FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — On to the Titans.
With the Patriots once again surrounded by controversy, Bill Belichick has adopted his favorite mantra as the defending Super Bowl champions prepare for Saturday night’s divisional round playoff game against the Titans.
On to . . . fill in the blank with whatever team he’s facing. In this case, the Titans.
A week after speculation raged that the Patriots have devolved into a den of dysfunction after an ESPN.com story reported strains involving Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and team owner Robert Kraft, the coach has put the blinders on himself and his players for what they hope will be yet another Super Bowl run.
That process resumes at Gillette Stadium in prime time, as the Patriots host a Titans team coming off a spectacular 22-21 comeback win over the Chiefs in Kansas City in last weekend’s wild-card round. Despite continued conjecture about the state of the Patriots, there is a unified resolve now that it’s almost game time.
It’s what Belichick does best: focus his players on their assignments and let the outside noise go in one ear and out the other.
“Right now,” he said earlier in the week, “it’s just about preparing for Tennessee.”
Forget the fact that Belichick was again thrust into the national spotlight in a long series of controversies, with the infamous Spygate and Deflategate episodes still resonating all these years later. But just as the Patriots have done when those and other debates have flared, Belichick has managed to put a lid on the emotions, and the Patriots have responded with brilliant seasons — most of them ending with Super Bowl rings.
The Patriots hit back hard after the article was published, issuing a joint statement from Belichick, Brady and Kraft refuting many of the conclusions reached — among them that Kraft ordered Belichick to trade backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to appease Brady, that Belichick was unhappy about coaching in New England and that Brady’s personal trainer had created a divide in the locker room.
Wherever the truth may lie, Belichick refuses to do anything other than get ready for the next game.
On to a Titans team that features third-year quarterback Marcus Mariota, who did a splendid job in rallying the Titans from a 21-3 second-half deficit against the Chiefs and who will now be tested against the gold standard of NFL playoff teams.
“He does a good job of taking care of the ball, period,” Belichick said of the No. 2 overall pick in 2015. “They have a good scheme, good attack and that’s just good decision-making on his part.”
Brady is laser-focused despite the continued speculation about his reported discomfort with Garoppolo’s presence until his trade to the 49ers earlier in the season.
“It’s hard to see [Brady] go to another level of intensity, because he’s always intense,” All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “He’s always preparing hard. He’s always studying as hard as he can every week, so just seeing him do the same old that he does every week — prepare hard, practice hard and get ready for the game.”
For Brady, it’s business as usual.
“We do what we always do,” he said. “We show up to work and try to do the best we can. We know there’s a lot at stake, and I think everyone’s put a lot into it. It doesn’t really matter what happened outside of this facility. It’s a big task to go out and win a playoff game. Divisional round, and I’m glad we earned the chance to be here [with a home game] to do it and we’ve just got to go take care of business.”
On to the Titans.