If the NFL’s first 100 years have taught us one thing, it is that change is its only constant. The New England Patriots, as powerful as their two-decade dynastic run may be, are not exempt from this universal truth, something that has never become more clear than this year: gone is not just six-time Super-Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady, but also fellow veteran contributors such as Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Duron Harmon, Stephen Gostkowski and Nate Ebner, as well as assistant coaches Dante Scarnecchia and Joe Judge.
The Patriots of 2020 are a new-look team.
That said, a lot of the old guard are returning for at least one more year. Among this group of players are defensive backs Devin and Jason McCourty and special teamer Matthew Slater. The three bring 24 years of combined experience in the Patriots’ system to the table, and will play pivotal roles in transitioning the team from the Tom Brady era into the great unknown. Along the way, they will attempt something that has succeeded ever since the early 2000s: keeping New England’s championship standard alive.
The challenge will be a difficult one considering that one of the three pillars of the dynasty — Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick, owner Robert Kraft — is no longer with the organization, but as Slater said during the Boston Uncornered online fundraiser in honor of Devin McCourty earlier this week, the expectations should remain the same even without Brady to lead the offense: the Patriots should still expect to play competitive football in Year One after the future Hall of Fame quarterback.
“I don’t think that we should expect anything less from ourselves,” the long-time team captain said when speaking about the challenges New England faces heading into the 2020 season. “I think we’re a very competitive group. We have tremendous leadership — you’re looking at the unquestioned leader of our football team in Devin. Our vision is the same, the way we’re going to approach our preparation is the same.
“We have to continue to have a belief in ourselves and a belief in our process, and understand that there are no guarantees, nothing’s going to be handed to us. We know that,” Slater added. “But we can’t go in there with a defeatist mindset, thinking ‘Well, we don’t have this guy, we don’t have that guy, we’ll be lucky to go out and win a couple of games.’ We want to go out and be very successful, we’re going to be prepare to do that, and we’ll see how it goes.”
With both Brady and Stephen Gostkowski leaving the Patriots earlier during the offseason, Slater is now the most experienced player remaining on the team’s roster: he arrived in New England back in 2008, and has since appeared in 173 regular season games as well as 24 playoff contests — all while helping the club win three Super Bowls as one of the central figures of its Dynasty 2.0. In this role, however, he is not alone. Devin McCourty also developed into a central figure of the organization since joining it in 2010.
Like Slater, he will have to lead the team now.
“It’s a standard in New England,” the 32-year-old said about the organizational expectations that have been set during the early days of the championship run. “We’ve all been very fortunate, especially myself and Slate, to get drafted there, as we came into that standard. That’s the standard we learned, that’s what we try to continue to lead and show guys — as did the guys before us, whether it’s Tom, the Willie McGinests, the Jerod Mayos, the Tedy Bruschis, all those guys laid a foundation for us and we just followed them.
“We just need to do the same thing, whether Tom’s gone, Jamie, KV, the Patriots are not about one individual,” McCourty added. “That’s why they’ve had sustained success, so we have got to continue to just lead that way to continue to follow the blueprint that was in front of us. Everyone on that team is locked in to do that. We got to do it once we’re able to get back together, and then do it day after day.”
The second of the twin brothers, meanwhile, has only come into the organization via trade during the 2018 offseason. Jason McCourty still embraces his leadership role as a veteran of 11 NFL seasons, however, and echoed his teammates’ remarks about following the same principles that have helped the Patriots build a dynasty in the first place: being focused on the job at hand, and looking forward instead of back — something that has become difficult but not impossible during the current Coronavirus pandemic.
“Right now, it being June, I think our focus is — with everything going on remotely and individually — how do we continue to get better physically,” McCourty said during the event honoring his brother. “Obviously, through our virtual meetings guys have been able to grow and learn a little bit of the playbook. We obviously haven’t had a chance to be around each other and really get to know our teammates. But individually working out, we have our iPads, being able to study, we’ve been able to get better individually.
“And when we come together collectively, hopefully that holds over.,” the former Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns cornerback continued. “For myself, through my 11 years playing, you never know before the season what the outcome is going to be, what the team is going to look like. Your only focus and expectation can be, moving forward, giving everything we’ve got to get better, and prepare each and every day.”