The New England Patriots will trot out their third string quarterback tonight on national TV, a man named Jacoby Brissett, against a defensive line that features J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. And they’ll probably win because the Patriots always win. They win with Tom Brady. They win with Jimmy Garappolo. They even win with human embodiment of mediocrity Matt Cassel. The Patriots win because they’re a savvy organization with a Hall of Fame head coach in Bill Belichick who—since he first took the New England job in 2000—has played the draft and free agency like a fiddle.
But that praise-filled description isn’t nearly insufferable enough. It’s the way the Patriots win that makes them so special. It’s their organizational standards, their set of codes, and how they conduct business that separates them from others. New England’s organizational practices have become almost as romanticized as Tom Brady’s rise from seventh round pick to four-time Super Bowl winner.
It even has an awful, cringe-worthy, ass-clenching name: The Patriot Way. It isn’t written down anywhere, but enough former and current Patriots and media members talk about it that its impossible to not know its tenants. Whether it’s Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Heath Evans, or Brady preaching the gospel, The Patriot Way has become a phrase that embodies exceptional relentlessness.
Here’s the thing, though: it doesn’t. Much like Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, The Patriot Way purports itself to be something it’s not. The Patriots don’t win in manners superior to other respected NFL franchises. In short: The Patriot Way is Bullshit. Here's why.
1. No One is Bigger Than the Team
“Unselfishness. Guys that put the team before themselves.”
That’s what former Patriots linebacker McGinest stated as a central tenet of The Patriot Way during a segment on NFL Network. The team always comes first, and anyone not willing to kneel before that sword, no matter how big a name, will be gone.
You know, aside from LeGarrette Blount, who the Patriots signed in 2013, then re-signed in 2015. Despite the running back’s sordid history of punching people and smoking weed, the latter of which got him suspended for a game in 2015.
Or Chandler Jones, a Patriots first-round draft pick, who stumbled into a police station, high out of his mind on synthetic marijuana, during the week leading up to a playoff game last season, then played against the Chiefs anyway.
Were the Patriots placing the team above an individual player when they decided to re-sign Brandon Spikes in 2014, the linebacker who was suspended four games for use of a banned substance and publicly described his initial stint in New England as “4 years a slave”?
Was holding onto Randy Moss after he used his post-game presser to stump for a new contract and opine about how he felt “unappreciated” following a Patriots win part of The Patriot Way? Or were his gaudy numbers enough to tolerate the star’s individualistic persona?
What about choosing to sign Chad Johnson or Aqib Talib, whose outspoken nature and penchant for end zone dancing is the exact opposite of the values The Patriot Way is supposed to uphold?
To pretend that the team always comes first, and players that don’t buy into that tenant don’t belong in Foxborough, simply isn’t true. And that’s okay! Teams win with players whose moral compass is cracked all the time. But the Patriots carry this pristine image with them that they always win with only team-first players.
2. Ignore the Noise
“I think we're a pretty mentally tough team. Coach always says, 'Ignore the noise.'"
That’s Brady, dishing out a classic sports cliche. That “noise” the Patriots have tried so hard to block out almost always blossoms internally then is spun into bulletin board material. It’s like that Aziz Ansari joke about P. Diddy buying a bottle of Ciroc and putting the money he owed for it back into his own pocket.
We don’t need to rehash the details of Spygate or Deflategate—they will continue to haunt the Patriots franchise for the foreseeable future. When the Pats talk about outside noise, the justified backlash from these two events is usually what they’re referring to.
But it’s more than just their blatant history of skirting the rules that forces the fortress walls to come up around Foxborough. It’s Belichick’s strict adherence to the “it’s a business” side of the NFL that has left plenty of former players with less than glowing things to say about the organization.
"Just ethically and morally, I could not look in Coach Belichick's face any more after that."
That’s what former safety Lawyer Milloy had to say after the team asked him to take a pay cut in 2003. When he refused, the Patriots outright released him, despite Milloy having reached the Pro Bowl in four of the past five seasons with the team. Ditto for offensive lineman Damien Woody, who said he “felt salty” for not being compensated at a level he felt he was worth after he helped the Patriots win Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Look, players get cut all the time, and they usually aren’t happy about it. But the Patriots custom of getting rid of players in their prime before they feel it’s too late is a tactic that both helps them maintain a strong roster while garnering criticism from those they’ve given a cold shoulder. Which is fine! Just don’t pretend that noise you hear is coming from anywhere but your own mouths.
3. Follow the Leader
“You don’t really see him like Peyton Manning, all up in all those commercials. You don’t see him out. He’s always giving the politically correct answer. So people always want to know what he’s really like. Does he have a sense of humor? I tell them, ‘What you see right there, that’s Tom. He’s a regular dude.’”
That’s from former Patriots wide out Troy Brown. When Brady is finished, he’ll be considered one of the greatest QBs. But, much like The Patriot Way myth itself, people love to take it a step further. To many, he is still the perfect picture of what all quarterbacks should be. Tall, white, gritty, passionate, a pocket passer with a supermodel wife.
Brady should not be your hero. He’s called the bigot with hair running for president a “good friend.” He wants you to pay $5,000 for a mattress he’s endorses. He’s charging $200 for a cookbook with an avocado ice cream(?!?) recipe in it. He's never eaten a strawberry, which either makes him weird as hell or a liar. Worst of all, his business partner and personal trainer is a quack “body coach” who once posed as a doctor to attempt and sell cures for terminal illness and concussions.
It's not enough for Patriots fans to credit Brady for being a fantastic signal caller, they even heap otherworldly praise on the guy for things he didn't do. Heath Evans, for example.
“He’s not everywhere. He’s not posting on Twitter all the time. He leaves a little intrigue. This younger generation, they’re focused on all the wrong things. They have the right examples right in front of them. But it’s all about their brand. Look, the best thing for your brand is to have the respect of your teammates, the respect of your coach, and win.”
So yeah, on the field, the Patriots are an unquestionable dynasty. Brady’s a great quarterback, Belichick is an all-time coach, and the two of them have nearly been successful beyond comparison. But it's important to remember the reason for the Patriots' success rests with Brady and Beliclick, not some unspoken set of guidelines. The Patriots are good. The Patriot Way is bullshit.