As great as a Week 1 win over a divisional opponent is, a shared sentiment after the Patriots victory over the Dolphins Sunday afternoon was "different."
Over the last six months, different has become expected, but as the NFL returned this week, we saw what different meant in terms of a game-day atmosphere. With no fans at Gillette Stadium, it was up to Patriots players to hype up their teammates and maintain energy.
"It's like scrimmaging the Titans or scrimmaging Detroit or scrimmaging the teams that we scrimmage. There are a few fans there, but basically there's no fans there," Coach Bill Belichick said. "It's just the competition. And there's some energy from your teammates and your own energy, so it is what it is."
Not only was the energy from the crowd missing, the absence of sounds that players may otherwise take for granted – videos playing in-stadium during timeouts, for example – were noticed, Devin McCourty said.
"It's definitely different. Just everything about it. obviously, there are no fans, but there's like nothing playing in between … like the TV timeouts were just a blank video board. It was just like nothing the whole game," McCourty said. "It kind of felt like back in high school where there's no jumbo-tron and I guess people would just be talking in those breaks in the game. It was definitely a different feel. You kind of got your own energy."
McCourty wasn't alone in equating Sunday to games before making it to the NFL. Julian Edelman likened it to his days at the College of San Mateo.
"Honestly, it reminded me of the times I was back at college in San Mateo, my junior college. It was a full love-of-the-game type mentality out there. You could hear the other guys," Edelman said. "Everyone could hear each other, and it was just about going out and playing the game that you love. It was obviously unfortunate that we don't have any fans. That energy and getting to go out there in front of 75,000 is amazing, but it brought you almost kind of back. It was weird. It brought me back at least to a high school, junior college. My school in college we didn't really sellout that much so it felt like that. "
Given the uncertainty of this year, David Andrews said that he was happy to be able to even be playing football, and having no fans in the stands, in its own way, reconnected him to why he loves this game so much.
"There were definitely moments where I was like 'Woah,' but it was obviously new to all of us… we have never really run out onto the field without any fans," Andrews said. "Heck, even in peewee there were fans, but I liked the way we went out there and competed and played the game. In some ways, it brings the game back to why you started playing, just to love playing the game. There's no fans, it is just a bunch of grown men playing a kids game."