It was a trying year in Foxborough. From the pandemic to missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008, the 2020 season was not what Patriots fans or players would have wanted.
Ahead of Sunday's season finale against the Jets, there was talk of a "meaningless" game between two teams that were missing the playoffs. What could they have to play for?
As it turns out, the answer was each other.
In post-game press conferences, a running theme was how this moment was about much more than improving the team's record. It was about fighting for their brothers, about finishing what they started.
"It means a lot to me and my teammates. The guys we have in this building, the character of the men we have, we just kept fighting. Not only today, but all season long. We kept fighting," J.C. Jackson said after the game. "It was a rough season, rough year, but the men in the locker room, our captains, they showed great character and they led us all year and they led us today and we came out with a win."
When asked about this being a "meaningless" game, Jackson was quick to say he didn't believe those existed.
"I mean, you get to go out there and compete. What do you mean, how can someone say the game doesn't matter? I don't get that, I don't understand why people say that," he said. "It's another game you get to go out and compete with your brothers, your teammates, and just ball and have fun. That's what the game is all about, just competing, having fun and enjoying the moment. So it matters to me and my teammates."
This idea was one captain Devin McCourty shared before the game. Every week, he breaks down the pre-game huddle for the defense, and he asked the guys an important question: what if this was the last game you ever played?
"I think everywhere you looked this week, the game didn't matter, it was meaningless. I just told guys to think about their journey, to have an opportunity to play here. Last game of the year, you know you're not going to the playoffs, but at some point on your journey, you've been doubted, you got hurt, a certain school told you that they didn't want you, a team released you, a team traded you, a team told you that you weren't good enough to play," McCourty said. "At some point, if someone asked you, 'Would you take an opportunity to play in the last game of the season with no chance at the playoffs?' We all would take it and give it everything we've got."
Though this was the way the 2020 season came to a close, Jakobi Meyers said a win like this is something that can be foundational for the team moving forward.
"We're competitors. Everything we do, we want to win," Meyers said. "To be able to go out like that with a good team win. It wasn't just one person who played good. We all played well as a team. That's something you can definitely build off of and build momentum off of."