The New England Patriots entered Week 17 with their backs against the wall. After losing back-to-back games and dropping to 7-8 on the season, they needed a win over the Miami Dolphins to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The team delivered. While it again played some up-and-down football, it was able to come away with a W: the Patriots beat their division rivals 23-21, leap-frogging them in the standings and staying on the inside track to earn the final wild card spot in the AFC.
For Bill Belichick, the win is a result of his club’s ability to bounce back from recent adversity.
“The overall resiliency and determination that the team as a group and the staff showed I thought was really, really good this week. Battled all the way through it,” New England’s head coach said during his postgame press conference.
New England famously lost to the Raiders on a series of laterals going wrong, while the Bengals game was decided on a lost fumble deep in the red zone. The Patriots could have won both contests, but came up short each time.
Against Miami, however, no such thing happened.
“This is a resilient group,” said team captain Matthew Slater. “I’ve been a part of a lot of teams here. I cannot tell you how proud I am to be a part of this crew. We have been dragged through the mud, kicked, counted out, and we just keep fighting. What more can you ask for? As a leader of this team that is all you ask for, is guys that come in and compete every week regardless of the circumstances, regardless of what’s being said about them. That’s the type of football team we have.”
Slater, who may have played his final home game on Sunday, is one of the players responsible for leading the locker room through challenging times. Leadership is a collective effort, though, and something the entire team aims to provide.
“It’s really something that I’ve always known that the team and the defense has had,” said safety Kyle Dugger, whose pick-six set the stage for the New England win. “I’ve seen it every day. I know they’re going to fight. I know they’re going to continue to fight whatever the situation is, whatever the adversity is. I know they’re going to keep it pushing once it hits. It was no surprise to me. It says a lot, I guess, about the resiliency here.”
New England’s ability to stay on track now has the team on the verge of an unlikely playoff berth. While the Patriots need an upset win on the road over Buffalo, or a series of other games going their way in case of a loss, they do control their own destiny.
Being under pressure to perform is right where the team wants to be, said linebacker Matthew Judon.
“We put more pressure on us than anybody else does,” he said. “We need this. We came out, we executed in all three phases. It was some stuff that went on, but that’s how you play. That’s a good team. You know you’ve got to fight until the end. That’s what we did. It came down to an onside kick. We just executed a couple more plays than they did. That’s how you get a win against good teams.”