The New England Patriots, especially on the offensive side of the ball, have not played up to their capabilities recently and therefore went just 3-3 over their last six games. Against the Buffalo Bills on Saturday and with the AFC East title within reach, however, the team delivered one of its most impressive performances of the year: while the game itself was a close one, the Patriots were able to come away with a hard-fought victory.
Along the way, the now-12-3 team showed considerable character and mental toughness. Even with players going down with injury — cornerback Jason McCourty, right tackle Marcus Cannon and, temporarily, wide receiver Julian Edelman all had to leave the game — and the Bills putting up a valiant effort, the Patriots were able to stay on course and ultimately defeat their division rivals with a final score of 24-17.
“Really proud of ours guys, competed for 60 minutes and ended up making enough plays,” said New England head coach Bill Belichick during his postgame press conference about the division-clinching victory. “Good to see the fruits of a lot of labor, a lot of hard work. I thought the guys really competed this week — short week, knew the importance of this game and how difficult it is to play against Buffalo — and they stepped up to the challenge.”
Buffalo certainly presented a major test for the Patriots just a few weeks away from the start of the postseason. Not only does the team possess talent in all three phases and one of the best defensive units in football, it also entered the contest with considerable confidence after locking up a playoff spot and the first 10-win season since the late 90s last week. New England, however, appeared to be ready for a hot Bills team from the get-go.
“Give the players credit, there’s a lot of guys with a lot of mental toughness in that locker room and they showed it today,” added Belichick before digging deeper into the meaning of the oft-used label that is “mental toughness” as it relates to the Patriots. The future Hall of Fame coach tried to describe what it means for his own organization per se, and how it has been on display this week and throughout the season as a whole.
“It means continuing to do the right things for the team when things aren’t going right for you personally,” Belichick noted. “That could involve a lot of different things but sometimes when things aren’t going your way, the way you want them to go, you still do what’s best for the team and do what you can to make the team better. We have 53 guys in there and a coaching staff that does that on a daily basis, so that’s all you can ask for.”
Belichick’s explanation is not unlike the one that running back James White, who finished the game with 29 yards from scrimmage on seven touches, offered during his own postgame presser. For the veteran back, who earned a division champion hat and T-shirt every year since joining the club as a rookie in 2014, performance is the underlying foundation when it comes to building a mentally tough team.
“Just going out there and playing your best football,” said the 27-year-old. “Everybody knows what was at stake tonight, so you just want to try to go out there and play turnover-free. We had one turnover, but we made a correction from that and I think everybody just wanted to go out there and play a full, four quarter football game that we hadn’t done yet, especially offensively. “e still have room for improvement obviously, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
While White and Belichick may have some philosophical differences when it comes to the definition of mental toughness, the gist remains: New England showed a lot of it today, whether it is by fighting through adversity or by playing one of the best games of the season to date against a tough opponent. And eventually, it allowed the Patriots to win.