Circumventing the "Circus"

Harry Engels

While a mere four hours by car separate the football-hosting suburbs of Foxborough and East Rutherford, the organizational philosophies couldn't be farther apart.

When you place an index finger on the pulse of the media's talking points as they dissect the New England Patriots each and every week, you'd be hard-pressed to avoid the dreaded "D" word. "The defense is abysmal," they write. "The defense must improve in order for this team to contend," and "what has Bill Belichick done to improve this awful defense?" You might even find yourself stumbling upon a more specific usage involving a slightly more profane "S" word. "The secondary gives up way too many yards," and "this joke of a secondary makes (insert unproven/lame-duck quarterback) look like (insert Hall of Fame quarterback)." The criticisms are fair, and have been duly noted as being the team's largest and most consistently glaring weakness for the last five seasons.

... And that's it. After all, the team hasn't posted a losing record since Bill Belichick's first season as head coach in 2000. Tom Brady and his back-breaking brand of offense typically shatter a record or five a season. The team may not hoist a Lombardi to the heavens at the conclusion of every year, but they're perpetually in the running for one. Sustained success has been the Patriots' calling card for well over a decade, so the shortcomings that one can report on are predictably and inevitably sparse. But perhaps the most stunning accomplishment of all is the complete and utter silence of the locker room.

A covert investigation into the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse might net you a scene similar to Star Wars: Episode II where Obi-Wan's eyes fall onto a seemingly endless number of clones in an infinitely large room. 53 nearly robotic passing, kicking and catching specimens with differing numbers of measurables and facial hair, so as not to easily give the secret away. What else can be said for a team that manages to seamlessly merge so many moving parts each year from different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs? They tend to call this science experiment of theirs "The Patriot Way," and while some may argue it to be too dull and stifling at times, the end result cannot be ignored; it creates a razor-like focus in each player as they bellow the mantra "one game at a time" in cult-like unison.

Things couldn't be more different in New York, where a motorcade of unnamed miscreants annually run the asylum. The same team that "anonymously" criticized the temperament of quarterback Mark Sanchez as being "lazy" and "content" during the offseason—following an "unnamed" clamoring for the services of one Peyton Manning
—are back to their old tricks. This time, there's no way Tim Tebow should take over the starting job in light of Mark Sanchez' continued struggles because "he's terrible," say the Jets. Anonymously.

The Jets are certainly the Yin to the Patriots Yang; adopting a more boisterous and vocal approach that's taken on from the head coach to the individual players. The thing is, amidst their yearly guarantees, threats and chest-beating, they've actually succeeded a handful of times, even trouncing the robotic regiment in New England to secure an AFC Championship berth. When things aren't going well in the face of adversity, however, the team's first instinct is to recoil, and the enemy is no longer the one staring them down in the standings. An approach that netted the New York Jets a period of rare success is suddenly—and almost predictably—their undoing.

The Patriots aren't guaranteed anything with their own individualized and hushed way of handling business, but the ability to strip the game down to simple fundamentals and avoid the unnecessary extracurriculars ensures a position of achieving the most success. Newspaper headlines and confrontational personalities give way to minimizing turnovers and perfecting routes. In-house battles and a lack of trust in your teammates are exchanged for elite conditioning and sound assignments. The less amount of attention you devote to the distractions, the more you can dedicate to the task at hand. A simple assignment, but one that mistakenly becomes churning out creative covers for the New York Post in lieu of winning football games. The truth is, the Patriots have their own type of circus; one of the "three-ring" variety, where a more Three Stooges-esque dropping of hammers on heads seems to be permanently reserved for the cartoonish antics of Rex Ryan and company.

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