THE BELIEF There is
no hype surrounding this team, no big talk, no attitude of any kind. This is a
close-to-the-vest outfit, so much so that their superstar quarterback, Tom
Brady, can miss three days of practice without any sort of public
THE REALITY Ah, one
must read between the lines. Never mind what anyone is saying. The truth can be
found in Bill Belichick's brutal training-camp practices. When the heat was at
its most blistering, the team ran off five sets of two-a-day workouts, most of
them in full pads. Clubs like the Bills, for instance, already had run their
You sense real
anger here. There were soft moments last season. Too soft. In one eight-game
stretch, seven teams gained 400 or more yards each on the New England D, and
Buffalo came within six yards of making it eight for eight. At the end of that
run the defense ranked 29th in the league. And in the divisional-playoff loss
to Denver the Patriots moved the ball but fell apart with five turnovers.
Last time this
happened, after the disappointing 2002 season, New England returned to win
back-to-back Super Bowls. This time Belichick is attacking the problem in an
elemental way--through work. He calls it a "return to fundamentals,"
and at one of his sessions with the media he took pains to point out that
fundamentals are not something for the classroom. They're drilled into players'
hearts and minds in those terrible dog days of late July and August, in full
pads and two-a-days practices.
Which might or
might not make up for the lopsided unrestricted free-agent drain that marked
the Patriots' off-season. They signed four. They lost eight, including
productive wideout David Givens, starting tackle Tom Ashworth and Adam
Vinatieri, the greatest clutch kicker of all time. "I'm used to
adversity," Belichick says. "Some of our best seasons were achieved
through adversity. In 2001 our quarterbacks coach, Dick Rehbein, died of heart
failure. Then we lost our starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, and Tom Brady led
us to a Super Bowl victory. In 2003 our offensive line was banged up, and
everybody was asking how we were going to handle the Panthers' defensive line
in the Super Bowl with a unit that had a rookie and two free agents. We did
O.K. Then the next year our secondary was a shambles, and we got through. If
your organization is strong enough, you find a way."
adversity? Strong safety Rodney Harrison, an emotional leader, is working his
way back from a severe knee injury, after having missed most of last season.
Tedy Bruschi, the brilliant linebacker who made a triumphant return from a mild
stroke, broke his wrist during the first week of camp. No prognosis supplied.
There never is with this team.
optimistic. It's his nature. For one thing he's never had a speed threat out of
the backfield like top draft pick Laurence Maroney. "He's a strange kind of
a back," Brady says. "He's not the kind of guy who'll pound it inside,
but you see him take off around the edge, and he'll get hemmed in, and it looks
like about a two-yard run. But before you know it, he's nine yards downfield
and no one's tackled him. You never know what's going to happen if you get the
ball in his hands."
You never know
what's going to happen.... Pretty good capsule of the 2006 Patriots.