FOXBORO, Mass. — Being a member of the New England Patriots comes with a lot of perks — like making the playoffs every season, for example — but each season’s team is held to lofty standards that can be nearly impossible to meet.
Last season’s 12-4 finish would have been considered a success for most NFL franchises, but since the Patriots not only didn’t win the Super Bowl, they didn’t even make it to the big game, it was a failure.
Expectations are even higher this season after the Patriots signed All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis. Fellow All-Pros Vince Wilfork and Rob Gronkowski are healthy enough to start training camp on the active roster, and several young players, like defensive end Chandler Jones and safety Devin McCourty, look primed to take the next step.
Finishing the 2014 season with anything less than a fourth Super Bowl ring will be considered nonfulfillment, but that’s just the Patriot Way that head coach Bill Belichick established after winning three championships in his first five years as head coach in New England.
“I know what the expectations are, but every year there are always high expectations just because we’re on one of the best teams in the NFL,” 2013 defensive captain Rob Ninkovich said Wednesday morning at Gillette Stadium.
Ninkovich gets it, but he also has been around Foxboro for the past five seasons. As training camp begins Thursday, it will be the captains’ and coaches’ job to make sure the rookies and younger players also understand the expectations, and that they can handle the pressure that comes along with them.
“We have pretty high expectations every season,” offensive captain Logan Mankins said Wednesday. “We expect to have a good football team and play good football and try to be there at the end. We added some good players and we kept some good players from previous years. I have the same expectations I do every year: for us to have a good football team. You just have to play the games and see how it goes.”
Mankins has his starting offensive line back, plus quarterback Tom Brady, for the third consecutive year, but Ninkovich’s defense might need to carry the Patriots in 2014. Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Tommy Kelly are healthy again, Ninkovich and Jones can create havoc from the edge, linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower should be able to take another step forward in 2014, and Revis and McCourty lead one of the NFL’s best secondaries.
With what looks to be a top-tier defense, the Patriots are built to win like they did in 2001, 2003 and 2004, but the work they put in over the next six weeks will dictate if they can take what looks great on paper and translate that to another Super Bowl victory. Those are the expectations, after all.