In the past eighteen years, the New England Patriots have won sixteen AFC East titles. They haven’t had a losing season. They’ve played in twelve AFC Championship Games including eight in a row from 2011 to 2018—and won eight of them.
How is it that New England has that kind of sustained success that most NFL teams, including the Jaguars, can’t find?
Is it a product of the culture in New England? Bill Belichick? Or is Tom Brady just that good?
We all know the difference between a manager and a leader. A manager pours over schedules and assigns the extra work to their staff. The leader just gets the job done and takes the extra work on themselves. A manager bad-mouths the competition and complains about the past. A leader looks inward for answers and has vision for the future.
That’s how a culture in any organization, including an NFL team gets built.
Do you think Bill Belichick is the first to leave the office every day? Does he worry about the schedule? Say anything about the competition? Dwell on the past?
None of that.
Former Jaguars Fred Taylor and Kyle Brady ended their careers with the Patriots. They both admit the culture in Jacksonville and New England were unique and successful in their own right during their playing careers.
“A high attention to detail,” Brady says he noticed as soon as he got to New England. “Practices were tough. I tell people you were more aware of the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses then they were aware of their own.”
For the Patriots, Taylor says it’s the precision they expect, at all times, from the professional football players in their employ.
“Through precision, and total confidence on game day they’re able to play fast,” he explained this week.
“First time we did 9 on 7, I thought, “What’s this? It’s patty cake, patty cake.’ I was used to real “thud” in that practice period. But it was proper technique, proper pad placement, and proper hand placement. It was a level of precision that everybody understood. They practice that and they’re coached so well to understand the situation during the game.”
Taylor got a real taste of the precision and intensity in New England in his third preseason game with the Patriots.
“We were playing the Redskins and I was the tight end in the formation. I ran a “y hook” on third-and-2 and did a sight read on the SAM linebacker covering me. He was playing outside technique so I made an adjustment that we ran in practice and hooked inside. Tom threw the ball to the outside and it was incomplete. I went to the sideline and he was on me immediately so hard that the QB coach had to get him off me. I sat down on the bench and said to Kevin Faulk, ‘It’s preseason, right?’ And he said, ‘It’s like that here.’”
“Tom later came back and apologized because it was something they discussed in the meeting room the night before with Kevin but not with me. Kevin was a late scratch so I never got the message.”
“It starts with Brady,” Kyle said about his time in New England. “He’s fanatical about winning.”
But it’s not just about the talent at quarterback.
“When I got there they had won three AFC Championships,” the Jaguars tight end said about his 13th, and final year in the NFL with the Patriots. “I expected them to be resting on their laurels. But their work ethic, from the veterans on down was amazing. In the weight room, film study. They have leaders that are dialed into that philosophy.”
But how is it that they can just ramp it up year after year and remain among the elite teams in the league?
“No FA or rookie was going to come in there and change that culture,” Kyle explained. “It was going to change you or you’d be gone. Randy Moss fell into that culture and had unbelievable success. They put his locker right next to Tom’s and it was basically a tutorial every day. He loved it.”
When the Jaguars practiced with the Patriots last year during the preseason in New England, you could see the expectation Patriots players and coaches had of themselves. If there was in incomplete pass during any offensive drill, everybody on that field dropped to the ground and did the number of pushups of the quarterback who threw the pass. Not too many times did they do twelve pushups. But whenever the ball was on the ground, everybody, including Belichick dropped and started doing pushups. If you’re the guy holding the clipboard and the head coach is over there doing pushups, you’re quickly on the ground.
“The intensity part naturally flows,” Fred said about the whole “vibe” around the Patriots. “They have guys who play above the x’s and o’s. Tom is great obviously, a pleasure to share a backfield with him. It flows from Belichick and Tom. Tom is Bill on the field. It’s the perfect situation with both of them. They want to win.”
Both Taylor and Brady agreed that even in winning, the Patriots look forward. Not a lot of celebrating or pats on the back.
“Bill would go over what we did right, then he’d move on,” Fred explained. “They don’t blow you up.”
“This is what we do, we make plays, that’s what expected,” Kyle said of the attitude after wins. “There’s not a lot of verbal praise. But they’d do different things. You’d come in on Monday morning after a win, and you’d walk down the hallway on the way to the locker room by Belichick’s office and they had the big photos on the walls already changed out from yesterday’s win. You’d see yourself scoring or a linebacker making a big hit. I don’t know how they did that but it was pretty cool.”
Playing a nearly perfect game last week against the Chargers; the Patriots put their precision on display. If it was 3rd and 5, the receivers were at least 5 ½ yards downfield. Not 4 ½. They were precise in their planning and their execution.
It’s part of the everyday landscape when reviewing the Patriots success to cite Belichick’s “Do your job!” philosophy. But on the door of their facility it also says, “Ignore the noise.” When it comes to winning football games, nothing outside these doors matters.
Just about any organization can take a lesson from that.