Back in early September, we here at Goliath predicted that, despite the offseason distraction of Deflategate, the New England Patriots would have a great 2015 campaign and end up back in the Super Bowl come February. Now, nearly half way through the regular season, this prediction looks exactly right. The Patriots are undefeated at 6-0 and outpacing their own 2007 campaign when they went 18-0 on their way to an appearance in Super Bowl 42. Tom Brady, despite being publicly dragged through the mud by the league in the offseason, has never looked better, and the whole team looks to be on a mission. Of course, this is nothing new for the Patriots. No matter what seems to happen with this team, they always find a way to continue winning and succeeding on the field. So what is the secret to the team’s success? Here are 10 things the Patriots do that other NFL teams don’t, helping them stand out so greatly amongst their opponents.
10. They Rehabilitate Washed Up Players
The Patriots new star running back Dion Lewis didn’t play in the NFL last season. He couldn’t find a team that was willing to take a chance on him. After all, the frequently injured Lewis, who is tiny at only 5’8″ and 195 pounds, had bounced around the league. Taken in the fifth round of the 2011 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, Lewis also made brief stops with the Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns before sitting out the 2014 season because he didn’t have a team. Now in New England, the Patriots are doing what they always do — making a star out of a player that no other team saw potential in. This story has been repeated many times during the Bill Belichick era in New England. When slot receiver Wes Welker joined the team in 2007, he was an undrafted player who had washed out with the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins before the Patriots made him a Pro Bowl caliber player. Even Tom Brady was a sixth round draft choice that no other team paid any attention to when Belichick decided to take a chance on him.
9. The Patriots Assimilate Superstar Players
The “Patriot Way” is all about team first, and that is certainly true under head coach Bill Belichick. While every team has superstar players, no other team assimilates those super stars and makes them part of the team like the Patriots. Whether it is offensive star receiver Randy Moss or defensive star cornerback Darrelle Revis, the Patriots take great players and integrate them into the roster so well that they truly become part of the team, making sure that no player is bigger than the organization. And while the Patriots have, arguably, the greatest quarterback to ever play the game in Tom Brady, the team has never been about Brady or his on the field heroics. It is always about the whole team and how the team plays as a group. Belichick is even reluctant to single out players. After last year’s Super Bowl, Belichick was asked if he felt Tom Brady, who had just won his fourth ring, was the best quarterback in NFL history. Belichick’s response? “Tom does a good job for us.” High praise, indeed!
8. They Never Overpay for Players, and Are Willing to Let Guys Walk
Even though Darrelle Revis proved to be a fantastic addition to the Patriots defense and vastly improved their secondary unit, the Patriots let the star player leave after only one season and return to their division rival New York Jets. The reason? The Pats were not willing to pick up a one year, $20 million option on Revis’ contract after that first year with the team. The Jets swooped in and offered Revis $70 million over five years, with nearly $40 million guaranteed. The Patriots didn’t even try and match the offer. Instead, they let Revis go to a heated division rival. This approach drives Patriots fans nuts, but it is something they have seen time and again with the team. A similar incident occurred in 2013 when star slot receiver Wes Welker signed with the hated Denver Broncos, who went from catching balls from Tom Brady to catching them from Peyton Manning. But owner Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick don’t seem to care. They are famous for placing a value on a player and refusing to pay more for their services than they feel they are worth—regardless of who that player is in the game. And while other teams continue to overpay for superstar talent that may or may not deliver, the Patriots are content to get by with mostly role players and stay well under the salary cap.
7. The Patriots Tinker With Their Players and the Roles They Have on the Team
Patriot’s wide receiver Julian Edelman was a quarterback in college at Kent State. When he first joined the Patriots, he was part of a special team as a punt returner. Edelman didn’t become a wide receiver until Wes Welker left the team and headed to Denver to play with the Broncos. Yet, despite his varied roles with the team, Edelman has thrived at each and every position the team has put him in. This is classic Patriots. The coaches and the team are famous for tinkering with each player’s role within the team, and they never hesitate to move a player and change his position if they think he can help the team somewhere else on the field. This season, the Patriots spent much of the first month moving around their offensive line and subbing in lineman—during games. This is almost unheard of among other teams, but the Patriots like to experiment to ensure they are getting the most out of each player and their abilities. While most teams get a player to fulfill a specific role with the team, the Patriots like to say that they try and get good football players and then figure out where best to use them on the field.
