By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
It’s only human for a pro football player that loses the Super Bowl to have an underlying desire to get it back the next year. The Patriots are in the rare position to pull that off. But nearly half the roster didn’t experience the letdown of last February.
That balancing act of a thirst for redemption, and the team’s usual one-game-at-a-time approach, is one of the more fascinating underpinnings of a Super Bowl that comes with no shortage of narratives.
The Patriots became the first team since the 1993 Buffalo Bills to make it back to the Super Bowl the year after losing it, earning a seldom-seen opportunity to immediately atone for defeat on the NFL’s biggest stage. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy ostensibly gave a glimpse of the team’s mentality in his interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Zolak & Bertrand on Wednesday, and it should come as no surprise that he and others who played in Super Bowl LII are using their 41-33 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles as an ancillary motivator to play their best football against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
“I think honestly, just after what happened last year in the Super Bowl, I feel like guys are hungry,” said Van Noy. “I feel like we got humbled. It was a humbling experience. We’re not taking things for granted. It’s beautiful when it happens like that – not the losing part – but to go through a humbling experience in the process to be where we’re at now is more satisfying.”
It would be hard to believe that there aren’t similar feelings emanating from the likes of Patrick Chung, Matthew Slater, or Devin McCourty, each of whom will be playing in their fifth Super Bowl next Sunday at Mercedez-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Chung often speaks in a succinct, refreshingly matter-of-fact way with reporters, and offered the perfect mix of the veteran Patriots’ desire for a Super Bowl bounce-back with their innate ability to remain focused on the task at hand.
“I mean, last year was last year. It is what it is,” Chung said on Thursday. “We played 20-something games. Just we didn’t like that feeling, so hopefully we don’t get that feeling again. So, we’re going to play and see what it comes down to. We’re going to have to play 60 minutes because they’re going to play 60.”
It’s fairly basic. No one likes to lose and it’s amplified that much more when it’s the last game of the season.
At the same time, they can’t change the past. That’s why head coach Bill Belichick and others often echo that sentiment. The Patriots’ consistency is often born out of staying present, and not dwelling on what happened one or five or 15 or 600 years ago.
“Treat it like a whole new game,” said Shaq Mason of the team’s approach to Super Bowl LIII. “Clean slate, different team. None of that [from last season] carries over.”
Though Belichick would never say it himself, his message to the players about last year is that the result of the game is the only thing that will stick in their minds.
“I don’t know, I think each time’s different, like I said, each team’s different,” said McCourty. “I think guys with experience, you try to help guys with the logistics part and the different things of studying throughout a long period of time – usually we don’t have that many days to study an opponent, so you’re trying to prep all of those things. But it’s tough.
“At the end of the day, you try to focus on being ready to play in the game Sunday because like Bill [Belichick] keeps telling us and says every year, ‘What you’ll remember the most is the outcome of the game.'”
It’s no secret at this point that the Patriots who were active for that loss to the Eagles – 29 of them, to be exact – have that disappointing outcome seared into their brains. At the same time, there are 24 others who didn’t share that experience, like rookies Sony Michel, J.C. Jackson, and Keion Crossen. Newcomers like Cordarrelle Patterson, Trent Brown, and Adrian Clayborn have to find different ways to be motivated. Mid-season additions like Albert McClellan, Ramon Humber, Obi Melifonwu, and John Simon could be motivated to prove that their former teams made mistakes letting them go.
The only thing that all 53 players have in common with Super Bowl LIII is that it’s a new game, a fresh challenge. Ultimately, that’s what this team faces and that’s what will drive them to win.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.