By Fergus Head
It has become routine to read that what the Patriots are doing is routine. That’s the point we’re at. What must really hurt is that there really is very little an opposing team, head coach, or co-ordinator (specifically defensive) can do to kid themselves into thinking they’ve put together a sound plan. It’s simply not in human nature to conjure up such impossible imaginations as that this week, in spite of all the evidence thrust under our noses from this month, year or decade, that this obscure, arbitrary week will be the one where Brady, Belichick and the rest of the gang are outdone. It’s not feasible. Without even trying, the Patriots now win mind games simply by turning up and playing. The opposition has most likely spent the majority of the week exhausting all of their mental energy and fortitude on trying to convince themselves that the plan they’ve put in place is satisfactory. That’s just so painful. Years of training, graft and dedication have lead a man who is therefore someone at the peak of his craft, to stand on the other side of a 100-yard field, and watch a 60 minute dismantling of his life’s-work. Playing the Patriots instils an inferiority complex from the first minute of preparation, to the final whistle, and it’s the repetition that is why what they do seems so easy. It isn’t the only reason they’re great, but it’s such a huge part of why it seems so lackadaisical when they win, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. When they win, things get easier for them to do so.
As with so many Patriot related comments, this seems so mundane, but it simply isn’t appreciated enough, it almost never can be. But to continually repeat what is supposed to be so impossible year after year is now an intrinsic part of the game plan. If they don’t carry the invincible mystique that has become so commonplace it’s hard to see as many of the things they do working so infallibly. This is therefore credit to the aura that Belichick and Brady have created over the last 17 years, of course, but with each week comes a new foundation to repeat from, a new time frame in which opposition MUST refer to in order to compete, but in doing so contribute to their own mental and final demise.
Take Saturday, 13th January 2018. AFC Divisional round matchup between New England and Tennessee. The Patriots are 7-0 down after a sublime one-handed touchdown catch from Corey Davis capped off a 95-yard drive that the Titans were clearly very proud of. And rightly so. Ask anyone (other than the Titans) who was going to win, however, and the assurance of the answer one would likely receive would make the uninformed inquirer assume that the Patriots were already 21-7 up, already switching on the auto-pilot. Against any other team, this would be a different story. That kind of drive is never, ever ignored if the Titans are playing the Jags. Or the Steelers. Or any other team in the playoffs, or the league for that matter. A 95-yard drive is synonymous with at least some form of a grip on the contest. But that just isn’t the case against the Patriots. And this is the art of repetition. This is the masterpiece that the Patriots have so successfully created. Yes there was explosiveness from Dion Lewis, who finished the game with his 3rd straight 130+ yard performance, the brutish brilliance of Gronkowski, who’s performance earned him PFF’s highest grade awarded to a Patriot in this game, and of course the collective genius of the minds of Brady, Belichick, Patricia, McDaniels and the rest. These things were all tangible, evident nuggets of this football team’s assets. But it is what can’t be measured that makes watching the Patriots seem so inevitable and predictable. The self-doubt of Dick LeBeau can’t be translated into yards. LeBeau internally changes his mind because of what he saw on tape from week 6 when the Patriots were 7-0 down against the Jets, 10-yard gain. That doesn’t show up in the box score. Dick LeBeau doesn’t shout into his mic. “I’ve changed my mind!!!” so there’s no way that NFL films can write a gaudy Facebook post about the ‘Top mic’d up plays of the week- LeBeau doubts himself in the face of a historically great opponent’.
The Patriots’ greatest weapon is that through amassing a database of continuous success and reliability, suddenly Brandon Bolden is a genuine threat because look, there goes James White scoring 3 touchdowns in a Super Bowl, or look, there goes Wes Welker, a 1.75m tall receiver with a 4.65 second 40-yard dash time leading the league in receptions, or look, there goes that 6th round pick out of Michigan marching his way down the field for his first of 5 Super Bowl's. The use of seemingly underwhelming players is one good example of how the Patriots mould the opposition’s mind to overplay and overthink things, but it’s certainly not the only one. Belichick is renowned for shutting down the opposition’s greatest asset. That’s just what he does. Yet the minute you do that to his team, it shape shifts into an entirely different machine, and suddenly the plan that has been so carefully deliberated over is decimated. In a way it’s hypnotic. The Patriots subconsciously dismantle future opponents in the most counter-intuitive way possible- by never admitting they’re even thinking about them. The impact that all of these seemingly meaningless details have on the teams they will face in the coming weeks, and then years, isn’t quantifiable, and for that reason it seems to be ignored, yet it is arguably the primary point to attack as a member of the opposition, not just for a week but for a whole year. We saw just that play out for the Steelers. So desperate at a chance to avenge the week 15 loss, they tripped before they got a chance, simply because the allure of the glory later on was too much to handle. It’s the ultimate snare, and it’s the Patriot way.
Mowlem is a young sports writer from Reading, United Kingdom. All articles are written by Reece Mowlem (unless stated otherwise).