been done at the start of minicamp or OTAs. Mayo believes there’s no way Belichick spends a millisecond discussing with the team what happened in February even though Mayo has said the players do deserve some kind of explanation. 

Other teams have tried different approaches. The Seahawks, after their similarly distressing Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, saw some of their core players travel to Hawaii for an airing of grievances on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Didn’t really take. Seattle hasn’t been back to the Super Bowl since and their core has been dismantled. Former Seahawk Cliff Avril said this offseason that the decline began when Butler picked off Russell Wilson at the goal line.

 

The Rams lost to the Patriots in SB36 and head coach Mike Martz came in for major criticism after underutilizing Marshall Faulk. That would-be dynasty died on the vine as well and Martz was regarded as the reason. 

The management style in New England is far different, of course. Belichick charts the course, his assistants take the controls and his captains and veterans are charged with keeping everyone’s eyes front. 

MORE TOM E. CURRAN

One reason the challenge is unique is because some of the leaders have -- without direct criticism -- made it clear they still aren’t over the Butler decision and the loss to the Eagles. 

They rolled the rock up the mountain from July to February. With the summit in sight, it rolled back and flattened them. And now they start rolling it again after an offseason in which their most important player made a point of working to rule. 

The Patriots have been mostly impervious to the ebbs and flows the rest of the league is susceptible to for two reasons: Tom Brady and continuity on the coaching staff. 

But Brady, at 41, has self-actualized. We’ve seen since the SB51 win over Atlanta that Brady’s realized when Belichick says, “Jump .  . ” Brady doesn’t have to answer, “How high?”  

“Why?” and “No” are also options. 

How does that change the leadership dynamic within the team? It’s not like Brady’s about to start smoking butts and nodding off in the back row at team meetings, but the well-publicized tug-of-war between he and Belichick didn’t escape the attention of Brady’s teammates this offseason. 

Does that, along with the loss to Philly and the retention of Josh McDaniels as head-coach-in-waiting (even though we’ve been showered with dubious denials he is) chip away Belichick’s authority or the trust his players have in him?

Eventful as the past 17 seasons have been, this is a question we’ve never really had to pose.

If the Patriots were a TV family, they’d be sitting down to dinner right now, Belichick at the head of the table. The tumult and drama of whatever crisis would be ignored. The only sound would be chewing and the scrape of forks on plates. 

The only words spoken, “Please pass the salt.”
 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE