Foxborough is the Pyongyang of the NFL.
Or so it seems that way through the eyes of many Patriots’ opponents, their fans, and even a few NFL honchos on Park Avenue.
There is a clear dictatorship in the “outlaw” regime of Bill Belichick. The goings-on in the House of Kraft are often cloaked in secrecy. And what constitutes “news” at One Patriot Place is often bent and stretched through the prism of truth.
Spygate and Deflategate remain part of the team’s narrative, even if both are conflations of truth and hyperbole.
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Much of the “Cheatriots” narrative is unsubstantiated. Still, it remains an attempt by some to explain the long-term success of the Patriots. They are one win away from playing in their 10th AFC Championship Game since 2001.
Then there’s the presence of Ernie Adams. He is Director of Football Research for the Patriots. What other team has a Director of Football Research? The mantra “Pink Stripes,” which appeared on a white board behind Adams in the NFL Films “Do Your Job” documentary about the Patriots 2014 season, has become a hashtag for the team’s mastery of any given situation.
This week, more mysterious happenings in Patriots Nation. Defensive end Chandler Jones paid an early-morning visit Sunday to the Foxborough Police Station. The Foxborough police chief is director of security at Gillette Stadium. The circumstances surrounding Jones’ incident, reportedly a result of smoking synthetic marijuana, have been the subject of speculation and sources since.
Questions about that incident during Belichick’s Thursday news conference were met with a dead-panned and terse: “nothing is more important than the health and well-being of the people in this organization.” Jones later Thursday apologized for “making a stupid mistake.”
Meanwhile, the coach showed up with a black eye on Monday.
No answers for that, either.
The biggest not-so-secret weapon the Patriots have is Tom Brady.
The story of how Brady went from the 199th pick in the NFL Draft to winning four Super Bowl rings and three Super Bowl MVP awards is not required curriculum in the Massachusetts public school system.
The fierce loyalty shown to Brady these past 12 months by Patriots fans would make even a North Korean dictator envious.
A sizable number in attendance at Saturday’s AFC divisional playoff game between the Chiefs and Patriots at Gillette Stadium will argue until death that Brady is the greatest quarterback the NFL has ever seen.
Brady’s off-the-field life was once very much a secret. Not so much any more. This season, during his weekly sponsor-paid radio appearances on WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan” show in Boston, and in a series of interviews given by some of his personal staff, the world has been given a glimpse of what makes Brady tick.
Brady credits his relationship with body trainer Alex Guerreo as an integral part his ability to withstand the demise of his offensive line.
The subject of what Brady eats, and doesn’t eat, has captured the Internet’s heart. He has never tried coffee, and indulges himself with avocado ice cream as a personal reward. He eats lentil buckwheat footballs for dinner.
His daily diet is 80 percent vegetables, features no white sugar, white flour, nor caffeine. His chef also excludes “nightshades, because they’re not anti-inflammatory. So no tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, or eggplants.
When it comes to his profession and Saturday’s playoff game against Kansas City, perhaps his most important self-professed attribute will be his ability to singularly focus on “Doing Your Job.”
The recent woes of the Patriots, who went 2-4 after winning their first 10 games, have elevated the threat levels around Foxborough. New England hasn’t beaten a team with a record above .500 since its victory over the 4-2 Jets on Oct. 25.
Brady has often professed his belief in the principles outlined in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book “The Four Agreements.”
It’s a book that he’s been reading, and trying to live, for about a decade.
Chief among those Four Agreements for this story: “Don’t Take Anything Personally.”
That means you, Roger Goodell and Ted Wells.
The Patriots have a long and tumultuous history when it comes to distractions.
For the past 360 days, the biggest elephant in Brady’s cavernous living room has been the Deflategate investigation.
Brady’s focus on doing his best means no detail goes ignored.
“I would say I’m not the easiest guy to play with. I think there are a lot of high expectations and I try to put a lot of pressure on everybody to get the best out of us. You work really hard to get to this point,” Brady told Comcast New England’s Tom E. Curran this week. “You didn’t just start working hard last week. You work hard with the opportunities that you have, I don’t care if it’s an offseason, non-practice day. What are you trying to do to help our team win and become a better player? And if you get that opportunity, you try to go out and take advantage of it and you make it to this point, you’re not gonna do it any different because it’s the playoffs, we’re just gonna do more of the same. But if you lose, there’s nothing to figure out the following week.”
After Brady’s four-game suspension was lifted by Judge Richard Berman in September, he led the Patriots to a 10-0 start. In Week 3, Brady became the fourth QB all time to throw 400 career TD passes, and reached that milestone quicker than anyone (in terms of pass attempts). Brady’s offense was so torrid at the start of this season that the Patriots scored in every quarter of every game this season until the final quarter of their 10th win, over the Bills, on Nov. 23.
The early part of this season was cast as a Revengeance Tour of sorts, as the Patriots unleashed an Old Testament wrath against those who — real or imagined — had wronged the franchise. The blood-letting crested when the 2014 AFC Championship Game losing Colts self-immolated in a 34-27 loss to New England.
Injuries to Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, LeGarrette Blount, Rob Gronkowski, and Sebastian Vollmer at various times would eventually stall the Patriots offense over the final six weeks of the season.
The Chiefs, however, have been largely immune to any diabolical hold from Brady and Belichick, the coach and QB combo with the most victories in NFL history.
For one, it was Bernard Pollard, then of the Chiefs, who wrecked Brady’s 2008 season on his first possession with a shot to the knee.
More relevant, the Chiefs demolished the Patriots in the 2014 season. That 41-14 defeat was easily the most emotionally lopsided regular-season loss of the Brady-Belichick era.
Brady’s horrid performance that Monday night unleashed a pandemic of speculation that perhaps it was time for Jimmy Garoppolo to lead the team’s offense.
Belichick responded by turning “we’re on to Cincinnati” into an unofficial team anthem.
Brady quickly embarrassed those who believed his skills had atrophied. Four months later, he was holding his son Benji and the Lombardi Trophy during the Patriots’ championship Duck Boat parade.
With the team’s late-season struggles, a pile of injuries, and Jones’ police station shenanigans, the simple unspoken focus for New England this week is “we’re on to Kansas City.”
All the secrets in the world won’t matter much if the Patriots can’t get past the Chiefs.
Bill Speros, the Obnoxious Boston Fan, is an award-winning journalist and Bay State native. He can be reached via Twitter @RealOBF.