FOXBOROUGH — Chandler Jones picked a horrendous time to create an off-field distraction with questionable judgment, but he is on the perfect team to weather the media maelstrom.
The Patriots’ helmets are coated in Teflon — distractions simply don’t stick with them.
The Kansas City Chiefs are going to have to beat the Patriots on Saturday afternoon at Gillette Stadium in the AFC divisional playoffs because a distraction, no matter how bizarre or sensational, is not going to do it. Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn’t going to let Jones’s drug-induced bad trip be the reason his team doesn’t make a fifth consecutive trip to the AFC Championship game.
The Patriots practically major in turning controversies into kinship and camaraderie. It’s like the locker room version of the double-score for them, an institutionalized and habitual winning tactic. When the noise gets turned up outside the locker room, the Patriots don’t lose focus, but sharpen it to a fine point.
An off-field incident might derail a less disciplined, less regimented, more free-spirited team like say, the Cincinnati Bengals. But the Patriots’ lobotomy ensures players focus on what Belichick wants them to concentrate on or else. Stray from the company line, and you’ll be sent to the bowels of Gillette Stadium for Orwellian reconditioning.
“I think Coach Belichick just does a great job of just really like brainwashing you, to let you know there are certain things that we need to care about and certain things that we need to just let be,” said safety Duron Harmon. “And he does a great job. Right now, all we can do is focus on Kansas City. They’re a great football team, and they’re going to come in here ready to win. They’ve won 11 games straight.”
Your Pro Bowl defensive end and leading pass rusher shows up on Sunday morning at the Foxborough Police station half-naked and afraid and needs to be transported to Norwood Hospital and it’s elided with cliches and platitudes inside the Belichick Bubble.
Ignore the Noise. Do Your Job. It Is What It Is. Does anybody want to discuss Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt and his penchant for pinning teams inside the 20?
The puzzling Jones news was broken on Tuesday by the Boston Herald. Unlike the Patriots’ 30th-ranked running game, imaginations and speculation ran wild when the fuzzy details of the story broke.
A source with knowledge of the situation denied an initial report that Jones had overdosed or used pills and confirmed to the Globe that Jones had a bad reaction to synthetic marijuana.
The good news for the Patriots is that this is just Jones’s issue.
Despite initial speculation that Rob Gronkowski or his residence were linked to Jones’s hospitalization, the source said Gronkowski “had nothing to do with anything that transpired with Chandler on Sunday. Gronk’s absence from practice [Tuesday] had nothing to do with that either.”
Gronk was back at practice on Wednesday.
Rather than divide the Patriots, off-field entanglements seem to galvanize them.
Spygate begat a 16-0 regular season and a slew of records in 2007.
The shocking revelation that tight end Aaron Hernandez was leading a murderous double-life and that players were sharing pro football’s most intimate space with such a violent individual was addressed and then compartmentalized in 2013. It didn’t stop the Patriots from the reaching the AFC title game.
An offseason of Deflategate debate and dueling recriminations with the NFL over the air pressure in footballs propelled accused quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots to a 10-0 start this season before a spate of injuries took their toll on their record and Brady’s touchdown totals. TB12 still offered the best Deflategate rebuttal this side of the ideal gas law, leading the league in touchdown passes with 36.
Belichick and the Patriots have been down this road before with a freakishly talented star player generating unwanted and unwelcome headlines during the playoffs.
Four days before the AFC Championship game for the 2007 season, which was played on Jan. 20, 2008, wide receiver Randy Moss had a restraining order filed against him as part of an allegation of domestic violence. Rachelle Washington claimed she had been battered by Moss on Jan. 6, 2008.
The restraining order was eventually dissolved in March of that year and the case was closed. But the day that the Moss news broke made Wednesday’s scene in the Patriots’ locker room look like a book club meeting.
The Patriots didn’t lose Super Bowl XLII because of Moss’s concerning case. They lost because of a miracle catch and Brady’s balky ankle.
Distractions, no matter how strange, are not going to derail the Patriots. They’ll keep offering the same palaver and burying their heads in their playbooks.
A larger issue would be if the NFL or Belichick decides that Jones’s poor judgment is grounds to keep him out of Saturday’s game against the Chiefs.
Somewhere, Wes Welker is saying that Jones should be benched for the Patriots’ first defensive series. Dangerous drug use is a worse dereliction of team obligation than forced foot jokes.
The bunker mentality has been fortified and the blinders are fully on in Fort Foxborough. That was clear on Wednesday, when Jones’s situation was broached.
“I’ve got a job to do, and so does everybody else,” said left tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who is trying to return from an ankle injury. “It’s a good thing to concentrate on what you can control, and quite frankly I can’t control the questions you ask. We’ve got to deal with that. There’s also nothing I can do. I’ve kind of got my own problems, my own worries.”
Failing to restore the October luster to their offense is a much more likely reason for the Patriots exiting the playoffs prematurely than being put in a defensive stance by the distraction created by Jones.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.