Recovery is all about character
Building off defeat not assured
FOXBORO — It’s an easy quote to remember, but has been used enough times to render its origin more difficult to pinpoint.
The most recent attribution harkens to former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy: “Football doesn’t build character, it reveals it.”
The character trait revealed in the Patriots’ 42-27 loss to Kansas City on opening night was not a flattering one. Over and over, the leaders on the team — including its primary one, quarterback Tom Brady — referenced either a subpar attitude or lack of energy or fight. In other words, there wasn’t just a breakdown in execution in the 4227 loss, but character.
Today in New Orleans against the Saints, the Pats need to prove that old maxim has its exceptions, and that the Chiefs loss is something they can build off, not be defined by.
The common belief among fans is that when these types of losses happen under Bill Belichick, the taskmaster turns into Darth Hoodie in practice the next week and scares his team into improvement.
While there is some truth to a greater sense of urgency from the top down, Pats Hall of Famer Kevin Faulk said it’s actually not that cut and dried.
“It’s not about Bill’s demeanor . . . it’s about you,” Faulk said. “As a teammate, everybody’s got to be focused on what’s going on.”
Faulk should know. He played in several Kansas City-type losses. In 2008, the Dolphins unveiled the Wildcat and rolled to a 38-13 win over the Pats at Gillette Stadium. Following the bye week, Faulk scored a pair of touchdowns as part of a rushing attack that piled up 144 yards in a 30-21 win at San Francisco.
Even though the Brady-less Pats were blown out twice more that year and missed the playoffs, they showed resolve. That, Faulk said, is not something that just filters down from Belichick. That accountability comes from within.
“I think that’s why you get a lot of veteran leadership on your football team, so the coaches don’t have to do a lot of (calling players out) and motivating,” Faulk said. “With that first loss happening, they know, we put pressure on ourselves.”
That pressure was evident in open locker room sessions this week. Even running back Mike Gillislee, a free agent signing from the Bills this offseason, made note of it.
“As far as for me, this is my first time on this football team,” Gillislee said. “For those guys (who have been on the team for longer), they’re used to winning. That loss, it motivated those guys to work harder. I know that they will this week and I know that I will work a little harder to just get ready for Sunday.”
As Faulk described it, a loss that can act as more of a shock to the system naturally heightens the awareness in meeting rooms and on the field.
“Everybody’s focused,” Faulk said. “Everybody knows that what the organization is and what they look for in players, they know that week in practice we better be focused on what’s going on and what we need to be focused on.”
The question remains whether it’ll be a turning point or a sign of things to come. This week, there have been plenty of comparisons drawn to the 2014 loss at Kansas City that preceded the oft-referenced “On to Cincinnati” blowout of the Bengals and eventual Super Bowl XLIX win.
However, after a 2009 rout by New Orleans, the Pats lost again the next week to the Dolphins. The Pats did recover to win the AFC East, but were embarrassed at home by the Ravens in the divisional round, 33-14. Teams can fall in either direction. “Is it capable (of fixing its attitude)? Yeah, it is capable of fixing it,” Faulk said.
But that’s a character question, and only the players can reveal its answer.
CRUSHING BLOW: When New Orleans blew out the Patriots in 2009, it was a harbinger of a playoff flop against Baltimore.