FOXBORO, Mass. — When Jakobi Meyers dove across the goal line to score the first touchdown of his New England Patriots career, a wave of teammates engulfed him.
Fellow wide receiver Nelson Agholor got there first, followed closely by N’Keal Harry. Then a cavalcade of offensive linemen arrived. Within moments, the entire Patriots offense surrounded Meyers — and not just the other 10 players who were on the field with him.
Mac Jones, Brandon Bolden, Kendrick Bourne, Trent Brown and Jakob Johnson all sprinted in from the sideline to mob the wideout. A few seconds later, a crew of veteran defenders — Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Matthew Judon, Jalen Mills — joined the celebratory scrum. Special teams captain Matthew Slater burrowed his way in there, too.
Meyers, a well-respected Patriot in his third NFL season, later said his teammates’ reaction to his long-awaited touchdown meant more to him than the score itself, which capped a 45-7 rout of the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium.
That sequence exemplified just how close and connected the Patriots — the NFL’s hottest team entering Week 12 — have become this season.
Ahead of Sunday’s matchup with the conference-leading Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium, numerous New England players raved about the team’s uncommon camaraderie, saying it’s helped fuel their rapid and surprising ascent up the AFC standings.
Running back Damien Harris: “You see it. You see it every time you watch us play on Sundays, every time somebody has a good play. … When Kobs scored his first touchdown, you saw it. Everybody was on the (field). The sideline was completely empty. I mean, completely empty. Everybody was running on the field, everybody was celebrating. I think that play kind of embodies the spirit of this team.”
Tight end Hunter Henry: “There’s just something about this team. There’s just such an unselfish attitude. No one really cares who makes the plays, as long as we win. I think everybody out there is just trying to find a way to execute to make a play and score so that we can win ballgames. I think that’s one of the biggest things that I enjoy with a lot of these guys.”
Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne: “Everyone is just jelling perfectly, man. The locker room is really close, and I just think that is helping us move even faster. Us being close off the field just helps it on the field.”
That closeness has been evident in big moments, like Meyers’ touchdown, and in smaller ones, like Judon voluntarily sitting in on a teammate’s midweek news conference for “moral support.” Judon, the star of New England’s top-ranked defense, has been a key culture-driver, bringing his energetic and inquisitive personality to the locker room.
Safety Adrian Phillips: “It’s bigger than football. And it’s always bigger than football, but you get a part of some teams and you see guys really don’t mesh the way you would want your team to mesh. The great about our locker room right now is everybody rocks with everybody. Everybody talks to everyone. We’ve got DBs talking to O-linemen, kickers talking to linebackers.”
Special teamer Matthew Slater: “I certainly think there’s something to be said about teams with guys that enjoy being around one another and just get along outside of the game of football with a lot of dynamic personalities. I know we’ve been fortunate here to have a lot of those types of teams, and do think it contributes to success in the long run. It’s a lot easier to go out and do your job with someone that you like. I mean, you’ll go out and do it if you’ve got to do it; it’s your job. But when you like someone, you love someone and you’re invested in them on a personal level, I think it kind of pushes you to be at your best even more just so you don’t let that person down. We certainly have that this year.”
Harris: “It’s not about one of us. It’s not about who gets the ball the most, who catches the most passes, who gets the most carries. It’s about the whole team. We love each other. We care about one another. We want to play well for one another because I know every other guy in that locker room has the same goal in mind as me. That’s to play together, to be out there, going to battle with one another and just doing whatever you’ve got to do to get a win. That’s what this team is about.”
Patriots quarterbacks (Jones and backup Brian Hoyer) have completed passes to at least seven different receivers in all 11 games this season. On defense, 13 Patriots have tallied sacks (tied for third-most in the NFL), 17 have at least one tackle for loss (T-third) and seven have at least one interception (T-seventh).
Henry: “The ball gets spread around so much, and so many guys are making plays. That also makes it hard on defenses, too. I think the unselfish attitude is a lot of fun to be around. … Just having good relationships off the field can kind of lead to some trust on the field sometimes, so those definitely pay off, and it makes coming into work and going out there and playing a lot more fun, too.”
Phillips: “It’s just great. Everybody asks about each other’s family and just makes sure that we’re checking in with them on their mental health outside of football and making sure everything’s OK with them. And you can see the genuineness behind it. I think that’s another reason why we’re being able to take this to the next step.”
Developing these types of personal connections was far more difficult last season, when COVID-19 protocols prevented players from hanging out together in the locker room and congregating away from the facility. The NFL relaxed many of those restrictions this year, and the Patriots are seeing the benefits.
Slater: “A lot of the fellowship that we would get a chance to normally have over the course of a season, we didn’t have last year, and I think that takes away from the idea and the concept of team. I know for us, this group is a close-knit group — a very close-knit group — and I think you couple that with coming off a year where we didn’t have that, I think we’re kind of going out of our way to make sure that we get it this year. And I think it’s going to benefit us in the long run, certainly.”
Harris: “I can’t talk enough about how close this group is, the love that we have for one another and just how close this group is. It’s easy. … It’s a lot of fun out there.”
The Patriots opened the season 2-4 but have since won five straight, outscoring opponents 175-50 during that span. Now squarely in the playoff hunt at 7-4, they can take over first place in the AFC on Sunday with a win over the injury-depleted Titans and a Baltimore Ravens loss.