Taking out the trash: How 'Brotherhood' smack-talk has Patriots D primed for Super Bowl glory

Mike Petraglia
February 03, 2017 - 5:37 pm

Logan Ryan has earned a reputation as cocky and brash around the NFL. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

HOUSTON - These Patriots know full well the fine line between confidence and arrogance.

They had great examples in the past. From Ty Law, Willie McGinest and Lawyer Milloy to Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi to the current edition, the Patriots have always had players on defense who were fearless.

But where does that attitude come from?

Like in any family, it starts at home. And home, to the Patriots, means the locker room and practice field. The Patriots, to a man, will tell you that if you can handle Bill Belichick's meetings and the trash-talking of teammates on the practice field, you'll be able to handle anything you encounter on the field.

"We play for each other, you play for the person next to you," safety Patrick Chung said Thursday. "I can go home and if I have a problem, I can call one of my teammates and talk to them. These are my brothers. If something happens to them it happens to me. That's vice versa, it's just how I feel. Our locker room is filled with good guys, not just a bunch of people doing a bunch of nonsense. Brotherhood."

"These guys, this team and the guys that we have, offense, defense and special teams, the coaching staff, we're very close," added defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. "We work really hard and work a lot of hours together. To me, it's like a big family. Everyone out there is supporting each other and that's just the greatest thing."

The Patriots will call upon that familial bond and resolve more than ever this Sunday.

The Patriots are facing the best offense in the NFL this Sunday in the Atlanta Falcons. There's quarterback Matt Ryan the MVP candidate. There's Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu in the receiving corps. And there's running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. They lit up the Seahawks and Packers on their way to Super Bowl LI.

The much-maligned Patriots secondary will be called upon to slow down the best passing game they've seen this season. But the attitude is bring it on.

"Just blue collar, hard-working guys," McCourty said. "I think that's the best way to explain it. You look at our defensive roster, we don't have any stars. We don't have anyone that people say is a really good player. But somehow we got out there and play well. And I think that's due to hard work throughout the week. We don't have the prototypical practices as you get longer in the season, where you scale it back. We got out there and practice hard everyday. We had another hard one [Thursday]."

When news leaked Thursday that the Patriots second practice of the week at the University of Houston turned a bit chippy, with Tom Brady yelling and defensive players getting into it with their offensive counterparts, the players laughed when asked about it in the media session at the team hotel afterward.

"I think guys understand we're all teammates," Devin McCourty told me. "We have fun with it. I'd say back in training camp you might have a couple little fights break out or something like that. But that's never carried off the field. Once that happens, that's it. I think the cool thing is we all crack jokes, hang out in the locker room. There's no divide between the offense and defense. Guys that love to be around each other and enjoy each other's company. So, we have fun. I think the chippiness makes everyone better.

"Now, we're deep in the season. You don't see any fights or anything out there. It's just good old competition. You might see some trash talking or a guy might feel he got held or something like that but it's not a big deal. We're still going to talk trash." 

Added Butler, "We just went out there to compete and try to get better. Try and take care of each other and get better at the same time, that's what we do."

If you can handle Tom Brady chirping and yelling and berating you in front of teammates, you can handle just about anything. Malcolm Butler may have preserved a Super Bowl ring for Brady but that doesn't mean anything in a Patriots practice, especially during Super Bowl week.

"Tom can be pretty intense. He can get after you pretty hard," McCourty added. "He likes to talk and sometimes, talk trash. He got Malcolm one day (during the season) pretty good. And then the next day, Malcolm went out there in that practice and had, I think, four pass breakups and an interception. He let Tom know about it every single play.

"Malcolm didn't know any better when he got in the league. He just went out there and competed and he has that same attitude now. He doesn't care who you are, what you've done. He just wants to go out there and compete. He goes out there with a chip on his shoulder. He wants to show he belongs."

But Butler is not the sole leader among the "brotherhood" in yelling. As a matter of fact, according to McCourty, Butler is not even the most-hated among opposing wide receivers. That honor belongs to McCourty's "brother" from Rutgers Logan Ryan.

"It's him or Logan," McCourty said. "They'll go back and forth with anybody. I think Logan is hated by more wide receivers but Malcolm will talk a lot of trash, too."

Butler was the unknown corner who became an instant legend in his last Super Bowl two years ago. What's this time been like for him?

"Last Super Bowl I didn't even know if I would be on the field, but I prepared like I would be," Butler said. "This year, it's totally different. I'm expecting to play, I've got a role I've got to go out there and execute. I didn't expect all of the media like my first year when I first got here going into the league. I've got a bigger idea of what to expect since I've been to one already."

Of course, the head coach just sits back and watches with a smile during all of this like a proud father who wants to see his sons work it out amongst each other.

"This team practices hard and they work hard," Belichick said Thursday. "They've done that all year all the way back to spring OTA's, offseason program and training camp. Work ethic has not been a problem with this group. They come to work, they practice hard and they compete well. We have drills in practice that are offense versus defense as opposed to going against what the opponents do. Sometimes we go against each other and those are good competitive drills. If the team does a good job there (then) I think it has helped them get better."

Belichick won't need better on Sunday. He'll need his sons to be at their best.