Mental Toughness and Big Games
I think you can say that this Patriots team, in terms of its current leadership and core, began in 2010 when Randy Moss was released. That was clearly the time when new leaders emerged on both offense and defense. Moss' release signified a departure from the entire 2009 team, as Moss was the only holdover from that infamous practice incident, in which four players showed up late.
That 2009 team, according to Belichick, and documented in-depth on A Football Life, has some obvious leadership issues, and this translated into a lack of success on the field as well. Some games you can look are the infamous 4th and 2 game, the blowout loss to the Saints, and the blowout playoff loss to the Ravens (can't pin all that poor play on injuries.) That team consistently blew huge leads late in games and folded under adversity.
What's been lost in all of these analysts' analysis of the Patriots is just how well this team has played in big games. They group these players as playoff failures, unfairly attributing the 2007 and 2009 disappointments to them. This is not accurate. Many of the Giants' core players may be responsible for their collapses in recent years, but the Patriots have been nearly perfect when it matters most.
After the 2009 season, the Patriots looked to younger leadership, guys who were drafted for their mental toughness. Among these players, I would point out Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Patrick Chung. These guys were team leaders in college, in addition to their physical talents.
The fact is these Patriots have played in a lot of big games and won almost all of them. It began last year in Pittsburgh with a 39-26 shellacking, after this team was counted out by most analysts. They showed tremendous mental toughness and then ran through the rest of their schedule, annihilating the Jets and Bears.
This year, with their backs against the wall, they beat the Jets in NY for the first time since 2008 coming off a two game losing streak. They overcame some terrible starts to games, being down big to Miami and Buffalo and having huge defensive breakdowns early to Philadelphia and Denver. They displayed some major mental toughness in coming back during these games when it seemed they would fail and sputter.
So, which games have these Patriots lost? That one playoff game to the Jets. Maybe you could call the Giants and Steelers games "big" this year, but those games were not nationally televised and were pretty under the radar. How many have they won? A lot. I'm not sure why anyone would think this team is "soft" or not as big game ready as the Giants. The days of Randy Moss, Laurence Maroney, and Adalius Thomas are over. Let's let these new leaders prove their critics wrong again.
Re: Mental Toughness and Big Games
Well said. I hope so too. This Sunday can't come soon enough for me!
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