The Patriots need to stop living in the past


It’s an investment warning we’ve all heard and come to accept, at least in our financial lives.

Whether it’s trying to cash in on the latest stock market bubble or via one of the those cable TV ads pimping silver and gold better than Burl Ives ever could, we’re all well aware that past performance is not an indicator of future results.

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Heck, Bill Belichick has pounded a similar message into our mindsets for two-plus decades by reminding us that it doesn’t really matter what happened last week, last month, last year.

So why then do so many of us struggle to transfer that tenet of practical fiscal thinking to the world of sports?

We all, including many players and coaches, spend way too much time comparing the present to the past. Like it matters. Like it’s relevant. Like it makes any sense. Like it’s anything but wasted energy.

Remember when the 2019 Red Sox fell on their post-World Series faces thanks at least in part to manager Alex Cora trying to recreate the record-setting results of the year before rather than turning the seasonal page to a start-from-scratch title defense?

Now, Cora has his Sox back in the heart of the MLB playoffs, while it’s the Patriots that feel stuck living in the past.

Some of us may believe that Belichick is above such stumbles of mere mortal coaches. That his Patriots are 100-percent vaccinated against such flawed thinking. But we’re learning in 2021 that simply may not be the case.

Even forgetting Tom Brady’s unforgettable Week 4 return to Gillette Stadium for the regular season game of the year, there has been way too much talk of the past in regards to the present Patriots led by upstart rookie Mac Jones and a cast of many bought-and-paid-for new characters.

“We kind of live off of what the Patriots have done in the past,” Devin McCourty admitted in September. “But for this team, we've got to go do those things and we've got to stop talking about it and getting it done.”

“The Patriots have done nothing but win for a long time and we have to get back to that,” rookie QB Mac Jones said after the Week 3 loss to the Saints.

The living in the past theme took hold even stronger this week, after the Patriots pulled to 2-3 heading toward the middle portion of the schedule following last Sunday’s game in Houston that might be best described as a moral loss.

Sure it was critical to get the 25-22 win over the Texans, but there were still issues on both sides of the ball that left a lot to be desired, especially with a veteran-led defense that’s supposed to be a foundational strength of the team but let rookie passer Davis Mills carve it up like he was Brady himself.

What did that leave players and coaches on that side of the ball talking about as they are supposedly hitting midseason form? Weirdly, past paths to success.

“We always talk about, really, September you try to figure yourself out. Even early October you are trying to figure yourself out. Then November, hopefully, November, December, January you’re playing your best football,” linebackers coach Jerod Mayo said of ongoing defensive issues that are supposedly uncharacteristic of Patriots football.

“Around here we’ve always taken September and October to see what you have as a team,” veteran cornerback Jonathon Jones echoed. “You have the trade deadline still ahead of you. You’re still building as a team. This defense, we have a ton of guys, we have what we need in the room obviously, but we’re still building.”

And there it is. Dated, flawed, old-school Patriots logic from the past.

Apparently New England can still stumble its way through September and even early October and settle into a groove when the important games come after Thanksgiving.

Except, that hasn’t exactly worked in recent years. Certainly not since Brady mentally and then physically checked out of Foxborough.

Didn’t work when Brady’s 2019 Patriots fell on their collective faces down the stretch and in a Wild Card exit in January.

Didn’t work last year when Cam Newton’s club never could find that path to the postseason, losing three straight games in December to lock up a losing record for the year.

It doesn’t feel like it’s working now.

It’s great not to panic. But that doesn’t mean you can rely on past successes and plans to get you out of a current funk.

The Patriots may very well have a very bright future under Jones’ direction.

And obviously the last couple decades couldn’t have been more blindingly brilliant with Brady and Belichick leading the way.

But the present? The present is clearly in doubt for a newly-rebuilt Patriots team that stumbled through September, has yet to win a home game with the Super Bowl-hopeful Cowboys coming to Gillette Stadium Sunday evening and feels a little too confident in its “we’ll figure this out because we always have in the past” mindset.

That was then, this is now.

Now, the room for error is microscopic. The quarterback is a kid not a GOAT. The schedule gets more challenging on the horizon. The middling Patriots need to find consistency on both sides of the ball sooner rather than later or it won’t matter how well they plan on playing in November or December, even if it’s the way they seem to think they have in the past.

The whole team might actually want to take the advice of its wise-beyond-his-experiences rookie QB. Jones has taken to saying a number of times regarding his own development that you have to “be present and be where your feet are."

Forget about the future. Ignore the past.

The time is now for these Patriots to figure out who they actually are in the present.

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