Earlier this season when the New England Patriots had yet to hit their stride, veteran nose tackle Vince Wilfork commented that the Patriots defense would eventually round into form and more than carry its own weight as the Patriots tried to make a return to the Super Bowl. Wilfork’s comments were hardly excessively bold or ungrounded, but the Patriots had given up 27.5 points through their first three games. In the past two weeks, the Patriots defense has surrendered a grand total of 10 points, while creating seven turnovers. Both wins came against teams that were at least tied for first place in their respective divisions (Jets, Bears).
On the defense rounding into form, much like Wilfork said earlier in the year would happen as the season progressed:
“It starts in practice. Just seeing guys attitudes and how they approached work made me a believer from Day 1, all the way back to OTA’s. These guys, as a team, we made a promise to each other: We’re going to give it our all. When we step on the field, we’re going to be a team, we’re going to play through whatever it may be, there’s going to be some ups and downs, there’s going to be some positives and negatives. But you know what, we’re going to play through all that. Once we get to the end of the tunnel, we’ve got to be able to finish ballgames.
So, I saw it early, and I was always a believer. A lot people thought I was crazy. A lot of people wrote us off. But it was just something I saw in these guys. They work their tails off, man. As a football player, for me and I think for a lot of other players, the more you do the better you get; the more games you play, the more reps you get, the better you get. Because you start to see the game a lot clearer. And I think at this point later in the season, December where you probably have to play your best football to be a good football team, I think you’re starting to see that with a bunch of guys on this team. And it starts with practice. For the past two weeks we’ve had good practices, everybody’s been tuned in, watching extra film, doing all the extra stuff they can do to make sure they hold up and we get an extra edge on the field. And it’s been helping us. And we’re going to need to continue that to get better down the road.
So it won’t get any easier for us, we’re just in this for the long haul, we’ve got to grind this out. This week we’ve got Green Bay coming to town. Coming off a loss, I’m sure they’re going to be pretty pumped up. It’s almost like a must-win for them, but each game we want to win, we go into each game expecting to win. So it doesn’t surprise me we went out and performed the way we performed. Two weeks in a row, if we didn’t play 60 minutes, we were darn close. And we see what we’re capable of doing once we play together. We know what we’re doing on the field. Don’t make stupid mistakes, eliminate penalties, all those little things that ruin a football team, we’re starting to get a little better in those situations. So we’re going to need to continue that to be a pretty good football team.”
On the Patriots ability to plug unknown guys in at any given moment and not lose a beat:
“You know what, you’ve got to credit Bill Belichik, his staff and the organization for going out and finding guys like this. And then on top of that, once they get here they learn what we do, they’re not idiots, they just learn what we do and know their role. Everybody knows if you’re a third-stringer or whatever it may be on this team, your number may be called at any given time. Somebody may go down, and then hey you’re in. You need to know what you’re doing. And I think for the most part we’ve been pretty successful doing that because like I said it starts back in practice.
Bill put us in situations in practice where me personally, I think it’s the toughest situations you can be in. He gives it to us in practice. He has our thinking caps on at all times. I mean, we go through from a special teams period to a defensive period, back to a defensive, offense, defense, special teams situation. You’ve got this amount of time on the clock, no time outs, what are you going to do? And he’ll want to see how we react when we’re tired, he’ll want to see how we react when everything is on the line. Just see if we know what we’re doing. So Bill will still drive you all the way down the field in a two minute drill at the end of practice when you’re totally blown out at the end of practice – a two minute drill that goes on for 10 minutes and throw you right in the middle of a situation. This is the situation, what you going to do about it.
And I think as the season went on, guys tuned in. Guys really tuned in and focused on what the situation was, and we covered a lot of situational football, and for the most part, situational football will win you games.”