On the Pats Pulpit Podcast, Alec and I always talk about how each championship team has a specific and generally unique identity. The 2014 New England Patriots were about proving the “Let’s face it, they’re just not good anymore” crowd that they were wrong. The 2015 Denver Broncos were about suffocating defense and the 2016 Patriots were Brady’s post-suspension juggernaut.
There’s a valid question about the identity of the 2017 Patriots, especially with the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles have the “underdog” meme on lock.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has an idea about this team’s identity and it’s rooted in the injuries suffered by the team at the start of the season.
“Dealing with [Edelman’s] injury earlier in the year, obviously it’s about resiliency,” Brady said on Wednesday. “I think that’s been a hallmark of this team up to this point is dealing with adversities. We started the season 2-2, didn’t look good there for a while, but we kept grinding, grinding out the practices. Guys were really working hard buying in, finding their role, and we just made some improvements, got on a good roll and won two very tough playoff games and got to this point.
“It’s a very mentally tough team, very resilient team, very close team, which is always fun to be a part of. Guys really care for each other, care about what guys are doing. Guys really focused on their role, what they’re asked to do.
“There’s no selfishness, it’s much more selflessness with this team, which is really a great thing from my standpoint being around a lot of teams.”
The Patriots lost Julian Edelman in the preseason and then Dont’a Hightower landed on the injured reserve after playing in just parts of five games. Those were two of the most important players on the Patriots 2016 championship team. But then they also lost All Pros Marcus Cannon and Nate Ebner, and valuable rotational players Malcolm Mitchell and Shea McClellin never got to start their seasons.
And yet New England made it back to the Super Bowl. Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola stepped up after the loss of Edelman, while Kyle Van Noy and Marquis Flowers and Elandon Roberts have held down the linebacker position without Hightower or McClellin. Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle replaced Cannon on the offensive line and numerous players filled in for Ebner and Jonathan Jones on special teams.
The Eagles have a very valid claim to the “resiliency” identity since they lost starting quarterback Carson Wentz, left tackle Jason Peters, running back Darren Sproles, and linebacker Jordan Hicks, but the Patriots have taken that mantle for themselves.
We could also point to the growth of Stephon Gilmore and Dwayne Allen as neither gave up after their slow starts to the season, to the return of Dion Lewis to the starting lineup as one of the most dynamic players in the NFL, and to the comeback of Rob Gronkowski after his 2016 season ended with a back surgery.
This team has no quit, best represented by their impressive fourth quarter comeback against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game and their late victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers to help secure homefield throughout the AFC playoffs.
New England will face their biggest challenge all season on Super Bowl Sunday, but no matter how the game plays out, Brady, Van Noy, Gilmore, and the rest of the Patriots will fight until the very last second ticks off the clock.