At precisely 7:45 a.m. this past Monday morning, the Patriots' convoy of buses rolled to a stop in front of Gillette Stadium. Bill Belichick's team was fresh from the airport after a successful business trip to the desert southwest.
By that evening, the luster of Week 1's wild win over the Arizona Cardinals was as far gone as the Patriots themselves were from Phoenix. The reason for turning the page so quickly was simple.
"Pretty easy. All you've got to do is turn on our game against Miami last year. It's sickening. Yeah, it doesn't take long at all," the head coach emphasized.
After a late-night game and a cross-country trip, there was little time to bask in the victory in Arizona. Attention had to be turned to Week 2's opponent, the Miami Dolphins. When last the Patriots faced their AFC East rivals, it was a disaster. Week 17 of last season, on New Year's Weekend, Belichick's club traveled to South Florida and were thoroughly outplayed in an uncharacteristic Patriots performance.
"It wasn't very good: bad coaching, bad playing, just bad period," Belichick continued.
"The thing that's most etched in my mind, and I'm sure our teams, is the last time we went down there it was a pretty rough day for us. Other than James White breaking a tackle we barely had 100 yards of offense, couldn't play defense, couldn't really do anything… I hope we can be more competitive against them than the last time that we played them."
That message didn't seem to need much reinforcement. Belichick's players who were part of that contest still wince at the recollection.
"Yeah… that was a bad feeling leaving that stadium. Something I'll always remember," remarked wide receiver Danny Amendola. "Try not to repeat that. It all goes into preparation.
"We're focused on this week. We're playing a good team in Miami. A lot of preparation is going to go into this week. We're looking forward to it."
"They moved the ball well, they made plays. We weren't able to make that many plays," recalled safety/co-captain Devin McCourty. "We know from playing them every year that it's going to be a tough game from beginning to end."
It could help New England's cause that this time, the game will be held in Foxborough in New England's 2016 home opener. The Patriots are 12-2 against the Dolphins here at Gillette Stadium – the last loss coming in a memorable September game in 2008 (the "Wildcat" game). But the Patriots can't simply take for granted that a home game gives them an advantage. After beating the Cardinals, many players attributed their outcome to their positive week of practice.
"The reason we were confident for Arizona is the work we put in to prepare for them. So, we've got to do that this week," McCourty added. "No one's better at turning the page to the next game than Bill. That's the good thing about this team. We take after him… Once he turns the page, that's all he's talking about, so, all we've talked about is Miami."
This home opener marks the start of a quick three-game home-stand for New England – the Texans come to town four days later before the Patriots host Buffalo the first weekend of October. In franchise history, the Patriots have faced the Dolphins six times in Foxborough home openers, with New England holding a 4-2 edge, although the last two times were Patriots losses (1989 and '90).
"We love playing here. It's our home," Amendola declared. "I've played a lot of games here. I love playing in front of these fans."
Bennett Brings It
Never bashful, tight end Martellus Bennett can be counted on to deliver thoughtful, entertaining observations when you engage him in discussion, no matter the topic.
On the field, after his Patriots regular season debut Sunday night, it seems he can also be relied upon to fall in line and do what's asked of him.
The game plan against Arizona didn't feature Bennett as a significant aspect of the passing game, at least as a receiver. The role given to Bennett that night was more as a blocker, both in the rushing and passing attack, and he performed admirably.
"Marty certainly did an excellent job the other night," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels agreed. "Ran behind him a lot in the running game. He did a good job on the edge, we kept him in pass protection more than a handful of times and he did a nice job in terms of securing the edge of the pocket there too. Unselfish, team guy; just played hard on every snap, played a ton of snaps for us and really did his job.
"When he was asked to do whatever it was, he performed his responsibility and helped us in a number of different ways. That's what our tight end positon generally does, and like I said, Marty was out there most of the time the other night and did a nice job of it. We gained a lot of production out of the things that he did, regardless of whether they showed up in the statistics or not."
"A lot of people, they equate how well you've done in a game to fantasy football and how many points you scored them," the player asserted Wednesday. "But there's so many intangible things that go on during the game that most people overlook, except for your teammates. When you go out there, I'm trying to do every single thing that I can possibly do to get a win on the football field and in the real column, not in the fantasy football column."
Bennett, in his ninth NFL season, has played for three other teams – Dallas, the New York Giants, and Chicago – but only has experienced the playoffs once (in 2009 with Dallas). Having the chance to do so again this season with New England, regardless of his role, seems to suit Bennett just fine.
"Whether it's blocking, pass protection, catching the ball, getting a big first down, whatever it may be — that's what I'm here for. I'm not really here to catch 1,000 balls. I've caught 90 balls and lost a bunch of games. It's not that fun. Whatever it takes to win, that's what I'm here for. I think it's just exciting to get a win… Any 'W' feels good. We didn't get back until, like, 7 a.m., but I didn't even sleep on the plane. I was just so jacked up from winning.
"And winning's contagious. Losing's contagious. You start losing, next thing you know, you lose your car, you lose your house, lose your family, lose your job. You're a winner, then your daughter's a winner. She grows up to be a winner. I don't want my daughter to grow up to be a loser, so I'm just trying to win as much as possible in life so that the winning can rub off on her, as well."
Last week, the Patriots enjoyed perfect attendance at all their practices. Wednesday, that streak ended because linebacker/co-captain Dont'a Hightower was unable to suit up. He suffered a right knee injury early in the Arizona game, was treated on the sideline for a spell, and was able to return, but it was evident that he wasn't at full strength. Today's absence confirmed those observations.
Cornerback Malcolm Butler (ankle) and right tackle Marcus Cannon (knee) were added to the injury report after being limited in their practice activity Wednesday. Rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell and his left elbow were removed from the report.
Tight end/co-captain Rob Gronkowski (hamstring), left tackle Nate Solder (hamstring), and guard Jonathan Cooper (foot) didn't make the trip to Arizona, but were able to take part on a limited basis in today's practice.
Meanwhile, the black jerseys were back. Those coveted threads are given each regular season – only after Patriots victories – to those players who, according to the coaching staff, best helped the team prepare for the previous week's vanquished opponent. This week's winners were safety Jordan Richards, DB/LB Brandon King, practice squad safety Vinnie Sunseri, and rookie running back D.J. Foster.
There's also been a change to the 10-man practice squad. Defensive back Mike Hilton has been released to make room for wide receiver DeAndrew White. The University of Alabama product earned a spot with the San Francisco 49ers last season as an undrafted rookie free agent. The Niners released him earlier this month.
White wore jersey number 84 at today's session.