FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Under Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots have often thrived when inundated with scrutiny from outside of their locker room.
They’ll have to do it again this week as they prepare for their divisional round matchup with the Tennessee Titans.
Belichick said Monday that it is “absolutely” his intention to return as coach of the Patriots next season, despite reports of turmoil in the franchise involving himself, quarterback Tom Brady and team owner Robert Kraft.
Belichick said he didn’t have anything to add to a joint statement the three men released last week in response to an ESPN report, citing undisclosed sources, that detailed an array of tension.
“I haven’t read the article. I’ve already commented at length about that situation,” Belichick said. “Nothing has happened since then, so I don’t have anything to add to it.”
The ESPN story highlighted purported disputes concerning Brady’s personal body coach, Alex Guerrero, in player-medical affairs.
Also mentioned was a supposed difference between Kraft and Belichick over the decision to trade former backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The story implied Brady has taken issue with a lack of praise from Belichick this season.
When asked about another report about his supposed interest in coaching the New York Giants where he was a defensive coordinator, the Patriots coach said he is concerned only on New England’s game with the Titans on Saturday night.
“That’s where my total focus is,” he said.
Last season the Patriots played under a similar spotlight after Brady was suspended for the first four games as punishment for his role in the “Deflategate” scandal.
New England thrived when he returned, and went on to earn its fifth Lombardi Trophy with a record comeback during its Super Bowl win over Atlanta.
The Patriots haven’t lost in the divisional round of the playoffs since falling 28-21 to the New York Jets after the 2010 regular season. New England has made it to at least the conference title game in each of the past six seasons.
Special teams captain Matt Slater, now in his 10th season with the Patriots, said Belichick’s leadership sets the tone when possible distractions creep up.
“Coach Belichick has always led us in a way that’s been very direct, to the point, very focused on the task at hand,” Slater said. “Being able to live in the moment, and just take things day by day.”
Slater said it’s why he won’t even give a thought to things such as the Giants coaching rumors.
“I’m just focused on preparing for the Tennessee Titans with coach Bill Belichick as my head coach for the 2017 season,” he said.
“I think everyone in that locker room feels the same way. The nature of professional football is tomorrow’s not guaranteed to anyone; players, coaches. That’s life.”
Told of Belichick’s comment that he plans to return as coach in New England next season, safety Patrick Chung chuckled.
“I’m juiced. Keep coming back,” he said. “When he’s done, I’ll be done, too.”