The New England Patriots have seen plenty of personnel turnover this season, especially on offense. From Julian Edelman’ suspension to Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead being placed on injured reserve to Phillip Dorsett going from number one wide receiver to depth player to Rob Gronkowski, Marcus Cannon and Sony Michel all dealing with injuries. And earlier this week, Josh Gordon left the squad after getting indefinitely suspended by the NFL.
“We’ve certainly faced our fair share of adversities,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady acknowledged earlier this week when asked about the Gordon new. The 41-year old is particularly impacted by all the turnover, as the offense around him keeps changing on a fairly regular basis and is now asked to replace one of its top-two wideouts. For Brady, this process particularly challenges the team’s mental abilities.
“I think part of that’s mental toughness and when you actually go out on the field and in meetings and so forth, you just focus on what you have to do, what your role is, what your job is,” the veteran quarterback said. “I think we’ve done a good job of that so we’re just working through the week and realizing that it’s obviously a huge game, big opportunity for us. It’s one we’ve got to win so that’s... been talking about that all week.”
The first game after Gordon will see the Patriots, who are one win away from their tenth straight AFC East title, host the Buffalo Bills. New England won the first meeting between the two clubs by 19 points but the team has changed quite a bit since then: there were no Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead or Marcus Cannon, while Gordon was still with the club. Now, the wide receiver needs to be replaced on comparatively short notice.
Brady, however, pointed out that adapting is part of the game’s nature. “The reality is, it could happen [on] the first play of the game too, you know?” he said during a press conference on Friday. “Someone might sprain an ankle and next thing you know, guys are adjusting. That’s just part of the nature of playing a long time, is you realize that things happen very quickly and they change very quickly.”
“We lost Jeremy Hill the first game of the year,” Brady continued. “You think you’ve got all this running back depth, next thing you know, guys get hurt. It’s two weeks in, you’re like, ‘Holy cow, what happened?’” Jeremy Hill tearing his ACL after a friendly fire tackle by fullback James Develin in week one was just the first of many instances of the team having to adjust to personnel turnover on the offensive side of the ball.
Brady explained the mindset the Patriots need to get themselves into in order to deal with it. “That’s just part of playing and being mentally tough,” the five-time Super Bowl champion said. “Everything changes quickly and part of it is you deal with things over the course of a long season. [...] We’ve worked hard to get to this point. Everyone’s put a lot of effort, everyone’s a little bit tired. It’s been a lot of football. But you’ve got to just tough it out. It’s like the end of a marathon.”
Of course, the quarterback by himself can only do so little — the players surrounding him also need to adjust. Brady, however, expressed confidence in those players that are available at this point. “The guys that have been here have been working hard,” the Pro Bowler said when asked about the team’s seemingly ever-changing group of pass catchers. “I think like every position, they try to make improvements over the course of the week.”
“Different guys have been in there at different times,” Brady continued. “I just have a lot of confidence in the guys that are in there. Jules [Julian Edelman], Phillip [Dorsett], Hoges [Chris Hogan], CP [Cordarrelle Patterson] — they all do a good job. They all have different roles. We’re going to have to go out and play a great game.” Doing that might have been easier at full strength, but that’s just the way life goes in the NFL.
Luckily for New England, it has shown a tremendous ability to adapt to change over the years. And even though 2018 might be one of their hardest jobs to date, they and their future Hall of Fame quarterback should not be counted out until the very end.