Led by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, Pats prove mentally toughest in NFL

Mike Petraglia
January 01, 2017 - 5:33 pm

Tom Brady was in complete command Sunday in Miami. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

There can be no doubt now.

The Patriots are clearly the favorite in the AFC to get to Super Bowl LI in Houston on Feb. 5.

But the reason isn't because they have the best roster of the six teams. And it isn't because they have the best coach in the history of the game. And it isn't because they have the quarterback who should clearly be the league MVP.

Barring injury, the biggest reason the Patriots are almost certain to be playing their second Super Bowl at NRG Stadium is how many ways they win games.

The Patriots are - by far - the most mentally and physically tough team in the NFL. The Patriots handled travel problems and Dolphins cheap shot artist Ndamukong Suh Sunday, 35-14, and earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC as a reward.

"Well, we've proven we can deal with a lot of things over the course of the year," record-setting Tom Brady said after his latest re-writing of the NFL record-book Sunday. "14-2 is a good place to be. So, it's pretty sweet. To come here and win, it's been a tough place for us to play. That's an excited locker room. To finish with eight wins on the road, those are fun flights home and bus rides. It's been good. So, it's good."

"I think I hit on that earlier this year when Jamie got traded and different things happened," Devin McCourty said. "As a team, we just talked about if it doesn't end in winning, whatever it is, if it's not pushing us closer to our goal of winning that game, we've just got to throw it out the window. We've got to block it out, focus on what it takes to win."

On Saturday afternoon, they sat on a tarmac for three hours because of a fueling snafu for their charter to South Florida. One team's problem is another's preparation to beat you.

"Coming here [Saturday] and sitting on the plane, obviously, everyone is wondering what's going on. But we get here and the meetings are canceled [Saturday], we're going to meet [Sunday]. We move on. We'll meet [Sunday]. Wake up, we meet and let's find a way to win this game. The game's like that. You get out there and you get off to a good start. They make a couple of play. Let's see what we've got to do to win. This team is very mentally tough, and it shows. We've just got to keep pushing forward. Now, it's win or go home. So, we've really got to lock in our mental toughness and try to play our best football.

"I think it was just an adjustment," Brady continued. "We were sitting on the runway for a long time. Usually, Saturday night is an important night for our team, our offense to get together and review everything. We didn't have a chance to do that because we got in so late. It was still good to win. 

"A lot of people took advantage of the time and got some extra rest on the plane, watched a lot of film. You get six hours on the plane as opposed to three. You can double-up you film time. So, I think that's an advantage. You just take what you get and try to make the most of it."   

Of course, no one knows more about dealing with adversity than the quarterback banished for four games for a crime never proven.

Brady sat out the first four games and proceeded to put up the most accurate and efficient year of his career. He threw 18 touchdowns on the road without an interception and made 254 pass attempts on the road without an interception. Both records. He threw 28 touchdowns and was intercepted just twice. Another record.

You can argue all you want but Brady is clearly the most important player to the Patriots. And his mindset is ready for the playoffs. Read Brady's words after the game and you can clearly tell he not only believes his focus will be there, he believes the rest of the team will follow.

"We'll be watching next week," said Brady after his three-touchdown day. "Some team is going to win and you're going to be like, 'Oh my God. We've got to play those guys.' You've just got to go put the work in and put the same effort in every single day and there's an urgency that really starts with Coach Belichick. He walks in every day and he says, 'This is a big day. We've got to accomplish a lot of things today. It's boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. These are the keys to win, boom, boom, boom, boom, boon.' 

"And the guys have to embrace those. You've got to understand what your role is. You've got to go out there on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and practice that in whatever conditions there are on the practice field. Then you go in and talk about it and you try to correct things and then Friday, at the end of the week, you put together the plan and Saturday and you talk about it and review it.   

"It's just a marathon, and I think this team showed a lot of mental toughness that they can do it week in, week out at a consistent level. That's what it takes. Any team can go 8-8, you win one, you lose one, you win one. You lose and you say, 'We've got to get it going."

Belichick didn't need nearly as many words to sum up how he feels heading into the playoffs.

"This is a very physically and mentally tough team. No question," Belichick said. "I thought the team was ready to go. Everybody was productive."

Added Brady, "I think our coaches do such a great job of getting us going when we win. To say, 'We've got to move on. That game's over and we've got to learn from it and we've got to take the things that really helped us win. We've got to build on those things. These types of things we did we're going to lose. We've got to learn from those.

"It's good to not have to learn from the losses. 14-2 is a tough thing to do. It's very cool for this team to be able to accomplish that."

When Brady wasn't at his best in Denver, he managed the game well enough to let the defense take over. And take over they did, turning Trevor Siemian into a college quarterback.

When the Patriots needed LeGarrette Blount to take over against the Jets, he did. He finished with six touchdowns in his final five games. On Sunday, when the Dolphins climbed to within six, 20-14, in the third quarter and the Patriots needed a big play, newcomer Michael Floyd showed Brady and Belichick EXACTLY what they needed to see. He blew up defensive back Tony Lippett to spring Julian Edelman on a 77-yard touchdown. 

The defense allowed just 20 points in the final three games and created 16 turnovers in the final five weeks.

"Just keep grinding, keep getting better," Belichick said. "There's a lot of things we can work on. We have a good opportunity to work on things and get better."