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Why the Patriots’ locker room was more of an exhale than a celebration

Tom Brady offered well-wishes to teammates following his vintage performance in the Patriots’ rout. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

FOXBOROUGH — It can be hard to guess what a Patriots locker room will sound like, or feel like, after any given game. Sometimes it’s loud and celebratory, like in Chicago earlier this season even though the team won despite many mistakes. They were so happy to have beaten a good team on the road.

Other times, like Sunday afternoon, it’s surprisingly quiet, even after thumping the Jets to secure a playoff bye and end the regular season on a high note. The team needs that bye, not just for physical rest and time to prepare but for a mental break. As 11-5 seasons go, this one was a doozy, and the feel of the locker room reflected that. The locker room felt like one big collective exhale from players who, as much as they have to celebrate, were just relieved to have a good game, a bye, and a clean slate in the playoffs.


“[This season] was different,” said receiver Phillip Dorsett, who has seen his snap counts rise, fall, and rise again this year, and who caught all five of his targets Sunday in his best game since September. “In my two years here it was a little different than last year, a little more challenging. We went through some highs, we went through some lows. But this team is resilient.”

Tom Brady congratulates Phillip Dorsett after they hooked up on a 9-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

It has been challenging and, having won 38-3, players seemed more relaxed than they have in weeks. Julian Edelman even talked about appealing the fines he got for three plays during the Bills game, normally an off-limits topic.

“Brain fart,” he said of the one he was given for making a block after signaling a fair catch on a punt play.

“I guess the game’s changing a little,” was his explanation for the other two fines, which weren’t for plays that were flagged.


Bill Belichick lifted the moratorium on discussing the bye week now that it had been secured.

“That kind of helps us win next week,” he said, referencing the wild card round the Patriots don’t have to play in.

Like Dorsett, Rob Gronkowski mentioned resiliency. This has been his hardest year in football, and it’s likely his last. He had a quiet stat line — 2 for 2 for 24 yards, though he did have one big play called back because of a penalty on Dwayne Allen — but the plays he made were big and physical. He stiff-armed a guy. He felt like it was a good day in a season during which there have been more bad days than usual.

“I’m pretty sure I’m used to the ups and the downs . . . One huge thing, too, is we’ve been sticking together,” Gronkowski said. “When people are down, there’s people down, everyone has been coming together and everyone’s been lifting each other up and we’ve just been staying strong together and I mean, I believe it showed just how strong we are as a team throughout the end of the season.”

That’s a fairly honest moment, by press-conference standards. Gronkowski had another earlier this week when he said he’s gotten “too down” on himself at times.

Rob Gronkowski is brought down by the Jets’ Jamal Adams after one of his two receptions on the day.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Quarterback Tom Brady walked quickly though the locker room, doling out “good games” and “Happy New Years.’ ” Brady’s three kids ran around in their jerseys and played with some of the equipment.


Their father had just finished an up-and-down season with a 24-of-33, 250-yard, four-touchdown, zero-interception performance that, against a paper-thin Jets secondary didn’t answer every question but still quieted many doubters.

“Eleven and five is nothing to be sad about,” Brady said.

It isn’t, but recent Patriots history is such that each team is graded on a harsh curve. That, and the team’s businesslike approach to everything possible, is why their reactions can be so difficult to guess. Rookie J.C. Jackson, an undrafted cornerback who has become a starter, laughed when asked if he ever has to wait and take cues from veterans about when to celebrate. There are rules about these things in Fort Foxborough.

“Oh yeah, of course,” Jackson said. “I’m a rookie so I don’t know.”

This locker room wasn’t quiet by decree, though. Everyone was happy, they just didn’t need to whoop and cheer. As much as the win was one to celebrate, after a long season, it was just a relief.

Nora Princiotti can be reached at nora.princiotti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NoraPrinciotti.