The New England Patriots have won 8 straight AFC East titles- it’s been eight years since QB Tom Brady suffered his ACL injury- and that means that winning the division is the norm for most players on the Patriots.
In fact, only three players have experienced losing the AFC East while as a member of the Patriots: Brady (2000, 2002, 2008); K Stephen Gostkowski (2008), and WR Matthew Slater (2008). That’s pretty incredible.
“It's very nice [to win],” according to WR Julian Edelman, who was drafted by the Patriots in 2009. “I've won a division title here every year I've been here so you can't take that for granted. That's what all the hard work in March, April, May, OTAs, coming back from injuries from multiple guys, this is all the hard work and this is one of the steps you want to of through and this doesn't come easy. Our team works very hard and we continually try to improve and coach is always on us and it's tough but that's what gets wins. It's an honor to get to play here and experience eight of them.”
But not every player has experienced a division title before.
“It's always a good feeling when you come in and see guys who have played in this league a lot and are really good and just haven't won division championships and things like that,” McCourty said after the game. “To see their excitement coming in is great. [TE] Martellus [Bennett] came running in yelling, ‘where's my hat?'. It's a great feeling.”
ED Chris Long never won the NFC West in his 8 years with the Rams- in fact, this is the first time he’ll finish the year with a winning record. LB Shea McClellin and LB Kyle Van Noy never won the NFC North in with the Bears and Lions, respectively. LB Barkevious Mingo had finished every year in 4th place with the Browns. CB Eric Rowe and the Eagles finished 2nd in the NFC East last year.
Bennett won the NFC North with the Dallas Cowboys in 2009, but he’s hilariously refused to acknowledge that season all year.
“Like I said a long time ago, ever since the first day I came here I felt like I belonged,” Bennett said after the game, “whether it was my teammates who accepted me, or from upper management down to the coaches, not only did I buy into the program but the whole Patriots organization bought into me. It's pretty exciting when you have that type of group of people around you that believe in you, not only as a player buy as a person. That's been super exciting and has made it a lot easier for me out here. I just try to give them everything.
“I'm invested in this team, like I told my guys before the game, I've been invested in not only putting in the work that I need to but invested in my teammates and right now we’re trying to get out ROI. [Reporter asks, ‘what's that?'] Come on man, return on investment! You got to get your stocks up baby, let's go.”
One player that is finally happy to win the division crown is WR Chris Hogan, who spent one year with the Dolphins and four years with the Bills looking up at the Patriots winning the division like clockwork.
“I'm trying to let it sink in,” Hogan said after the game. “This will be my first hat, so I probably won't take it off for a while.”
The Patriots are shifting their focus towards clinching homefield advantage, and the majority of the team is still hungry for a championship. Only 23 of the 53 players on the active roster were a part of the Patriots 2014 Super Bowl season, so there are 30 players on the hunt for a league championship.
Don’t expect any of these players to take their foot off the pedal. They’re invested.