In Bill Belichick’s world, adversity is treated as fuel. His Patriots have a full tank tonight.
Would it have been easier if the Patriots weren’t caught in an avalanche of COVID-related crap over the weekend? Of course.
But Belichick’s stoic, obstacle-is-the-way, control-what-we-can-control approach means this team probably won’t just sit buried and feeling sorry for itself.
The track record is long enough by now to understand that — even if the Patriots get drilled tonight by the best team in football — this week has the potential to galvanize a team that’s already leading the league in mental toughness and resilience.
Think about the offseason outflow of very important, experienced, high-character players who could deal with the “thank you sir, may I have another?” adversity of playing pro football for the Patriots.
Between Tom Brady, Stephen Gostkowski, Patrick Chung, Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton, Phillip Dorsett, Brandon Bolden, James Develin, Duron Harmon and Ben Watson, 123 combined years of NFL experience left the team.
Nobody had an offseason, but for the Patriots, that time to bond, build chemistry and learn figured to be critical because of the departures, releases and opt-outs.
To put a twist on the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child, it takes shared time and strong leaders to build a culture within a football team. But even without the time, the Patriots have shown so far they aren’t missing a beat on that front.
And as far as the football goes, they prepared to pivot their entire offensive approach in July when Cam Newton was signed. When he quickly won the job, the pivot became an embrace of something they’d never done before. That ain’t easy either.
The whole Brady-to-Newton handoff remains so fascinating to me in terms of how it’s psychologically impacted this team.
Brady is one of the greatest performers in the history of sport. Period. And the foundation for all he’s done is because of will, drive, competitiveness, resilience, blappity, blah, blah — all of which Belichick tapped into and cultivated.
But the drive undeniably waned when it became clear to him Belichick was viewing him as a millstone. Tom’s fault? Bill’s fault? That’s a chicken-or-the-egg debate for another day.
But replacing a sour Brady with the supremely-talented, ultra-charismatic leader in Newton who arrived in Foxboro with all the motivation of a 2000 Brady AND with nine years of experience? Masterstroke.
Think the vibe around this team would have been the same if Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham were the opening day starter? Right. So we agree.
Now, their newly-sprouted big toe isn’t there. And it has to be pointed out that the hurdles being dealt with — game-postponed, same-day travel, shortened week, the bug in the building — are traceable to Newton’s confirmed case.
That’s not COVID-shaming. That’s a fact. The level of second-guessing, finger-wagging and schadenfreude that would result if Brady were here and had a confirmed case? It would dwarf the so far respectful understanding being extended to Newton. Which the guy deserves. It’s a virus. People get ‘em.
But because Newton got it, the Patriots are playing a pivotal game against an AFC rival on the road without their best player. The travel drain is going to impact the rest of this week. It’s going to impact prep and performance this Sunday against the Broncos. Depending on how long Newton is down, it could affect future games.
And every player, coach and staff member on the planes the Patriots are taking back and forth to Kansas City will have — somewhere in the back of their mind — the concern that there will be an outbreak.
The soil is ready and cultivated for seeds of doubt and woe-is-us to be sown. Guys are no doubt very pissed off about all of it.
What do they do with the irritation? What will they do with the adversity? What will they do with the fuel?