For years, there’s been a mystique surrounding the New England Patriots and the work that goes into the team’s success behind the scenes.
New Patriots quarterback Cam Newton labeled the feeling as “an aura,” but fans in and around New England know it as something else: the “Patriot Way.”
Long story short, the “Patriot Way” is the basis of the Patriots dynasty, instilled on the team by head coach Bill Belichick and the multitude of players and coaches that have come and gone over the course of the last two decades.
It’s an idea that labels the franchise as a serious, uber-focused workplace, which is focused on winning by any means on any given Sunday. No one player is bigger than the entire team, and there has seemingly been a simple rule for players to follow: it’s the “Patriot Way” or the highway.
So, when Cam Newton took his talents to New England after his release from the Carolina Panthers in the 2020 offseason, many speculated how Newton’s high-energy personality would translate into such a strict and carefully-crafted universe.
The easy answer? It has worked to perfection, with three weeks of regular season games to show for it. The Patriots found themselves with a 2-1 record and a second-place spot in the AFC East standings. A last-second play against the Seattle Seahawks served as the difference between them and the first-place, 3-0 Buffalo Bills.
Yes, that’s a limited sample size, but the transition from the Tom Brady-led Patriots of old to the new wave in 2020 has been seemingly seamless.
It’s not shocking from a talent perspective, given the fact that Newton was an NFL MVP less than five years ago during a season that brought the Panthers all the way to Super Bowl 50.
But, it’s fair to say that it’s, at the very least, a bit surprising to have such a perfect fit when considering Newton’s flashy, outspoken moments in the past.
So, what’s the answer? Why has it all worked so well?
Simply put, the Patriots didn’t try to make Newton conform to the “Patriot Way” of old. With a new quarterback, loads of new faces on both sides of the ball due to free agency and the COVID-19 pandemic, and even new uniforms, the Patriots entered a new era in their franchise’s history.
As a result, Bill Belichick, Cam Newton and company have created something fresh: a new version of the “Patriot Way.”
“Kind of from walking in day one, there’s an aura that you get when you play as a member of the New England Patriots, and that aura can sometimes be like ‘Grrr,’ you know what I’m saying?” Newton said after the Patriots’ 36-20 win over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 3. “The ‘Patriot Way,’ to a degree, from the outside looking in, but from the inside looking out, these guys really enjoy the process, as well as myself. And me being a member, I’m just lucky to be here.”
It’s the perfect scenario for Newton, who is looking to prove himself as he plays under a one-year, incentive-based contract. He has yet to move his family to Massachusetts, instead referring to the season as a “business trip.”
Despite the stress that inevitably creeps into a player’s mind in a scenario like Newton’s, he’s turned it all into a positive, and has caught the attention of his teammates in the process.
“I mean, he’s a very energetic guy that leads in different way,” wide receiver Julian Edelman said. “Everyone leads in their own way, and it’s been awesome to see another way.”
“Cam has been outstanding at getting guys and getting the energy up, especially without having fans,” Edelman continued. “You know, it’s just so different out there without the crowd and the noise. But, I tell you right now, No. 1, he brings that energy, he brings that confidence, that swag, and it trickles off to everyone in the huddle. It’s fun playing with him, for sure.”
Many of the players on the Patriots’ 53-man roster in 2020 were around for multiple years of the Tom Brady era, and know what Edelman is referencing. Brady’s leadership style was intense and aggressive, with years of success and Super Bowl titles creating that “aura” and expectation for each and every season.
In a full 180-degree flip from all but one of the seasons from 2001 through 2019, the 2020 Patriots offense is led by a player with no Super Bowl wins under his belt. No AFC Championship appearances against many of the team’s current rivals. A fresh face in a team built on familiarity.
So, you can’t blame Edelman for not being immediately used to the leadership style Newton brings to the table. While Newton continuously looks to make his teammates smile, Edelman prides himself on being able to bring the same kind of intensity Brady brought for decades in New England.
“I always have to tease with him just to lighten him up, but he’s just got that look in his face — that fiery look,” Newton said early on in the regular season.
Edelman called himself “happily miserable” when asked about Newton’s teasing, which perfectly describes what many think when they look at the Patriots organization from the outside. It’s a team driven by success, likely being named champions every year if it were the “No Fun League.”
Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Lane Johnson once famously criticized the Patriots, labeling the “Patriot Way” as a “fear-based organization.
“Obviously, do they win? Hell yes, they win. They’ve won for a long time,” Johnson said on Barstool Sports’ Pardon My Take podcast. “Do I think people enjoy and can say, ‘I had a lot of fun playing there?’ No, I don’t. That’s just the God’s honest truth.”
You wouldn’t think the same way if you saw the Patriots during their Week 1 win over the Dolphins, or their Week 3 win over the Raiders.
Fans saw Newton laughing on the sidelines in Week 1 with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who Newton lovingly calls “Mickey Ds.” Or, they saw the defense celebrating on the sidelines after a fumble recovery that led to a touchdown in the fourth quarter of a hard-fought Week 3 victory, with Newton even in the mix in group.
The most widely-viewed clip, however, shows Newton reacting to something N’Keal Harry said on the bench, leading to the creation of the best GIF from Week 3 of the 2020 NFL season.
“That’s just the steze, guy,” Newton said when asked about the complementary football the team played against the Raiders, along with his laundry list of nicknames for his teammates. “You know what I’m saying? You’ve just got to keep it fun. I just appreciate the guys for just rolling with it, man.”
“Any time I can lighten the mood in some way, shape, or form, I hesitate not.”
It’s a new type of energy in the locker room, with plenty of reasoning behind it. The Patriots aren’t expected to do much in the 2020 season, considering the losses of players like Tom Brady, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Ted Karras in free agency, or Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung and more due to COVID-19 opt-outs.
Those same expectations that have driven them for decades have disappeared, and the team instead has the opportunity to experiment with a new quarterback and new system throughout the 2020 season.
Players can take on a variety of roles, and succeed in a variety of different ways in a new-look offense. It brings new life to players that were so used to the old “Patriot Way,” like multi-year Patriots running back Rex Burkhead.
“Versatility is something I’ve always taken pride in, something my dad has preached to me from a young age,” Burkhead said. “So to get in a place where they really use that has been fun, it’s been a blast.”
“This is such a program, an organization here that really takes pride in being able to use your skill set to the best of your abilities. I just love it here, competing every single day to get better. Never resting on what you’ve done, just continue to grow and understand there’s always a challenge ahead.”
Parts of that same mentality that have brought Belichick and the Patriots so much success still remain, like their lack of complacency and “never resting on what you’ve done.” The usual mantras of “Next man up” and “Do your job,” will always be there, and doing everything you can to help the team win will still reign supreme.
But, allowing players to have fun and bring energy in their own ways, both on and off the field, has created a new form of the “Patriot Way,” a new era for arguably the most dangerous dynasty in the NFL.