How do we know what the truth really is?
We think we know what the truth is, but as is usually the case, fans and media often serve as opposite ends on a wide spectrum. The real answer - the truth - always lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
The perception of truth and the actual truth are often two different thoughts of mind as well. Perception is the way we think and how we understand, whereas reality often ends up knocking us right back into sensible thoughts - and the actual existence of something.
Ok, enough of the psycho-babble. But some of it bears comparing here, only because meaningful football will be played in short order. And there are always some misconceptions out there that could use a little 'splainin.'
Here are three popular thoughts to consider, when it comes to the Patriots:
Perception 1 - Week 3 of Preseason is the 'dress-rehearsal'
The Patriots had better hope this isn't the case. The 25-14 loss to Carolina this past week was about as hum-drum as spending all day Monday in the office. There's probably little chance what the Patriots showed Friday night in Carolina will be what anyone sees on the field come September 9th.
However, the buildup to the game did take the team through what might be considered a regular-season routine in terms of preparation. The coaches and players often talk about having a different "focus" away from home as opposed to playing at Gillette Stadium, so there was that chance to begin getting familiar with travel.
But any other similarity with the regular season stops right there. There is/was no real game-planning of note, and while expected starters did appear on both sides of the ball (hello, Rob Gronkowski) there simply wasn't the 'sizzle' we saw in spots against Philadelphia a week earlier.
We may think Week 3 is a dress-rehearsal for the real deal, especially since the last game this week (at the New York Giants) is likely to feature many players hoping to find work after this weekend. Most of this years' team is already pretty much set. But the truth is, the Patriots don't adhere to hard-and-fast rules about what they're supposed to do, or on what media and fans think they should do.
It's ridiculous to think anything else, really.
Situational work in personnel sets, or if a player can use the reps to see what he's got or where he needs to go (hello again, Gronk) are more important to this team. And more important to building this team to where it hopes to go by seasons' end.
And, they show the other guys (teams and coaches) absolutely nothing in the process. Unfortunately, that means the fans and media get absolutely nothing, too. Hope you like plain vanilla - 'cuz that's exactly what you get from the Patriots in a preseason game.
No matter what week it is.
Perception 2 - TB12 needs some weapons out there. After all, he's (cough, cough) 41!
I'll grant you this. After Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman, there may be some snickering going on around the league as others glance at the New England depth chart at wide receiver.
But think back to 2007, with a receiving corps that then featured Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth, but little else in terms of proven ability. Chad Jackson?
That team managed to work through any potential short-comings to a 16-0 regular season. In no way am I saying 2018 will be like 2007. Cases in point - Eric Decker just announced his retirement. Edelman's first four weeks will be on the sideline. Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt and Malcolm Mitchell couldn't get or stay healthy.
What I will point out, however, is that even though his team may yet look for some help, Tom Brady still has more than may meet your eye at his disposal - his own age and abilities notwithstanding.
There's this Gronkowski fella that should be available. There's another guy that lines up primarily in the backfield - James White - that may be one of the best targets/receivers TB12 has ever had to throw to. Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson, for all their veteran experience, could be offensive sleepers for this team in multiple ways, based on what (little) we've seen of them in the preseason.
These guys are the reason(s) you haven't seen New England prominently mentioned alongside Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas' names in the media, except for rumors.
Perception 3 - The Patriots don't pay anybody
Paying top dollar for talent in New England? Pass.
And it is true that, compared with other top players at their positions, guys like Brady and Gronk are not at the top of the league-wide salary ledger for whatever reason, even though their talent and abilities suggest (perhaps) they should be.
We do know the Patriots have stood firmly with formulaic values on certain positions within a team structure, and once a player approaches or surpasses what the team-assigned value is for his position - a decision is made. Often, it's a business decision to move onto another option.
Jason Fitzgerald of Overthecap.com had a great piece this past week, which was given further scrutiny by the Boston Globe over the weekend, on how the Patriots are one of the teams investing more in the "middle class" than most of their competition.
The bottom line? Well, the proof could be in the won-loss record or in the tenure of the Patriots' competitiveness. In the middle of their financial roster, considered to be players' 11-to-30, New England ranks 7th in the NFL in spending at $3.1 million per player.
And speaking directly to the Patriots' perceived 'thriftiness,' Overthecap says there are nine NFL teams who spent more than $50 million per year on just their top three players. Not surprisingly, New England was not one of those, and only three teams who reached the post-season last year were.
One other perception comes to mind that continues to muddy the waters of present-day NFL reality - that this league is a 'copycat' league. To that, simply ask any other team in the league who'd they'd most like to emulate, especially when it comes to winning, over the past decade or so.
Best guess? The perception, the reality - and the truth - probably points to the Patriots.
Not so terrific, Tom
One of the things that has been most admirable in Tom Brady's ever-emerging personality over the years has been the way he has dealt with the media. TB12 has always understood his job off the field as well as on it, and has simply gone with the flow of whatever follows.
He has been known to answer the tough questions asked of him as best he can, and he knows the media has a job to do in asking those questions in the first place.
So, when Brady decided to hang up and abruptly end an interview - again - on WEEI Radio this week after facing repeated questions about his personal trainer and business partner Alex Guerrero, it came across initially as a somewhat unjustifiable response. Even a bit naive.
Or was it? Brady is certainly media-savvy enough to know his relationship with Guerrero, which was brought to an even greater light thanks to his "Tom vs. Time" documentary on Facebook, is going to be a lightning rod for an always-charged-up New England media, and an always-eager-to-hear-him fan base.
Fans, and the media, hang onto TB12's every move and nearly every word. When we don't see what history tells us we should see, when we don't hear what we want to hear, or what we like or agree with or even don't know much about, there's always a tendency to question further. Some in this business do that better than others, but asking those questions is mandatory.
The only stupid question is the one you don't ask.
Perhaps then, this response was Brady's way of drawing another line in the sand over questions about a relationship that to him, is personal. Ask about football, fine. But ask about anything or anyone else, it's off-limits?
We might not like that, and situations might arise that could be fraught with potential conflicts of interest, which could affect personal or team performance. But fans and the media do need to respect his right to a certain level of privacy.
However, TB12 also needs to remember - as if he needed any reminding - he's a public figure. He is a primary spokesperson for one of the winningest teams in modern pro sports history. You want to hear what he says, and so does the media.
Right or wrong, he can't always control the narrative of a story or control a line of questioning.
Especially when he's always such a big part of it, and a major reason for it.
John Rooke, an author and award-winning broadcaster, is entering his 26th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for more than 30 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.