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ben volin | on football

New-look Patriots are showing impressive camaraderie and ‘2-4 mind-set’

Adrian Phillips (center) and Jalen Mills (right) whooped it up in Atlanta as the Patriots recorded their fifth straight victory.Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

ATLANTA — When the Patriots gathered for the first time as a team this offseason, Bill Belichick probably had to pass out name tags to his players.

The Patriots practically imported a new team. They splurged in free agency by bringing in 10 new starters, and opened the season with a rookie quarterback. They were the new-look Patriots in every sense, and it created an air of mystery about the 2021 season.

“Any time you bring in a pretty big group of free agents, big-name free agents, you don’t always know how that’s going to go,” said safety Devin McCourty, one of the few players left from the old guard.


Eleven games into the season, the answer is clear: Pretty, pretty well.

The Patriots are 7-4 following Thursday’s dismantling of the Falcons, riding a five-game win streak. The camaraderie and buy-in from the players is obvious.

There was the moment at the end of last Sunday’s 45-7 win over the Browns when the entire bench sprinted to the end zone to pile on top of Jakobi Meyers, who finally scored his first touchdown in three NFL seasons.

“That was a great example of, in that moment, everyone was just so excited,” Mac Jones said. “It just shows what type of team we are.”

There was another moment in Thursday night’s 25-0 win over Atlanta, when offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn greeted all 11 Patriots defenders with a high-five when coming off the field following McCourty’s interception. And another moment in the postgame news conference, with Kyle Van Noy and Matthew Judon cracking jokes at each other while trading spots on the podium.

You don’t have to like your teammates to win in the NFL, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

“It was a great job, obviously, bringing in talent, but also personality and character,” McCourty said. “It’s just meshed so well. You look at Judon joking with everybody. You look at our receiver corps — it looks like they’ve played together for like the last four or five years, the way they’re hopping and jumping around.


“It’s not just the talent and playing better and X’s and O’s. It’s actually building relationships, learning what each other does well, and ultimately it turns into playing for the guy next for you. You know his purpose, you know his ‘why,’ and it makes you give more.”

Belichick credited the players for building the camaraderie.

“It’s not something, as a coach, that you can orchestrate,” he said. “I do think there’s a chemistry that goes with communication, anticipation, knowing what the other guy’s doing and him knowing what you’re doing and being able to play aggressively with all that.

“It’s a good thing. I’m glad they feel that way, and I’m glad that’s developing. It takes time. It takes some success. It’s not something you can talk about and it magically happens. You need to back it up with some results that reinforce what you’re doing, what they’re feeling.”

Of course, it’s a lot easier to love your teammates and buy into the program when you’re winning games. And the Patriots certainly have done a lot of that recently. Their five straight wins have come by an average score of 35-10. They sit in the AFC’s top wild-card spot, and are just percentage points behind the 6-3 Bills for first place in the AFC East.


It was only a month ago that the Patriots lost in overtime to the Cowboys to drop to 2-4. They were understandably sloppy over the first six weeks, and had issues crop up in all three phases.

It’s hard to build a team primarily through free agency and expect it to come together quickly and seamlessly, especially with a rookie quarterback. But it’s obvious now how well it has meshed, when the locker room explodes for Hunter Henry for getting a game ball after beating his former team, or when the entire team spills onto the field to celebrate Meyers’s first touchdown.

“Early on, you’re just trying to figure your way out with me in there and I’m trying to learn as best I can,” Jones said after Thursday’s win. “But these guys have all played tons of football, and I trust everybody on our offense.

“They’ve done a great job all year staying positive, and we all believe in each other and that’s the most important part. It’s the best team sport there is and I think our offensive unit really has that family feel to it, and we love each other and we play together and we play for each other. So we just have to keep doing that.”

The Patriots also are buying into Belichick’s “one game at a time” ethos. They don’t seem to have let the five-game win streak go to their heads.

“Just continue to keep working, have that 2-4 mind-set that we had at the beginning of the year, when everybody was down on us,” said Van Noy, who had two sacks and a pick-6 in Thursday’s win. “Obviously our record is different, but we know what it’s like to be down like that. We just want to keep the group together, keep everyone’s heads held high, and keep working.”


Van Noy is part of the old guard, so he knows what to say and how to stay grounded. But that mentality has rubbed off on the newcomers, too.

“I think being hungry in that way is what got us out of that hole,” said receiver Nelson Agholor, who scored his third touchdown of the season Thursday. “Having that 2-4 mind-set is a positive thing. You train harder when you’re 2-4. You work harder when you’re 2-4. You pay attention to details more when you’re 2-4.”

That mentality is helping the Patriots improve throughout the season, and helping bring all these new faces together.

“I think it’s very evident how much we care about one another, how hard we play for each other,” running back Damien Harris said. “Week after week we’ve progressed and continued to get better, so why stop now? As long as we keep grinding, we keep moving forward, every week we show the mentality to get better.”

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.