Mark the Patriots down as the first team in this COVID-riddled season to say, “Hey. We have a voice in this too. And if we don’t like the shots you’re calling, we’ll be calling our own.”
Did the Patriots tell the NFL they weren’t playing in the wake of another positive COVID test emerging Sunday morning? Or did the league read the tea leaves and understand that, if they tried to push forward with the game, the hosts might have the lights off?
We’re still trying to determine that. But either way, the Patriots – through words and deeds this week – showed they’re the ones in charge of what happens at 1 Patriot Place.
We have a rogue state in Foxboro? Maybe. If we do, it’s for all the right reasons.
The moment Cam Newton tested positive last week and the Patriots were told to get on a plane and fly to Kansas City anyway, Patriots players’ trust in the process began to melt.
Six days and three more positive tests later, the Patriots-Broncos game is off.
The league wisely avoided a staredown with the Patriots who have, admirably, stood up all week for the best interests of themselves and their families.
It’s obvious which way the league was headed Sunday morning. They were going to ramrod this game through.
A tweet comes out that a Patriot has tested positive.
Another tweet comes that the NFL still plans on playing the game.
James White sends out a tweet speaking for every Patriots employee reacting to the news the game was on.
The game is postponed.
Ol’ Sweet Feet himself didn’t tip the scales with a couple emojis but his, “Yeah, OK … we’ll see about that…” response was the tip of the iceberg to what was undoubtedly going on behind the scenes.
From the coaches to the players, the Patriots are galvanized in using their agency. This isn’t some wildcat strike by a few players.
Even if there are differing opinions – and I presume there are – there is unity within the team that if players and/or coaches are uncomfortable, they will be supported.
People who have spent the past 20 years wondering where Bill Belichick’s heart is should be led directly to how he’s operated this week.
Even while being his usual evasive self, the words he’s chosen to say tell you all you need to know.
“What’s best for our football team is the health and safety of our team,” Belichick said on Saturday. “That’s our No. 1 priority. So, without that, we don’t have a team. We have to maintain the integrity of not only our football team, but also the extended team – our families and the loved ones for every member of our team. That’s got to come first. …
"We can’t compromise the health, safety and well-being of our football team, including our staff,” he continued. “I don’t think that’s the answer, I don’t think that’s the way to go in the long term, and I think that’s going to be much more detrimental than a short-term adjustment that we have to make in order to maximize everyone’s health and safety. That’s our approach, that’s the way I look at it, and I know that’s the way Mr. [Robert] Kraft looks at it, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. We’ll put the team first and that’s our philosophy."
The powers that be – the NFL and NFLPA – put themselves in this position.
On Wednesday, team sources indicated to me waning trust in the league after the Patriots flew to Kansas City then had a request for more space in the Chiefs locker room rebuffed.
The Patriots – not the NFL – were the ones who decided to keep their facility closed on Friday. The Patriots were the ones who took two planes to Kansas City. The Patriots were the ones who had coaches and players voluntarily staying in hotels this week to sequester themselves away from their families.
On Saturday, Jason McCourty made it clear where he and his teammates stood.
“The same way you guys are sitting there thinking about it like, 'Hey, they're getting on a plane on Monday. Well, those days don't really add up from the incubation period.' (Those) were the same questions we were asking our union before we headed out there.
“But you guys saw, we took off, and we played in the game, and we came back. So as players, we're trying to control what we can control, and at the same time -- especially me, and I know Dev (Devin McCourty) and Slate (Matthew Slater) as older guys -- we're trying to continue to push the envelope to hold everybody accountable and make sure that they have our best interest in mind."
McCourty didn’t mince words, questioning whether the league and union truly cared about the players’ safety or were just trying to make things look and sound good for the masses.
There will be a lot of, “must be nice to play a game for a living and get to skip work” sentiment out there today.
It’s important to see the bigger picture, though. These employees were given assurances by their union and the employer that they’d be treated a certain way. They’ve lost faith in the leadership of both.
“I don’t want to sound like we’re victims or anything, but we’re going through the same exact thing that you guys are going through and everybody in our nation right now,” said McCourty. “The coronavirus has stopped us all and we all have had to figure it out. That is what we’re doing here. No different than my kids figuring out how they are going to go to school this year or anybody else throughout our country.
“I think (Belichick) felt like just through different doctors and medical experts who have been studying and getting to know this virus that it was in our best interest not be around each other because it was just a lot of uncertainty and a lot of unknown,” he continued.
“As a captain, as a player on this team, you appreciate that you are not put in a bind and you don’t have to choose between am I putting myself in danger or whatever the case my be. It makes you proud that we have done everything we possibly can as we have reentered the building and we reenter whatever you call our norm for this year.
"… People in this building, under this roof, we're all in this thing together. We all trust one another, we believe in one another and we're going to continue to move forward with constant communication and figure this thing out."