Matthew Slater has been around long enough to know the Patriot Way isn’t defined by just one player.
Tom Brady is gone, sure, but the organization’s standard remains. After the veteran special teams ace re-signed with New England this offseason, he used his first public opportunity to emphasize that the Patriots will go on without Brady — and their sights aren’t lowered.
“I don’t think the goals change at all,” Slater told reporters on a Monday conference call. “The standard doesn’t change at all. The pillars that we stand upon, they don’t change at all.
“If you go into the season with a defeatist mindset, then you can’t expect to be successful. We have a great opportunity. We have a lot of good football players. We have a tremendous coaching staff. … We have to go into the season expecting more from ourselves than anyone outside the building expects from us. We have to go in with the same drive, the same focus, the same determination. If we don’t, you shouldn’t even step foot in the building, because we’re already going to be beat.”
A winning attitude is necessary to succeed in the NFL, and it’s run rampant in New England’s locker room since the turn of the century. Such an attitude was synonymous with that of Brady, who embodied its results in his 20 years of play as a Patriot.
But we might be mistaking the source of such an attitude and identity. It was Bill Belichick who turned to Brady in a time of need and stuck with him in a stretch run to a title that kicked off the sport’s greatest dynasty ever.
Sure, scoff at the thought now, but the results don’t lie. Even when Belichick was forced to turn to Matt Cassell, the Patriots still finished with a winning record, and at 11-5 would have made the postseason as at least a wild card in an average year (2008 saw the wild-card berths go to the 12-4 Colts and 11-5 Ravens). Who’s to say Belichick can’t produce something similar in 2020?
Slater did make one thing clear, though: These Patriots are going to have to move on from grounding their identity in the guy who wore No. 12. There are no more pre-game shrieks of “let’s go!” in their future.
“We’re going to have to be able to find a new identity for ourselves,” Slater said. “I think part of that identity is going to be built upon things we’ve always stood for and will continue to stand for as long as this organization is led by the people it’s led by. That’s going to be selflessness, hard work, doing what’s best for the football team, serving one another, not having any level of expectation that things are going to be handed to us.”
Replacing Brady is no easy task, of course. But life and football in New England will go on, a new player will call the plays and the Patriots will have to identify a new leader to whom they can turn in moments of need. That player might be veteran Brian Hoyer, or it could be youngster Jarrett Stidham. Slater was the latest to talk about how Stidham’s positive energy is a boost to the team.
“I think he has some good traits,” Slater said of Stidham. “His approach, his attack, is going to have to be one day at a time, just like any of us. I think it’s important, and I’ll certainly encourage him, just to be himself. Continue to be the person he is. Continue to be the teammate he is. And we’ll just take this thing one day at a time.”
That’s how we’re all operating these days, just one 24-hour period at a time. Football is still a long way away. And when they get there, Patriots like Slater will be ready to begin life without Brady.