FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The clearest indicator that the Patriots’ Super Bowl preparations have gone according to plan is the fact they’ll contend practices this week have felt no different than any others during the season.
That, of course, is all about change.
On Sunday, players won’t line up to kick off but instead board the team’s flight to Atlanta. Three hours later, as if walking off the field after a game, New England will step into a new week of film study and focus. The object of their preparation will be the same, but the Patriots’ devotion to mastering every little detail about the Los Angeles Rams should reach a new level entirely.
“There’s nothing more important for us in our lives right now than trying to get to know the Rams as best we can,” corner Jason McCourty says, “to put ourselves in the best position come Sunday.”
Media obligations, parties and visiting family and friends will abound during the week. It’s a celebration of sorts for the league, as well as the conclusion of its season. But players know for them it’s all about the Rams.
“We’ve got to prepare like we’ve never prepared before,” says wideout Chris Hogan.
In Atlanta, New England will conduct its final practices on the campus of Georgia Tech. The Patriots will cover some of the same ground they have in Foxborough and ready for a wider range of possibilities and plays Los Angeles may pull out next Sunday. A normal practice week covers first and second-down plays on Wednesday, third downs on Thursday and goal-line and situational work during a Friday walkthrough.
The chief benefit of having a second week is the chance to re-run certain drills and plays if Patriots aren’t quite handling them as well as they’d like. Back in the hotel, additional film study also allows players to cover all their bases.
“You’re able to hit those things that you go over real quick,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower explained Friday. “We hit short-yardage (in practice), but now you’re able to go back and be able to look at different scenarios; as opposed to whenever you have a week, you have one day that you’re glued into short-yardage. Now it can trickle in and trickle over and affect whenever you’re watching film.”
At some point there is a point of diminishing returns on all this study. The Super Bowl won’t be a written exam asking how often Los Angeles runs play-action on first down or blitzes on third. In order to play well, New England must play fast. That requires feeling unencumbered by excess or unnecessary information.
Understand your keys, read them and go.
Said running back James White: “(Extra preparation) helps you just get a better feel for ‘em and all those finer points, so you can just go out there and play fast and be able to adjust.”
Adjustment is critical. It’s entirely possible Los Angeles will use its additional week to ready for the Patriots and devise an opening game plan that hardly reflects anything they’ve shown on film. If so, New England’s weeks of prep must temporarily take a back seat to the new information the game has presented until the Rams settle back into their tendencies.
“They could come out and play us a totally different way,” White says.
And then the Patriots should feel thankful for their extra long nights of study spent before the biggest game of their lives.