FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP) - The sign hangs just inside the entrance where the Patriots report to work in the morning: “WHEN YOU COME HERE … Do your job.”
It’s a simple reminder that each player must focus on what he, not his teammates, must do that day.
But how well would they do after the way last season ended with a stunning 33-14 first-round playoff loss at home to Baltimore and a devastating knee injury to Wes Welker in the previous game? Tom Brady even said the team lacked mental toughness.
“There’s certainly a lot of unknowns going into the season,” Belichick said before the final preseason game.
Now everybody knows how good New England is _ the first team to clinch a playoff berth, with the leading quarterback in the NFL and an offense that steamrolled its last two opponents, 45-3 and 36-7. Its 11-2 record is tied for the league’s best.
With Belichick and Brady, together for their 11th season, the three-time champions always have a chance to be contenders. This year, the speedy progress of youngsters and the seamless integration of in-season pickups have made them formidable.
Randy Moss traded? These Patriots don’t miss the mercurial deep threat now that team-first receiver Deion Branch has scored on pass plays of 79 and 59 yards on two of his 44 catches since his trade from Seattle after four games.
“They just look like kids out there having a good time. There’s a karma and a chemistry with this team that’s pretty special,” said Robert Kraft, who has owned the team since 1994. “I think what’s evolved over the last seven or eight games is there’s a sense of confidence and the locker room is a very positive atmosphere.”
The Patriots have won their last five games with a 13-0 turnover margin thanks to well-disguised defensive alignments. They’re first in the NFL, scoring 31.9 points per game. And their leader, Brady, has the best passer rating in the NFL, not to mention 29 touchdown passes overall, and no interceptions in his last eight games.
Not too bad, huh?
It would be easy for the players to get carried away going into Sunday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers (8-5), who may be without quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He suffered a concussion last Sunday.
“Tom said it best: ‘Stay humble and stay hungry,’” defensive end Gerard Warren said. “That’s our approach.”
The Patriots weren’t about to brag about the first half of the season. They beat a bad Cincinnati team 38-24, lost to the New York Jets 28-14 and edged Buffalo 38-30. The next week they trailed Miami 7-6 at halftime, then capitalized on Dolphins mistakes, scoring touchdowns on a blocked field goal and an interception for a 41-14 victory.
After a bye, the Patriots took another big step by hanging in with, and beating, two solid teams by the same 23-20 score _ in overtime over the Ravens team that routed them nine months earlier, and over San Diego on the road.
Mentally tough? No question about it.