The only thing more impressive than the New England Patriots’ defensive prowess and potential is the players’ mutual admiration for one another.
Life is good so far for the defending champs.
Sure, not everything’s perfect in Patriotsville. The wide receiver corps is perilously thin because of injuries, the tight end position is a human Rubik’s cube, and Tom Brady’s a little grouchy these days that he has to wear a different helmet.
But overall, it’s pretty smooth sailing right now for New England.
The team will unveil their record-tying sixth world championship banner on Sunday Night Football in just 25 days. The second and third-stringers on the current roster proved against Detroit that the Patriots might have the best overall depth in the league. And the defense – that same unit that historically backhanded the Rams in Super Bowl 53 – somehow looks even more intimidating in 2019.
It’s not going unnoticed or flying under the radar this season, either.
NFL.com columnist Adam Schein ranked the Patriots’ D as the sixth-best in the league. ESPN NFL analyst Damien Woody also predicted even bigger things happening for the unit this time around, calling the New England linebackers “elite” and claiming the Pats have “the best secondary in the league,” per NESN’s Marcus Kwesi O’Mard.
With expectations soaring sky-high outside of Foxborough in digital media and on TV, how are the individual members of the defense taking it all in stride and maintaining level heads?
Easy. They’re gathering all that praise, love, and adulation, and showering it right back on one other… without falling into the trap of stoking their own individual egos or tooting their own horns as players. They don’t have to do any of that, not with so many of their teammates and brothers (some, literally, are brothers) willing to do it for them.
The image above is taken directly from Kyle Van Noy’s Instagram account.
Van Noy refers to Stephon Gilmore as “the best corner in the league,” and he’s not exaggerating one iota – Gilmore was simply phenomenal in his second season with the Patriots last year, earning a Pro Bowl nod and coming away with the game-sealing interception in the Super Bowl that helped bring another Lombardi to Boston.
Here’s a different image taken from another New England linebacker’s Instagram account:
Jamie Collins, who was originally drafted by the Pats six years ago, experienced a messy divorce with the team and Coach Belichick back in 2016 before returning this spring for a second stint in New England. The second time is apparently the charm for Collins, who has both said all the right things (mainly not said the wrong ones) and done all the right things (stood out in practice and in the preseason game against the Lions).
Collins’ caption for the photograph is “Three Musketeers,” and he follows that by playing on the word ‘linebackers’ and instead turning it into a clever hashtag: “#LionBackers.”
His message is a simple one: he, Van Noy, and Dont’a Hightower present a formidable trio in the center of the New England defense. As talented as they all are individually, the sum is still greater than their parts – just as was the case with the original Three Musketeers from Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel.
The immortal catchphrase from that timeless story: ‘all for one, and one for all,’ is also the perfect rallying cry for a Bill Belichick-coached defense.
While other NFL franchises imbalance and bankrupt the talent on their rosters by overpaying for arrogant superstars or prima donnas past their prime, the Patriots are forever fine-tuning the many facets of their lethal machine while simultaneously holding true to their organizational philosophies.
Even one of the newest members of the New England defense – who publicly admitted he used to despise the Patriots – can’t help himself now from getting in on all the feel-good-vibes:
“Oh, man. I love playing with Dont’a Hightower,” Michael Bennett told reporters on Tuesday, via NBC Sports’ Nick Goss.
“I just think he’s a very unique person in the NFL, as far as being able to play linebacker and rushing. He’s just a really good player, so working with him and talking to him, and figuring it out has just been fun. Like I said, as a new guy, I’ve got the chance to play with some great linebackers, and he’s one of the one’s I feel like is one of the great ones, so it’s a great opportunity to play with him.”
The feeling is decidedly mutual between Bennett and his new Patriots brethren, too:
“(Bennett’s) insight is very great,” defensive end Deatrich Wise told reporters on Monday.
“From a guy who’s been in the league multiple years and has played different positions, he knows how to coach any position and any technique. He sees what his teammates are good at and what they’re lacking and he plays off that. So if someone’s good with their hands, use that. If someone’s faster or stronger, he tells them to use that strength. So he’s very intelligent when it comes to reading his teammates and helping them improve. And he’s intelligent at reading the defense.”
Two of the more senior members of the Patriots secondary – that same group that Woody labeled the best in the league – were quick to agree. Devin McCourty called Bennett “a really good player” that “all of the younger guys can learn from.” Duron Harmon took it one step further, saying Bennett represents “everything you want from a football player.”
This all-out lovefest between New England’s defensive players might come across as sickening if you’re a fan of one of the other 31 NFL teams. But if you’re a Patriots fan, it’s exactly the kind of stuff you want to be hearing as the days tick down ever closer to the regular season opener.