FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — As the New England Patriots returned to practice last week to prepare for their Super Bowl matchup with the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday, they also returned to a media horde looking for answers.

Pundits had not been examining the strengths and weaknesses of the two teams. Instead, all the talk swirled around the NFL’s investigation into the Patriots’ use of under-inflated footballs in their 45-7 rout of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game.

To a man, the Patriots said they couldn’t let the controversy affect their preparation for the Super Bowl.

“This doesn’t bother me,” said running back LeGarrette Blount. “We’re going to be focused on what we need to be focused on to win the game.”

That’s simply the way it is – and always has been – with the Patriots with Bill Belichick as coach.

Throughout the years, they have managed to deflect criticism or controversy and simply move on to the next game.

In 2007, the Patriots were caught illegally videotaping the New York Jets’ coaches from New England’s sidelines in a Sept. 9 game. Four days later, Belichick was fined a record $500,000, the Patriots were fined $250,000 and the team’s first-round pick in 2008 was taken away.

Belichick released a short statement about the punishment, accepting responsibility and apologizing to the fans and the family of owner Robert Kraft.

But he wouldn’t answer any questions about Spygate, as it was called, at his next press conference, at one point asking the attending media if they had any questions about the next opponent, the San Diego Chargers.

How did the team respond?

Well, they beat the Chargers 38-14 en route to a 16-0 regular season, obliterating not only their opponents but most of the team’s offensive records. The Patriots were a juggernaut, until they lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl to finish 18-1.

In 2013, just weeks before training camp was to open, tight end Aaron Hernandez, one of the team’s most important offensive players, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. He is still in jail awaiting trial.

Belichick addressed Hernandez on the first day of training camp and the team moved on. New England finished 14-2, won the AFC East and advanced to the AFC championship game, where it lost 26-16 at Denver.

And even this season, the Patriots faced harsh critics. After a 41-14 loss to Kansas City in a Monday night game dropped New England to 2-2, all the talk was that the team was old, slow and timid, and quarterback Tom Brady was no longer elite but starting a slide to mediocrity.

The Patriots beat the supposedly stronger Cincinnati Bengals 43-17 the next week to go on a seven-game winning streak in which they outscored opponents, 277-137.

They’re now playing in their sixth Super Bowl in the Belichick-Brady era, eighth overall.


How do they do it?

“We’re just concerned with the guys, the coaches, in these walls,” said cornerback Kyle Arrington, who is going to his second Super Bowl. “We ignore the noise. I know it sounds cliche but that’s our motto, that’s what we believe in. We have one job to do and we’ll hopefully come out on top of this one when the dust settles.”

Belichick is masterful at getting the Patriots to focus on the task ahead. And he never changes his approach, regardless of the opponent. Everyone is a threat. Every team is a challenge. Every play is a battle to be won.

He keeps his team focused on what they need to do. This year, the team mantra is, “Do Your Job.” That’s it. Simple yet effective.

That’s what he engrains into each player. That’s why they don’t get rattled when the world swirls around them, when CNN and MSNBC break into regular programming to show live press conferences of Belichick and Brady last Thursday – their first since the deflated ball controversy broke.

That’s why, in the locker room Thursday, as reporter after reporter tried to get the players to react to questions about whether this latest controversy will detract from the team’s legacy, whether they believe their coach when he says he didn’t know anything about the deflated balls, the players simply kept their focus.

“I’m not even getting into that because really, I’m focused in on what I have to do, and that’s get better today and practice for the biggest game of my life,” said defensive end Rob Ninkovich, making his second trip to the Super Bowl.

“So I’m moving on from that, I’ve got nothing to say about that, I’m focused in on what my job is, and that’s to play good football.”

Matthew Slater, New England’s special teams ace, said the Patriots have one job to do, regardless of what everyone else is talking about.

“We just have to remember that we’re getting ready to play in the biggest game of our careers and we can’t let anything get in the way of that,” he said. “We have to just focus on playing the Seahawks and nothing else. It’s an unfortunate situation that we’re having to deal with.

“We’ll deal with it the best we can and just prepare for the Seahawks and move forward.”

Those answers are eerily similar to the ones given in the past.


When Belichick was the center of the Spygate investigation, his players didn’t falter in their preparation.

Ellis Hobbs, a cornerback on the team at the time, told reporters back then, “When we go out to practice, we’re not thinking of (sanctions by the league). Our main focus is to get out there and prepare the best way possible for the San Diego Chargers. That’s all we’re worried about. There’s no distractions.”

And Matt Light, an offensive tackle who never shied from a tough question, added, “The only thing that bothers me is how well I play and how well I prepare. That’s the only thing I focus on. There’s a million other things that could distract me, my family, my crazy kids or making sure I put the dog back in the kennel every night, none of which I hope are a problem this week. I’m preparing as I always prepare and this is one game that we’re all going to need to prepare pretty hard for. I have enough on my plate.”

That focus comes from one man – Belichick.

He made that clear when he addressed the Hernandez situation on the first day of training camp in 2013.

“I’ve been asked to address this once,” said Belichick that Wednesday morning. “It’s time for the New England Patriots to move forward. Moving forward consists of what’s always been here: Build a winning football team, be a strong pillar in the community, be a team that fans can be proud of.”

The Patriots’ credibility may have taken a hit this last week nationally, but not in New England and certainly not in the locker room.

“Man, they can call us whatever they want,” said wide receiver Brandon LaFell, appearing in his first Super Bowl. “We’re playing in the Super Bowl and that’s what we’re focused on. We’re not worrying about what everyone else is saying outside this locker room.”

How do you do that?

“Easy,” he said. “I don’t listen to what’s on TV, or what’s on Twitter and social media. (We) listen to what the coaches are saying, go out and do what we can do.”

The Super Bowl has its own built-in distractions, from friends and family members calling for tickets to the endless media sessions to the overwhelming hype for the NFL’s crown jewel.

Slater said his teammates need to remember just one thing:

“This is not a vacation for us. This is not a celebration. We have a job to do and I think at the end of the day that’s what it comes down to and that’s where our focus needs to be.

“As a team, to the man, we have to make sure we have our minds in the right place, our focus in the right pace, and that’s playing football and that’s all that matters at the end of the day.”