The New England Patriots weren’t exactly the most talented team in the NFL this season, but somehow they found their way into the final four. The resilient, blue-collar persona this team has taken on over the last few months even has owner Robert Kraft reminiscing about the glory days of not so long ago.
“This team we have now reminds me of our ’01 team,” Kraft said on WEPN-FM in New York, per ESPN. “It wasn’t the biggest names or collection of stars. It was a team that had a certain mental toughness and truly played together as a team. … I think this year the sense of team and putting team first is at the highest level. We’ve learned it’s not the teams that have the best collection of talent, but it’s the teams that really come together, especially in December and January.”
The Patriots have been mired by injuries this season, losing key starters Rob Gronkowski, Tommy Kelly, Jerod Mayo, Sebastian Vollmer and Vince Wilfork along the way. They’ve persevered throughout the season, though, fully embracing Bill Belichick‘s “next man up” mantra and pulling together like the 2001 team, which was known for its overachieving, even if it didn’t have the same injury struggles.
Belichick dug deep into his coaching bag of tricks to lead the Patriots to a 12-4 record and a first-round bye in the AFC. The Patriots played a number of close games along the way, including seven wins by a touchdown or less and five fourth-quarter comebacks. Kraft was quick to credit Belichick with the team’s success this season, which he seems to think is the coach’s best yet.
“This is his 14th season with us, but I really think this might be his most outstanding coaching job,” Kraft said. “The way these guys have stepped up, ‘next man up,’ so to speak, has just been unbelievable.”
These Patriots might be reminiscent of the improbable 2001 team, but, in order to be properly compared, they’ll need to match the same success, which means winning a Super Bowl. The next step in that process will come this weekend, when the Patriots travel to Denver for an AFC Championship showdown with the Broncos.