The idea of “playing 60 minutes” is one of the oldest football cliches in the book. But after the way the Patriots have slumped to the finish line in recent weeks, it’s been pounded into the players’ heads.
And what it means to them, during the week at least, has been to take extra time to tie up all the loose ends. Did the Patriots really “finish” against the Bills? It’s debatable, considering that Buffalo took them to the wire and, really, it was a bad drop in the red zone and a penalty on a successful onside kick sinking the Bills. But the players said the difference was apparent.
“Everybody – from the defensive side to the offensive side – stayed after practice to do extra plays, get extra reps, get extra looks we couldn’t get in practice,” tailback Laurence Maroney told me, as he left the locker room. “You only get so many looks in practice, so we stayed out there and got extra, different plays, so we could be more prepared. . . . We played hard. One of our emphases was to play 60 minutes and regardless of what happened, I think we did that well. We didn’t give up, even though we had some inconsistency in the second half.”
Tully Banta-Cain saw the difference this week as players became even more accountable in everything they did — to themselves and each other.
“Even as a front seven, we go in and watch our opponents’ games and, with no coaches in the room, we talk about what adjustments we’re gonna make and what we’re gonna do on certain plays,” Banta-Cain said. “That helps us out as players to know how guys really feel about certain plays or how they really look at it, and it gives you a broader spectrum of the defense, as opposed to being in with your coach.”
And so as one player got to understanding another’s role, some loose ends got taken care of.
“We didn’t really have any big, blown assignments that cost us,” said Banta-Cain. “And that
right there shows something, because we have given up some big plays
where guys just blow their assignments. It shows because guys are on
the same page and know what they’re supposed to do, it’s gonna limit
those types of plays.”
Indeed, the defense allowed just one play of 20-plus yards. And the offense closed out the Bills with a big third-down conversion from, you got it, Wes Welker.
So the players seem to be taking at least a little more ownership of the team, and for a young group of guys, that’s a big deal.