Last week, ESPN tore a hole in the sports universe with a feature from Seth Wickersham highlighting the growing tension in the New England Patriots locker room between quarterback Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft. The reactions to it were… in a word, mixed.
Boston sports fans cried fake news. The Patriots as a whole didn’t go that far, going with the label of “misleading” instead. Wickersham had to defend himself across various media outlets. Multiple sports shows had a field day discussing the implications of the story. All ahead of a weekend where the team didn’t even have a game.
This week, they do. The Patriots will host the Tennessee Titans, who upset the Kansas City Chiefs last Saturday night. With one win, the Patriots can kill any rumors that say they’re falling apart.
First off, to those who truly believe that Wickersham fabricated a 1000+ word piece just to spite the Patriots, take a deep breath and really think about that notion. This is a veteran journalist who has covered the team before (positively, negatively and everywhere in between), and every other piece he’s written hasn’t been scrutinized this heavily. Sure, there are Stephen Glass types out there, but they can be counted on one hand.
Also, the fact that Wickersham doesn’t name his sources in the story has no bearing on its authenticity. I know a certain public figure has caused many people to question the legitimacy of unnamed sources, but the fact of the matter is that not using names protects those who help reporters out. It’s not crazy to imagine the Patriots firing the numerous sources who were used in the piece just for speaking to Wickersham.
The details about Brady potentially demanding for Jimmy Garoppolo to be traded are a little murky, but what I took away from the story was this: Brady honestly wants to play for another five years (give or take), and knowing that Garroppolo’s contract was up at the end of this season, went to Kraft and asked for a resolution, which does not equal ordering his backup to be sent to the San Francisco 49ers.
It is a little fishy as to why Belichick only asked for a second rounder when teams like the Cleveland Browns were willing to send late first-round picks for him. And the idea that he’d bench Brady, who he’s won five Super Bowls with, for Garroppolo is pretty far out there.
But this is Belichick we’re talking about. He’s known for unorthodox moves, and to be perfectly honest, Brady hasn’t been his usual dynamite self this year. Sure, he’s still an MVP candidate, but he’s also looked more human, making more mistakes than he normally does. Associating with a personal trainer that once said he was capable of curing cancer is also a questionable look.
Don’t take that as a complete endorsement of the whole thing though. I personally think that the situation is being overblown, and I freely admit that I have nothing to actually back that up. Yes, everything that Wickersham wrote is valid, but that does not mean that the Patriots are due for an imminent implosion as a unit. It could happen, but what may truly cause such an occurrence to go down is the team not winning the Super Bowl this year.
Think about it: Brady and Belichick’s competitiveness has reached the point where losing is considered an immediate setback and an overall indictment of themselves. That might sound a bit extreme, but you could tell after their Monday night loss to the Miami Dolphins last month that the two were peeved at losing the way they did.
And yeah, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game wouldn’t be that big of a deal. After all, the Steelers most likely would’ve beaten them in their first matchup this season if not for the league’s stupid catch rules. Likewise, a loss to any of the four NFC teams in the Super Bowl isn’t backbreaking either. Each of those squads is balanced and talented.
But this is Brady and Belichick we’re talking about. They’re probably still miffed about losing to the New York Giants twice, and those Super Bowls happened six and ten years ago. A loss this season, a year where everyone with a fleeting interest in football has given the AFC to them and the Steelers, would be crushing.
And what if the Jacksonville Jaguars are able to beat the Steelers this weekend and go on to do the same to the Patriots in the title game. A defeat to Blake Bortles of all QBs would be downright embarrassing.
Losing to the Titans on Saturday would be just as bad. Not even getting to the conference championship game in a weak year for the AFC? Belichick may just spontaneously combust during the post-game press conference.
How can the Patriots prevent all of this from happening? Earn three straight playoff victories to nab their sixth Super Bowl title. That’ll shut everyone up.
Belichick can look smug while hoisting up the Lombardi Trophy once again. Brady can decide whether to retire (no other QB has won six Super Bowls as a starter, so that’d be a perfect way to close out his career) or try to fulfill his goal of playing until he’s 45. Kraft can smirk at Roger Goodell during the post-game ceremonies. And every non-Patriots fan can give themselves alcohol poisoning.
All the Patriots have to do is win. And that’s what they’re used to, right?