“No days off!”
That’s not the rallying cry of supervisors in your local Amazon distribution centres, but rather one of the slogans curated by the New England Patriots’ brains trust during one of their recent, grindingly efficient charges toward the Lombardi trophy.
It’s meant to encapsulate the ethos that’s made the Northeastern franchise the most successful of this century – “when others are slacking, we’re crunching tape, crushing muscles, cracking skulls for that edge that makes the difference.”
Sometimes that will to win has toed a very thin line. Spygate and Deflategate are two controversies that will spring to mind for many fans whenever this era of success is mentioned, and the perception exists that the six-time Super Bowl champs aren’t just willing to push themselves to the limit, but that the rules and spirit of sportsmanship are there to bent and broken provided you can get away with it.
Have we seen another example of the shady side to the Brady bunch this week?
Despite his well-documented work ethic, you could be forgiven for wondering where the “No days off!” mantra fits with Antonio Brown’s recent bizarre behaviour. His antics have drawn sincere concern regarding his mental health in general – almost freezing his feet off, arriving to training in a hot-air balloon, threatening not to play because the helmet he likes is no longer deemed safe by the league, and fighting with his boss in front of the rest of the team – to mention just a few incidents.
Following his eventual, seemingly inevitable release on Saturday, a new possible explanation has opened up.
Even before the past weekend, the New England Patriots were many people’s pick for the Super Bowl. Yes, they’d lost their talismanic touchdown magnet Rob Gronkowski in the offseason to retirement, and there were questions about the receiving options vintage Tom Brady would have to work with this campaign – especially before Josh Gordon’s reinstatement – but the Pats have worked their magic in the past with bits-n-pieces receivers, and their defence looks like the strongest they’ve ever had under Bill Belichick.
As if irked by any suggestions they’re looking shaky this season, they walloped the Pittsburgh Steelers 33-3 in the Sunday night opener.
The Steelers are the team who had counted on Antonio Brown’s play and league-best talent up until last season, but decided to trade him at well below his true market value last March just to get his personality out of their club after he requested a change of scenery and started making trouble towards the end of last season.
One team that was willing to offer a better price than the third and fifth-round draft picks Pittsburgh received from Oakland were – you’ll never guess – the New England Patriots! But the Steelers elected to reject their offer as it would’ve made their main obstacle to a Super Bowl run even stronger than they were already.
Now, purely by good fortune, Brown has twisted everyone’s nut so much in just six months as a Raider that they’ve kicked him off their team.
Within hours of his being slung out of Oakland, he was confirmed as a New England Patriot. Reports also emerged that Brown had courted advice from “social media consultants” on how to force his release from the team.
Brown also sought out advice from social media consultants for ideas on how he accelerate his release with Raiders. The first blow was posting the letter from Mike Mayock informing him of fines that included “conduct detriment,” which led to the next day confrontation
— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) September 8, 2019
Of course, there’s a chance Antonio Brown genuinely has lost it. The Raiders knew they were getting Brown at a discount and that implied risk. But, assuming Brown now settles down, shuts up and starts making plays at Gillette Stadium – as all true Patriots haters expect he will – then it’s reasonable to conclude that the Patriots way towards getting the player they wanted was a plan long in the making.
Josh Gordon has, we hope, got his act together. He’s now only the second-most talented pass-catcher on the Pats roster. Julian Edelman, the current Super Bowl MVP, is 33-years-old, but almost every team in the league would take him as their third wide receiver. The Pats have an array of running-back talent, and the murmurings continue that Gronk’s retirement is really just a pre-playoffs rest and he’ll be back for January and a seventh Super Bowl win.
They were good enough to win it all again already. Now they’re even better. But talk of “The Patriot Way” can take plenty of time off after this suspicious episode.