6. They Have Consistent Coaching
When offensive line coach and Patriots assistant head coach Dante Scarnecchia retired from the team and the NFL in 2013, he had been a coach with New England for 31 years, having joined the team in 1982. This kind of longevity with one team in professional sports in unheard of—especially in a coaching position, where entire staffs are fired after one losing season. Yet looking at the Patriots coaching staff one sees a lot of consistency. Head coach Bill Belichick is in his fifteenth year with the organization; defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has been with the team since 2004; running backs coach Ivan Fears is in his twentieth season with the team; and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is now in his twelfth season with New England. And although McDaniels left briefly to be the head coach of the Broncos, he headed right back to the Patriots when that gig didn’t work out and hasn’t left since. This stability and institutional knowledge helps to ensure that the team is able to play at a consistent level year in and year out, and week-to-week in the NFL.
5. The Patriots Owner Doesn’t Meddle in Football Affairs
From Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, to New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, the NFL is full of wealthy, egotistical team owners who are way too involved in daily football operations. Whether it is the owner selecting the players, giving coaching tips during games or even threatening the job security of a team’s head coach in the media, far too many team owners stick their noses where they don’t belong and end up causing problems for their team rather than helping them. This is not the case with the New England Patriots. Owner Robert Kraft gives head coach Bill Belichick the freedom and trust he needs to build a winning team each and every season. And while Robert Kraft is an owner who is visible in the media and has a public profile, it is usually for charitable work involving the Patriots. Rarely does Robert Kraft comment publicly on issues involving the team, and has only done so to defend his coaches and players, as he did when the Deflategate controversy erupted. But in terms of running the team and making personnel decisions, Robert Kraft is content to leave that to Bill Belichick and his coaching staff.
4. They Adapt and Game Plan for Each and Every Opponent
Most NFL teams play the same way week in and week out based on the strengths of the players on their roster. You know the Seattle Seahawks are going to run the ball with Marshawn Lynch, just as you know the Green Bay Packers are going to throw the ball with Aaron Rogers. But not the Patriots. This is a team that adapts each week to the opponent they’re playing. And the Patriots game plan depends on the strengths and weaknesses of their opponent’s roster, not theirs. If the team needs to, they’ll run the ball against a team like the Indianapolis Colts. Or, quarterback Tom Brady can throw the ball more than 50 times in a game as he just did against the New York Jets. Tight end Rob Gronkowski can spend the game catching balls or blocking. They can use anyone of their running backs depending on whether they need a nimble little guy (Dion Lewis) or a power back (LaGarrette Blount). The Patriots win largely because they are adaptable and can take away a team’s best weapons while exploiting their weaknesses. And this adaptability is rare in the NFL.
3. The Patriots Know the Rule Book and Use It Against Their Opponents
Whether it is the Tuck Rule, a wide receiver coming onto the field and declaring himself ineligible to a referee, or having another player such as Julian Edelman suddenly turn into a quarterback and sling a touchdown pass down the field, the Patriots plays during games have left many an opposing team’s head coach screaming from the sidelines: “You can’t do that!” only to be told by an official “Yes, actually you can do that. It is in the rule book.” This drives opposing teams and their coaches nuts and is one of the reasons why the Patriots are often accused of cheating. However, the reality is that the team knows the rules better than anyone else and uses the rules to their advantage. And while this enrages football fans and teams across the league, the fact is that every team should know the rule book as well as the Patriots. As Tom Brady said after a divisional playoff win against the Baltimore Ravens in January, when the Pats employed a number of legal trick plays, “It’s not our job to tell other teams the rules.” How true.
2. They Pay Attention to the Little Details
A few weeks ago, the New England Patriots played their first game in the Dallas Cowboys’ mammoth AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The last time the team played on the Cowboys home turf, the massive stadium nicknamed “Jerry’s World” was not yet built. So a new stadium meant that the entire team arrived to the game extra early so that they could check the lighting, the size of the jumbo screen, the Astroturf, the acoustics, figure out where the sunlight would be coming from when they played the first and second half, how loud the speakers were going to be, even the temperature of the Gatorade on the sidelines and the location of the washrooms. This is an example of the small things that the Patriots pay attention to going into each game. Bill Belichick and his team leave nothing to chance and it pays off for them. Last season, the team won a home game against the Denver Broncos because they opted to let their opponent take the ball first in overtime provided they played into the wind. Knowing which way the wind is blowing has become a durable competitive advantage for Belichick and his team.
1. The Patriots Don’t Care What Anyone Thinks of Them
How many other NFL teams could endure the scrutiny, criticism and controversy that the New England Patriots put up with this past offseason because of Deflategate, and then respond with a 6-0 start to the season? Not many. In fact, a controversy as big as Deflategate would tear most teams apart at the seams. But not the Patriots. This is a team that has an uncanny ability to ignore the noise and keep their focus squarely on winning football games. In fact, there is a large sign as you enter the Patriots practice facility that reads: Ignore the noise. And that is exactly what the team does with cyborg-like efficiency. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady know that the best way to silence their critics is to keep on winning, and they do not care what anyone outside of New England thinks about them. So that is what they do, they keep on winning—all the way to the Super Bowl in February.