FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Those looking for a snapshot of how the New England Patriots manage potential distractions, there were two hard-to-miss examples that unfolded Monday.
With a larger than normal media crowd on hand (it’s the playoffs, after all), cornerback Stephon Gilmore was asked about how the team addressed the media firestorm that had generated from the prior three days.
“What report?” Gilmore asked.
“The ESPN report on Belichick, Kraft and Brady,” a reporter responded.
“I don’t know,” Gilmore responded. "I don’t know."
“So no one talked about it?” the reporter asked.
“Nah,” Gilmore said as the interview ended, flashing a smile as he walked away.
The best way to not let things become a distraction leading into Saturday’s AFC divisional-round playoff game against the Tennessee Titans? Pretend they don’t exist.
Or turn to humor.
That’s what cornerback Malcolm Butler did in the middle of an interview Monday when it was mentioned to him the New York Daily News put Bill Belichick on its back page and speculated he could return to coach the New York Giants in 2018.
Butler, struggling to keep a straight face, burst out in laughter.
Then, when asked his reaction to Belichick saying he “absolutely” intends to return to coach the Patriots in 2018, Butler said flatly, “We play Tennessee next week.”
Told he sounded a lot like Belichick, Butler said he likes to sometimes mimic his coach.
This is how the Patriots “ignore the noise” and keep themselves focused on the task at hand. There are many notable examples over the years, with Belichick’s “on to Cincinnati” refrain in 2014 perhaps topping the list.
Oftentimes, external adversity has created internal fury.
“In so many ways, adversity that our team has faced over the years only makes us stronger,” quarterback Tom Brady said in a Westwood One interview this past Saturday. “Everything is a great opportunity, and we have a great opportunity as a team.”
In hopes of maximizing it, players returned to Gillette Stadium on Monday afternoon for initial meetings (Brady had arrived much earlier in the morning) in which they began studying up on the Titans’ personnel. They return Tuesday for the first of three straight days of practice.
When inside Gillette Stadium, players are isolated from distractions and take their cue from Belichick, who told them Monday how the Titans have essentially won two straight playoff games because they needed their regular-season finale to clinch a playoff berth.
Safety Patrick Chung, who is one of the team’s longest-tenured players (since 2009) and could be a big part of the game plan for defending productive tight end Delanie Walker, knows the harder part is staying focused outside of Gillette Stadium.
“You just don’t pay attention to it,” he said. “It’s hard sometimes when people are just talking, but when it comes down to it, it’s keeping your head down and keep pushing and not worrying about people that aren’t in our locker room and going through things we’re going through. And keep it real tight.”
Added Butler, “Can’t anybody help us but us. We’re all we got, that’s how you have to look at it.”
Special-teams captain Matthew Slater (2008-17) credits Belichick for creating that environment.
“Leadership,” he said. “Coach Belichick has always led us in a way that’s been very direct, to the point, very focused on the task at hand, being able to live in the moment. I think the leadership, combined with the mentality of the men that we’ve had around here in my time, has been tremendous, and that helps you just live in the now, focus on things day by day, focus on the things that you can control and take it from there.”