The Patriots will never escape the obsession with perfection

Published: 7/26/2017 9:40:16 PM
Modified: 11/12/2008 3:10:12 PM
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — History has not let the New England Patriots outrun the perturbing, unfinished business of 2007.
Even with three AFC titles and two rings since Bill Belichick’s Irish Goodbye at the end of Super Bowl XLII, there still looms an obsessive-compulsive fixation on the one thing Belichick and Tom Brady have not done: Finish a season with a 19-0 record.
The 2017 Patriots will open training camp on Thursday at Gillette Stadium unfairly burdened by the most ludicrous expectation a frothing national sports media can conceive. Why? Because they came so achingly close to perfection 10 years ago, and for the first time since that season have acquired one of the NFL’s elite receivers.
Perfection is to the Patriots as The Russian is to The Sopranos, a dangling plot thread wandering in the woods, which may never be tied up, torturing only the most nitpicky of viewers. Nonetheless, when New England dealt its first-round draft pick to the Saints this spring for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, whatever Doomsday Clock tracks the likelihood of NFL perfection moved one minute closer to midnight.
On Wednesday, the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots tired to move that clock back a tick, conducting damage control against the perception that they are now unbeatable.  
“I think it’s quite foolish to believe and to buy into some of the things that are being said about our football team right now,” special teams ace and 10-year veteran Matthew Slater said. “I honestly think it’s quite disrespectful to say some of the things that have been said about our football team to the other players and coaches in this league. We have to remember who we are. We have to remember that we’ve got to build this thing from the ground up and all we can worry about is what happens today.”
Even with 20 starters returning from last year’s championship squad, plus a stellar group of incoming talent that includes Cooks, running back Mike Gillislee, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and defensive end Kony Ealy, the Patriots will begin camp with the perception that they have earned nothing.
“I’m sure this next meeting we have with Bill, he’ll come in and tell us there’s no starters, we’re starting from scratch” safety Devin McCourty said. “I think we’ll go from there. I think the hard thing with this league is — it’s true — as training camp goes on you’ll get reminders of whatever you did last year doesn’t matter … you’re humbled just by being in this league and seeing what transpires on the day in, day out. Hopefully the experience of having 20 guys that went out there and played meaningful football for us helps, but it’s all about how we play this year. We all have to come back ready to go and ready to compete and play at a high level.”
Before he met with the players, Belichick tamped down the hype swirling amongst the media.
“I guess I missed some of the big reading you guys have had,” Belichick said. “Honestly, I don’t really pay any attention to it. Sorry. … We’re not really worried about all that’s in the future. That will come when it comes.”
That said, Belichick is likely aware that comparisons to the 2007 model will perpetuate throughout the preseason and beyond. This may explain why he’s made an adjustment to the preseason practice schedule. On Wednesday Belichick announced that the Pats will hold joint practices with the Lions prior to their preseason game in Detroit, in addition to already-planned joint practices with the Texans (which will be held in West Virginia). New England will also host the Jaguars for joint practices prior to their preseason opener at home.
The decision to practice with the Lions gives the Patriots less time in Foxborough and therefore less exposure to Boston media. The Pats beat does not travel in full force for preseason road games and the herd is thinned further for coverage of out of market practices. That said, if Wednesday was any indication, the Patriots will get their share of media attention and the relentless obsession with perfection. And as usual, Belichick sets the example by shifting focus back to these Patriots and what they need to do.
"What people have done some other year — whether it’s me, a coach, a player, somebody else — it’s really meaningless for the 2017 season,” he said. “So, we’ll see what happens this year. You know, we all have a lot to prove. Nobody’s done anything this year yet. So, we’ll see how it goes.”
Dave Brown is a freelance correspondent who covers the Patriots for the Monitor. You can follow him on Twitter @ThatDaveBrown.

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