"We're on to 2017."
That's not necessarily a Bill Belichick quote, but it sure could be. No, it's actually the Patriots' strategy heading into the new year that begins later this week.
It sounds cliché, doesn't it? Who doesn't want to revel in the moment, for just a bit, and re-live a comeback-for-the-ages in Super Bowl LI? I'd think you'd be surprised to hear this, but Belichick himself - along with the coaching staff - most likely began doing just that once the parade festivities had died down to a dull roar.
Wait a minute. Re-live it? Or re-live and learn from it? You see, the method to the "madness," if you will, the brilliance behind the staff and personnel within it is simply this - never rely on the WHAT, but act on the HOW and NOW.
Many have tried and failed to follow a similar pattern of success. What the Patriots have done over the past 17 years better than anyone else in the NFL, is learn to get over themselves more quickly than others. There's no resting on past laurels or successes. There's little-to-no back-slapping or story-telling about doing things the way they did last year, or even in the old days.
These guys attack a new year, a new season, with a blank slate. Or at least as blank as a slate can get when you return the kind of depth this team currently appears to possess. This team identifies a possible liability, and how to improve upon that potential problem with a surgical exactness that should make doctors envious.
For instance: Are you bummed or perplexed by the change in the offensive backfield this year? No more LeGarrette Blount, even though he rushed for an NFL-best 18 touchdowns last year and a personal career-high in yardage. But what you may not realize is while this team benefited from his performance, it also could have made them more one-dimensional on offense.
You knew that when he was in the game, the Patriots were liable to run the ball. That's still a tough cut to make, right?
Now, with the addition of multi-talented Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead, plus the already-versatile Dion Lewis and James White - whoever is in the game, can you accurately say the Patriots are a running team, or will they be throwing the ball?
Both. Or neither. See, the idea is to become less predictable and make it harder for the other guys to plan what they'll do to stop you. One small move, and sometimes it's a tough one to make, can make a real difference in how you improve yourself and keep from letting complacency set in.
Complacency destroys championship teams. Real and honest evaluation and action, with little-to-no emotion involved, is how winning teams stand a chance to keep winning. It was tough not to bring Blount back into the fold. But it was a step this team felt it needed to take, to hopefully continue to improve after winning a championship.
Because the goal is to win another one. And this is just one example of many that could be made with this version of the New England Patriots.
So, you might cringe a little as you watch camp get started. You might wonder 'what the heck' the thinking is with a move or a strategy. That's fine. They won't all work the way they're intended to work. But the vast majority will, and they have for some time.
17 years, to be exact.
Training camp battle(s) to watch
Other than the positional battle for playing time in the offensive backfield, which should be a good one, it could be fun to keep an eye on Brandin Cooks against the defense.
If you can.
My guess is, the defensive backs on the field will certainly have their eyes on him. They might need to have eyes in the backs of their heads to keep up with him.
You've heard the phrase "speed kills?" Speedy receivers kill quicker. It's a dimension that the Patriots haven't possessed much recently, although it's tough to say guys like Chris Hogan, or Julian Edelman aren't fast. They are.
But Cooks, with his potential 4.3 40-yard speed, is a Lamborghini compared to Hogan or Edelman's BMW. Not that that's bad, or anything. I love me a good Beamer.
It's the ability to stretch an opposing defense with break-your-neck speed that has been missing previously, and it will be fun to see how the new dimension develops between Cooks and Tom Brady. It will also be fun to see how the Patriots' defenders adjust not only to Cooks' quickness, but how they account for the other receivers or running backs at the same time.
Or Rob Gronkowski, even. Now, imagine an opposing team's defensive staff trying to do the same? This offense could be fun for us to watch, but maybe not so much for the other guys?
One bold prediction
Stepping out on a limb has never been one of my favorite things to do. It was hazardous to my health. I wasn't a very good tree-climber in my more youthful days.
But I'll go out on a limb and say this - New England will not go 19-0 this season. Or even 16-0.
Some of you will disagree, believing that this Patriots' team has the ingredients to pull off such a feat as an unbeaten season. I'll give you this - if there has ever been a team set up to challenge the '07 mark of 16-0 during the regular season, it would be this one. But we all know how that year turned out, don't we?
The subject has already been broached, and players have predictably dismissed the idea. Coaches have already begun the eye-roll into ridiculousness. But the question will persist, until the Patriots lose on the field when the games start counting. And the team schedule is set up to get on a roll, no doubt.
It's that five-road-game stretch over a six-week period after the bye week that's a killer, and my personal prediction of in-season frailty. But that means nothing, really. People remember champions, not so much what the record is or was.
13-3? 14-2? 12-4? It doesn't matter. Just be left standing at the end, with a few more toys than the other guys, and win three (or four) in a row when the time comes. That's what this Patriots' team can accomplish, just like last years' team did.
And that's the safest limb I've ever climbed out upon.
John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and is entering his 25th 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 30 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame, and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.