Patriots deny any y
ON the field, the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are right where they want to be heading into the postseason.
As the AFC’s top seed and the owners of a first-round bye, the 13-3 Patriots will get to rest up during the opening weekend of the playoffs. But as they prepare to begin their latest run, their biggest opponent might be the perception of a fracturing relationship between arguably the franchise’s three most important pieces.
The Patriots dismissed as ‘‘flatout inaccurate’’ a report suggesting a rift involving owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady yesterday. The three released a joint statement hours after an ESPN report, citing undisclosed sources, detailed an array of tension.
The story highlighted purported disputes concerning Brady’s personal body coach, Alex Guerrero, in player-medical affairs. Also mentioned is a supposed difference between Kraft and Belichick over the decision to trade backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The story implied Brady has taken issue with a lack of praise from Belichick this season.
The statement said the three have had a ‘‘very good and productive working relationship’’ for 18 years and they regret having to ‘‘respond to these fallacies.’’
Brady and Belichick both eschewed questions last month about a chasm between and Belichick and Guerrero.
Belichick wouldn’t address the validity of a Boston Globe report that Guerrero had been banned from the sideline or travelling on the team plane, but said ‘‘there are different relationships, different situations with dozens of other people’’.
Brady last month also took issue with a reporter who asked whether the quarterback and Belichick had talked about an adjustment to Guerrero’s access to the team.
‘‘I have a lot of conversations with him. Those are private between he and I, and I don’t think anyone knows what we talk about,’’ Brady said then. ‘‘Certainly I’ve never talked about it. He’s never talked about it.’’
Despite the reported off-field issues, the Patriots have thrived on it. Even after losing receiver Julian Edelman in the pre-season to a knee injury and linebacker Dont’a Hightower in October to a season-ending pectoral injury, they enter the playoffs with the NFL’s top-ranked offence and a defence that is allowing just 18.5 points per game.
Brady is also an MVP candidate, and passed Brett Favre for the most wins in one season for a quarterback after turning 40.
Still, there are questions about Brady’s durability heading in his 15th post-season.
He threw for a league-leading 4577 yards passing and 32 touchdowns, but he also got hit a lot more than he did last season (32 sacks in 2017 after just 15 in 2016).
Minus a favourite target in Edelman, receiver Chris Hogan (shoulder) and running backs James White (ankle), Rex Burkhead (knee) and Mike Gillislee (knee) have all dealt injuries down the stretch.
The guy is one of the greatest to ever play the game.’ JETS COACH TODD BOWLES ON TOM BRADY