The New England Patriots’ prolonged stretch away from the practice field elicited different reactions from different players.
Some found it difficult to maintain peak physical condition without the amenities and on-site training typically available at Gillette Stadium. Others struggled with the mental grind as they sat through hours of virtual meetings and concocted their own at-home workouts.
Chase Winovich felt differently.
The Patriots’ emerging outside linebacker said Thursday he actually appreciated the time he was able to spend away from the facility in wake of Stephon Gilmore’s and Byron Cowart’s positive coronavirus tests.
“I’d say something that’s a pretty interesting dynamic,” Winovich said. “I’d say COVID’s definitely allowed me to spend a lot more time at home. I’ve definitely got to kind of unwind and just unpack the first part of the season. I feel like anytime you deal with, especially a job this stressful, sometimes — people are gonna laugh when I say that — I feel like there’s certain stressors that, just being a football player in the NFL, kind of present itself.
“And I don’t mean that to sound ungrateful, but rather just having a second — which is essentially what the bye week, in my mind, is for — to really unpack and untangle those mental maths and just really get yourself focused for the last push. That’s what I tried to do, and I’m feeling great. I’m feeling motivated, and I’m looking forward to these last 12 games of the regular season.”
Gilmore tested positive last Tuesday, one day after the Patriots returned from their controversially rescheduled road game against the Kansas City Chiefs. From that day through the following Wednesday, the Patriots held just one official practice: a low-intensity Saturday session during which players wore masks under their helmets and adhered to stricter distancing guidelines.
Later Saturday, Cowart tested positive, prompting the NFL to push New England’s matchup with the Denver Broncos from Monday to this Sunday. The Patriots didn’t return to Gillette Stadium until Wednesday and didn’t practice until Thursday.
The break from the usual midseason routine, Winovich said, allowed him to recharge mentally.
“I think it definitely is a balance, and sometimes they can work hand in hand,” Winovich said. ” … Sometimes, taking a step back actually advances you in a way. And not take a step back in a sense that, ‘OK, we’re going to take this off.’ Take a step back and really reflect and dive in.
“I feel like a lot of times, deep-seated, emotional, mental problems, or even problems of the soul, require serious introspection. You flush them out and just make sure your priorities and your focus are aligned properly and you’re going on the offensive, I’d say, mentally and physically and emotionally and not caught on your heels.
“So, yeah, it’s an important time, for sure.”
Winovich, a third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, has been one of the Patriots’ best defensive players this season, leading the team in sacks (2 1/2), tackles for loss (three), quarterback hits (six) and total pressures (15) through four games.