Over the past 20 years, the New England Patriots built a culture of winning that was unrivaled in the NFL. The 2020 season, however, was a challenge for the organization on multiple levels.
High-profile free agency departures — none bigger than quarterback Tom Brady’s — and the fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic created a perfect storm of sorts for the Patriots to finish below .500 for the first time in two decades. They played some inconsistent football on both sides of the ball and, when all was said and done, had gone just 7-9.
In the aftermath of that season, words such as “disappointing” and “unacceptable” were used to describe New England’s 2020 campaign. Defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr, on the other hand, saw the season as something else: an opportunity to learn, and to grow.
“In life, which is on the field and off the field, we all come across things that we count as success, we count as wins, and we also come across things that we count as losses or defeats,” he said during a recent media conference call.
“But, in my going on now five years I have learned that wins are wins, you learn from them. Ugly or pretty, whatever it is, it’s a win. We always are thankful and grateful for wins. When we do count our losses, ails or defeats, one shouldn’t take them as losses or defeats, they should take them more so as a lesson. However the outside world looks at this season, I’m looking at this season more so as a lesson — a thing that we learn from and we want to improve on.”
Wise Jr. first arrived in New England as a fourth-round draft pick in 2017, and even after last season has a lot more winning than losing on his NFL résumé. He was part of two Super Bowl teams, including one that won the big game, and has experienced the joy of victory a combined 48 times during the regular season and playoffs compared to only 23 defeats.
The owner of a new four-year contract extension, Wise Jr. is now trying to become a tone-setter for a team in transition: away from the long shadow of Tom Brady, and away from the challenging 2020 season.
“The great thing about football is we have another shot to play this game again,” he said earlier this month. “The great thing is, one, that we have fans now coming to the games. Extremely happy about that, excited that they finally get to see the game, finally get to hear roars, human interaction, so that’s the best part.
“But then also, the guys in the locker room are hungry. Whether they are rookies, whether they didn’t play last year, whether they were on different teams, everybody’s coming here for one goal and that’s to win. So, that’s what I really appreciate about all the guys coming back: we all want to win and if we don’t win, we’re learning.”
Based on their record, the Patriots did more learning than usual last season.
They also did more spending than in years past during the subsequent offseason. Wise Jr. was just one of the players signed to multi-year contracts, with New England going out to improve the quality of its roster across the board. Those investments should help the Patriots bounce back from their 7-9 season, especially in combination with the lessons that have been learned.
But, what are they exactly? For Wise Jr. it is not as easy as pointing at just one thing.
“It’s not so much one lesson, two lessons. We just have to continue to embrace the journey and believe in the process, in a sense,” he said. “Nothing comes easily all because we’re wearing Patriots uniforms, and nothing is harder than anywhere else. My father always said, ‘You’re fighting the fight the other men have already fought.’ So, we learn from the things around us. We learn from each games.
“In my opinion, each game is a different lesson; each play is a different lesson; each year is a different lesson. I can’t give you an answer of one or two things because there are so many things that by saying one I’m missing a lot of other things. But, let’s just say we learn from it and we learn how to approach the situation now.”
If the rest of the players on the team — new or old — follows Wise Jr’s example, the Patriots should be in a much better shape than they were a year ago.
At one point, however, the focus has to shift from the past to the future. According to the 26-year-old that has already happened: with the lessons learned in 2020 tucked away, the Patriots are now officially on to the next challenge.
“Last year, as I was saying, was a big learning process. We’ve learned from it,” Wise Jr. said. “Now the main mindset is to win.”