FOXBORO, Mass. — It?s far easier to act like you?ve been somewhere before when you literally have been there before ? many times.
The New England Patriots are preparing for their 13th AFC Championship Game appearance in franchise history. Their matchup Sunday with the Pittsburgh Steelers will be the Patriots? sixth consecutive conference championship appearance and their 11th in the last 16 seasons.
In other words, it?s business as usual down in Foxboro, despite the Patriots being one win away from reaching Super Bowl LI. A victory over Pittsburgh would mark New England?s seventh Super Bowl trip since 2001, with the Patriots winning four of their previous six trips to the big game.
?I know, it?s so exciting,? Patriots head coach Bill Belichick deadpanned Wednesday at Gillette Stadium when a reporter pointed out the pageantry that comes with playing in the AFC Championship Game.
Belichick and his troops are well-aware of the stakes. After all, Wednesday?s press conferences were conducted in front of an AFC Championship Game backdrop with the Lamar Hunt Trophy — awarded to the winner of Sunday?s Patriots-Steelers showdown — sitting just a few feet away.
But the Patriots clearly have their sights set on the NFL?s ultimate prize — the Vince Lombardi Trophy — while making sure they don?t overlook their next opponent. The pizzazz of Championship Weekend is nothing more than noise that precedes what really matters: how the players play once they take the field.
?Like I said, it?s a great privilege to play in this game. It?s the two best teams in the AFC,? Belichick said. ?You earn your way to this game. There?s no other way to get there. You?ve got to earn it, and you?ve got to earn it on the field. You?ve got to go out there and beat somebody — you?ve got to beat a lot of people to get to this game. Both teams have done that, so that?s the matchup.
?We?re glad to be in the game, proud to be playing in it. We earned it, they earned it, and we?ll play Sunday night and see how it comes out. Great to be part of this game.?
Belichick, who downplayed the importance of the Patriots? recent playoff experience and Sunday?s home-field advantage, isn?t the only one at 1 Patriot Place who appears laser-focused. Quarterback Tom Brady was more serious than usual at his press conference Wednesday — so serious, in fact, that a reporter asked if he was feeling under the weather, to which Brady responded, ?I?m good.?
?Well, it?s a big game, so I?m going to go try to play my best,? said Brady, really simplifying matters.
?I think there?s always something going on,? he added of whether the history and meaning behind Sunday?s game poses any kind of distraction. ?I think it?s just important for us to focus on what our job is, and that?s to go out and play well. Our job is to show up and try to do a great job when we get the chance, and that?s the way it?s been all year for us.?
Belichick and Brady obviously have been at the heart of New England?s run of dominance, so their calmness, coolness and collectedness is to be expected. The business-like approach seemingly is universal in the Patriots? locker room, though, which is even more striking during a week in which New England’s upcoming opponent already is dealing with distractions stemming from an ill-advised Facebook Live video streamed by superstar wide receiver Antonio Brown immediately following the Steelers? divisional-round win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
?We know that most of the things we can control are inside this building,? Patriots linebacker Dont?a Hightower said Wednesday. ?I think everybody does a good job of taking advantage of that, whether it?s coming in early, asking questions or whatever it may be. We all know this is a one-game season and we?re going to do our best.?
So, how exactly are the Patriots blocking out the racket?
For some, it?s about finding activities that involve staying away from game coverage.
?That?s why I have headphones,? wide receiver Danny Amendola said. ?We do a great job of preparing together and studying together and working together throughout the day and going out there on the practice field together and stacking those good days up, and it?s all based toward getting a win on Sunday.
?I don?t watch much TV, so I don?t really get distracted or get caught up. … I play pool, ping-pong, just kind of hang out with my boys. Occasional cartoon every now and then.?
For others, it starts at home.
?If you do something, if it?s beneficial and you think it?s leading to winning the game on Sunday, you?ve got to be all for it,? Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. ?If it?s not, you just hold it off. Wait until the next couple weeks to take care of that, and I think everyone kind of has that mindset. I think guys? families have that mindset. They?re all in it right now. It?s not really a hard task.
?My wife is always on me, ?All right, we?ll handle that next week, we?ll handle that in two weeks.? I think she?s all in just like me, and I think that makes it easier when guys? home life is focused on this game. You?re focused while you?re at work and you just hope it all comes together.?
Really, it comes down to everyone taking his job seriously.
?There?s no B.S.,? Amendola said.
No B.S., huh? Perhaps that is the Patriot Way.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler III/USA TODAY Sports Images