PROVIDENCE, R.I. — What’s that they say about the NFL? Not For Long?
It’s an undeniable truth. Change is the only constant. The league just turned over a quarter of its coaches. The average playing career lasts six seasons. New blood, new schemes, new ideas, new rules. You never know what the next big thing is going to be.
Except in New England.
In New England, no matter what else changes, two things remain the same. Two people, actually: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
The coach and the quarterback are the Patriots’ pillars: steady, sturdy, superior. They are the first coach-QB combo to win five conference titles in the Super Bowl era — and will seek their sixth in the AFC Championship Game against Baltimore on Sunday. They have the best winning percentage and the most victories of any tandem since the 1970 merger.
They are, upon first blush, nothing alike. Brady has a supermodel wife, wears UGG boots and can charm a room with his humble demeanor and boyish good looks. Belichick’s boldest fashion statement is cutting the sleeves off his drab, gray hoodies. He speaks to the media in a monotone. He seldom smiles.
Yet what makes Belichick and Brady such an effective duo — and the Patriots such a consistently successful team — is that they are, deep down, completely alike. The way they view, approach and attack the game is the same. And it permeates the Patriots. It filters down to everyone, from All-Pros to role players.
“Coach always talks about doing your job,” Brady told reporters this week. “You do your job so that everyone around you can do their job. When people trust each other, then you can play with anticipation and confidence and ultimately go out there and play aggressively.
“There’s really no secret to it. Coach puts a lot of pressure on us in practice every day to perform at a high level. When we don’t, we certainly hear about it. When you show up to work every day, you better have your game face on because you’ll end up on the lowlight film the next morning. I think the guys bring that attitude every day, and over the course of a long season, it results in enough wins to get us into the playoffs, gives us a chance.”
With Belichick coaching and Brady quarterbacking, the Patriots always have a chance. They have won their division nine of the past 10 seasons. They won 14 playoff games in the 2000s, tied for the most by any team in any decade. This is their seventh appearance in an AFC Championship Game since the 2001 season. They’ve lost only once.
So what is it, specifically, that Belichick and Brady do that separates them from everybody else?
There’s a lot that goes into winning football games, obviously. But if there’s one trait that stands out, it’s the way they spend every waking moment preparing for every conceivable possibility.
Brady says Belichick coaches as hard in May as he does January. The idea is that each step leads to the next.
“He is very consistent,” Brady said. “There is one thing you can always expect about Coach Belichick: He is going to give you everything he’s got.
“I think that is why we have been able to make improvements over the course of the year. Because it is not like, ‘OK, guys, this week is not that important.’ It is always like, ‘Look, this week is important because it is only going to build on next week.’ Hopefully we climb that mountain over the course of the long season, and you get to a point at the end where you are performing as well as you have ever performed.”
Brady is big on not wasting opportunities to improve. Each milestone matters. He describes the progression as follows: Minicamp helps you prepare for training camp. Training camp helps you prepare for the early part of the season. The early part of the season gets you ready the post-Thanksgiving stretch run. The stretch run leads to now.
During the season, Brady says, once one week ends, “the clock is ticking on the next week.” Every day, Brady grinds away like a practice-squad player trying to avoid the waiver wire.
“It never ends with Tom,” veteran receiver Deion Branch said. “Sunday morning before the game in the meetings, we’re still going over things.”
Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork — one of only three players left from New England’s Super Bowl-winning run, along with Brady and Branch, who left and came back — marvels at the way Brady works. Sometimes, Wilfork says, he’ll see Brady doing drills in practice and wonder: “Man, you have been doing this for so long, and you are still worried about your footwork?”
But as Wilfork and his teammates have come to learn, it’s those little details that end up making a big difference.
The legacy question
Much of the talk this week in Foxborough was about legacies. As consistently great as they have been, Belichick and Brady haven’t won the Super Bowl in eight years. If they were to win this one, the thinking goes, it would cement their legacy (as if it weren’t cemented already).
“Those guys have had tremendous success over the years,” special-teams ace Matthew Slater said. “I’m sure when their careers are over, they’ll be able to look back and be able to really appreciate what they have done. We’re just focused on the here and now. I’m sure they would tell you that same thing.”
Sure enough …
Belichick: “Right now, I’m trying to beat the Ravens. That’s where our football team’s challenge is, that’s what we’re focused on. The rest of it is for another time or another place.”
Brady: “To tell you the truth, I don’t really think about any of that. I’m just trying to win a football game this week.”
Everything around them changes. The message remains the same.
Distributed by MCT Information Services