Third string rookie quarterbacks are not supposed to beat undefeated opponents. But Jacoby Brissett played more than well enough to come out on top against the self-destructing Texans Thursday night, completing 11 of 19 passes and adding 48 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The dominant 27-0 victory against a favored opponent left us wondering why we had ever doubted Belichick’s Patriots in the first place.
Although Belichick would rather not draw attention to what various commentators have dubbed the Patriot Way, his approach for the team has always been fairly simple, if intense. There is no one secret to their success, certainly no diabolical plot to change the air pressure in their footballs. Rather, Belichick demands that players buy in completely to the team culture: no entitlement, total focus, do your job. The coaches will then neutralize the strength of the other team, and the Patriots will win a whole lot of games. Even professional players who generally go along with a team culture, though, can easily get complacent. That’s why adversity has always been a boon for the Patriots, allowing Belichick to have his players’ undivided attention. And in many ways, last night’s game was the perfect setup for the Patriots to be at their best.
The NFL’s Thursday night games are a form of adversity by themselves. The Thursday games have often been hard to watch, and not just because of the goofy “color rush” jerseys. The combination of hurting players back on the field with fewer days to rest and hurried teams having fewer days to prepare often leads to a mediocre result. The Patriots have won their last seven games on Thursdays, including six in a row over the last five seasons.
No team would like to rely on inexperienced players, especially at quarterback, the most important position in team sports. But Belichick will almost always find a capable next man up and put him in a position to succeed. Belichick is now 6-0 with a quarterback making his first career start.
The Patriots’ favorite kind of adversity, though, has to be criticism. Unlike most perceived obstacles, criticism doesn’t actually have any harmful effect on a team’s readiness. In general, the only thing people’s opinions about the Patriots can do is change other people’s opinions about the Patriots. (In say in general because one particular opinion led to a witch hunt which took away the franchise quarterback for four games.) Helping Belichick focus his team without actually hurting their preparation or performance almost makes it too easy.
Trent Dilfer still remembers his immortal declaration that the Patriots were not good anymore. The result was a slaughter of a good Bengals team and an eventual Super Bowl victory. More minor slights help as well. The Patriots are now 11-1 in their last 12 games as home underdogs.
Just because Belichick relies on team culture over talent does not mean that he doesn’t need talented players. Having a next man up is great, but having one of the best of all time is better. In two weeks, an angry, motivated Tom Brady will be a massive upgrade over Jacoby Brissett. But Belichick realizes that except for Rob Gronkowski, every single player on the Patriots is replaceable. Even Brady.
Images courtesy of Jim Rogash/Getty Images and TheNewsNerd.