FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Every week provides a new challenge in the NFL, a new opportunity to learn something about a team, and Bill Belichick essentially laid out what faces the New England Patriots this week.
Can they refill the tank and avoid a natural letdown while returning home against the Miami Dolphins after a wildly successful 10-day, three-leg trip to Denver, then Colorado Springs and finally Mexico City?
Belichick acknowledged that it took a lot out of the team, saying on sports radio WEEI, “We are exhausted from the trip.”
It takes a lot for Belichick to admit that.
So this is a week, including Thanksgiving on Thursday, that should reveal how much maturity and mental toughness the 2017 Patriots have.
They should beat the struggling Dolphins, but as a look at the NFL scoreboard each week reveals, what should happen and what actually does happen are not always aligned. This past week’s top example: The Kansas City Chiefs, under coach Andy Reid and his 16-2 record coming off a bye, lost on the road to the one-win New York Giants.
To help his players recharge, Belichick gave them Monday and Tuesday off, which sparked a joyous reaction in the locker room after Sunday’s win. But Belichick had a message for them.
“We need a real good day Wednesday. Let’s be ready to go on Wednesday, put in a good day’s work, and get on top of Miami,” he told the players, as seen on a video on Patriots.com.
Belichick has reason to trust that the players will respond, as they have in recent weeks in seemingly every area. The Patriots have looked like a different team since their Week 9 bye.
“Every year, you've got to kind of learn who you are. [Reporters] ask this early in the season all the time: What's the team's identity? I think we kind of figure that out. We're understanding how we need to prepare, how we need to practice,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said after Sunday’s win.
“Whether it's a hard, full-pad practice, whether it's a walk-through, we know what we need to do on each of those days. And when we do that, we give ourselves a chance. You see it paying off Sundays when we're going out there, everyone running around, everyone knows their job. It's all about execution.”
As for what he has learned about the Patriots’ identity this year, McCourty said: “I think we’re a blue-collar team.”
The blue-collar team gets a different type of test this week, one it hasn’t truly experienced this year, because it hasn’t had back-to-back wins in which it controlled the action so decisively while spending 10 days on the road. How the Pats handle it will be telling.