Anybody who thinks an alleged Bill Belichick-Tom Brady-Robert Kraft feud will distract the Patriots and impact their playoff chances should consider this: During a conference call with Tennessee reporters, Belichick, when asked about the Titans, gave an incredibly detailed answer in which he talked about half the roster by name, including six special teams players.
So much for the New England head coach and his staff overlooking their divisional playoff opponent. And rest assured that Patriots players, led by the always-prepared Brady, will be in playoff mode starting Saturday night in Foxborough.
The heavily reported internal squabbling actually plays right into the Patriots’ hands. They love opportunities to prove people wrong; people like those who are saying the organization is unraveling. It adds fuel to the fire. Case in point: Deflategate and its aftermath.
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New England won last year’s Super Bowl in the season that Brady’s four-game suspension finally went into effect. Brady was highly motivated to stick it to the NFL by winning his record (for a quarterback) fifth Super Bowl, and he accomplished it in MVP-style with a record comeback to beat Atlanta.
When discussing the Patriots and what makes them tick, the bottom line is that Brady, Belichick and Kraft are always dialed in come playoff time and ultra-focused on the task at hand, which is defending their title. They are so competitive and cognizant of their legacies.
In this postseason, they are thinking far more about winning a sixth Super Bowl than whether Brady’s personal trainer has access to the Patriots’ facility.
I’ve heard some media people say it’s different this time; it’s infighting with the big egos of Belichick and Brady battling, and Kraft trying to mediate, as opposed to battling with the commissioner and the league office.
But the Patriots are unique among pro sports franchises. They’re kind of like the Yankees with their seemingly constant strife amid World Series titles under owner George Steinbrenner with his managers (Billy Martin, Joe Torre and Joe Girardi) and star players (Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez). It’s just that the Patriots’ problems before now — publicly, at least — have been with the NFL, and they have managed to keep internal issues more in house than those Yankee teams did.
It’s ludicrous to think anything other than an opponent’s great performance (such as Eli Manning and the Giants’ defense in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI) can derail a Patriots team that has had unprecedented success over a 16-year span. Surely there have been other brush fires that have been put out over the years.
Kraft was not happy with the circumstances surrounding Spygate in 2007 and the penalties handed out then. Same with Deflategate. Beyond duking it out with Roger Goodell and the NFL office, these experiences had to test the inner workings of the Patriots triumvirate of owner, coach and quarterback.
Yet there they were on stage, holding up the Lombardi Trophy last February in Houston. Will anyone be surprised if there’s a repeat of that scene in Minneapolis after Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4?
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick (Getty Images)
Team chemistry creates a wonderful work environment, but it’s not essential to success. Brady knows Belichick is not a warm and fuzzy guy, and Belichick understands his quarterback has his volatile moments (such as his sideline meltdown with Josh McDaniels a few weeks ago).
I’ve worked with plenty of playoff teams on which there were guys who didn’t get along with other players or their coaches. But come game time, they were true professionals who did their jobs to the best of their abilities. That’s Belichick’s mantra — “Do your job.” And his Patriots comply.
I was the general manager of the Vikings team in 1998 that had a quarterback controversy with Brad Johnson getting hurt and being replaced by Randall Cunningham. We had some star players who were perceived by many teammates as too close to the head coach. And that coach, Denny Green, was seeking to expand his power base into a GM-coach role under a new owner in Red McCombs.
We still managed to have the NFL’s best record at 15-1 before we were beaten in a heartbreaking, overtime NFC title game, and that loss had nothing to do with off-field happenings. We lost to a good Falcons team that day and had plenty of chances to put the game away.
The Titans (and probably the Steelers the following week in the AFC title game) are walking into a hornet’s nest this weekend. I know how tough it is to win a playoff game in New England. My final game as Titans president was the January 2004 divisional playoff game in below-zero wind chills. The Patriots beat us 17-14. In the Belichick/Brady era, the Patriots are 15-3 in home playoff games and can once again pull together to defeat the media noise that suggests they are about to disintegrate due to dissension.
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The Falcons this season took half the year to emerge from their Super Bowl hangover, and they lost the game, which should have motivated them to start fast the next season and gain home-field advantage instead of their tougher route on the road as a No. 6 seed. The Patriots never have a Super Bowl hangover, as Belichick does a fantastic job of quickly putting the previous season in the rear-view mirror. So does Brady, who always carries the chip on his shoulder from being a sixth-round draft pick.
Ultimately, the Patriot Way rules the day. When their top leaders are all in, it carries throughout the organization.
So be prepared to see a focused New England team this postseason with a great chance to be the first repeat Super Bowl champs since — who else? — the 2003-04 Patriots.
Jeff Diamond is a former president of the Titans and former vice president/general manager of the Vikings. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year in 1998. Diamond is currently a business and sports consultant who also does broadcast and online media work. He is the former chairman and CEO of The Ingram Group. Follow Jeff on Twitter: @jeffdiamondNFL.