The New England Patriots’ behind-the-scenes footage from their 45-7 demolition of the Cleveland Browns on Sunday featured a scene with team captain David Andrews saying — or rather, shouting — some words of motivation to his teammates in a pre-game huddle: they would out-physical the Brown.
“They don’t want to play our kind of game,” Andrews said. “It ain’t pretty, it ain’t flashy, but it’s grown-man football.”
That brand of football has been at the very heart of New England’s current four-game winning streak. The Patriots have forged an identity as a physical team on both sides of the ball, and have pummeled their recent opponents.
As a result, they have been able to outscore the New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers, Carolina Panthers and the Browns by a combined score of 150-50. Now owning a 6-4 record, the Patriots and their blue-collar style of play are one of the hottest teams in the NFL at the moment.
New England’s physicality is also not lost on the head coach of their upcoming opponent.
“I think the one thing they don’t get enough credit for is how physical they are,” the Atlanta Falcons’ Arthur Smith told reporters earlier this week. “They’re physical, they’re going to jam you. It’s going to be a good pro football game. That’s why you can see that’s what most of his teams have. They improved as the season goes on and that’s what they’re doing right now.”
For the Patriots, playing physical football is not something coming automatically. Instead, as team captain Dont’a Hightower pointed out, the team is actively focusing on becoming a hard-nosed team.
“That’s something that we harp on,” he said on Tuesday. “That’s something that we believe in. That’s something that we practice. Whether it’s an identity or people see that when they see us, that doesn’t really matter.”
Hightower has been a tone-setter ever since his arrival in New England in 2012, and this season is no different. Now back from his one-year absence on the Covid-19 opt-out list, he is leading by an example followed by the rest of the team — and appreciated by his teammates on the defensive side of the ball.
“When you have Hightower coming down and he’s just lighting them up, that’s just that team football,” defensive tackle Davon Godchaux said. “Basically, you’re in a street fight and a guy is jumping your guy and then you see your brother come in and he helps you. That’s kind of like team complimentary football. That’s pretty awesome.”
The complimentary football mentioned by Godchaux also involves the offense: both units are helping each other get better, and more physical.
Linebacker Matthew Judon, the Patriots’ sack leader with 9.5, mentioned two players in particular: starting guards Shaq Mason and Ted Karras, who apparently have left quite the impression on him in practice.
“I think both our guards, like Shaq and Teddy K, they’re just so physical and do the dirty work. I think in camp we got them better and they got us better. Iron sharpens iron and I think that’s kind of how it goes. As tough as we are is as tough as they’re going to be. I think that’s what a lot of camp is: make sure this team can withstand the season. Make sure we’ll be as tough as we can be,” Judon said.
“I think that’s what happens. Our defense took on a personality and our offense kind of adapted it and accepted that personality as well.”
That personality, going back to David Andrews’ remarks, is that of “grown-man football.” It has served New England well this season so far.