No team in the NFL’s playoff tournament brings as much postseason experience to the table as the New England Patriots: of the 53 men on their active roster, 33 have played in a Super Bowl before. On the other side of the field this Saturday, meanwhile, will be only a handful of players who have even tasted playoff air before — when it comes to experience, the Patriots have a clear advantage over the Tennessee Titans on wild card weekend.
According to New England head coach Bill Belichick, however, it will not matter. And neither will home field advantage. Veteran defensive back Devin McCourty, who will play in the 23rd playoff game of his career this week, shared this message during a press conference on Wednesday when asked about taking on the Titans at Gillette Stadium as opposed to having to travel (something the Patriots will need to do in case they advance past Tennessee).
“I’ve been hearing it for 10 years — Bill coming in here and he tells us home field, experience, all of that doesn’t matter in the playoffs. And it’s true,” he said. “Each year you see, like this weekend, you could see three teams, all away teams, win. You don’t know. It’s all about going out there and playing your best football, and I think that’s what it is for us. Last year, we had to go on the road to win to go to the Super Bowl, and we had no shot to everybody to do that.”
McCourty took a trip down memory lane in his answer, one that likely was started by Belichick in one of his meetings: not only did the Patriots upset the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game last year to advance to the Super Bowl, the 2018 season also saw three road wins on wild card weekend. Only the Dallas Cowboys, who were eliminated the following week, were able to emerge victoriously while playing at home.
“It comes down to playing your best football,” McCourty said about the Patriots’ approach to their first wild card game since January 2010 when the team lost, coincidentally at home, against Baltimore. “Tennessee’s going to come in here Saturday night, everyone’s going to tell them they have no shot, Patriots don’t lose at home. They don’t care about that. They’re preparing to come in here and play us tough, and I think that’s what we have to match.”
“All that other stuff is kind of thrown out the window — how many wild card games has this guy played, or playoff games? You know, Tom Brady has more playoff games than everybody that’s going to suit up Saturday, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to win. We’ve got to outplay these guys and we’ve got to do it for 60 minutes,” he added while echoing a sentiment also unsurprisingly shared by the Patriots’ coaching staff.
“I don’t really look at playoff experience or all the rest of that stuff as being as important as how we perform and what we do on Saturday night,” said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. “Whether it’s a younger player, a player with a lot of experience, what we need is a great week of preparation and practice and go out there and we need to perform, because trying doesn’t matter, experience doesn’t matter — what matters is results.”
With all that being said, McCourty still pointed out that playing in front of a home crowd adds to the playoff experience. While it would still be up to the team to create a positive atmosphere and control the energy in the stands, he does expect Patriots fans to “come out” on Saturday in support of the team and be “electric” not just for a quarter or two but throughout the entire playoff opener.
If all goes according to plan for New England, this electricity will continue into the night as well. The foundation for it, however, will be laid not through experience or playing in the home stadium but with the team’s performance both during the week and on the field on Saturday. This is all that matters.