FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots would have loved to spend the week with nothing else to worry about except Saturday’s playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Then Pro Bowl defensive lineman Chandler Jones wandered over to the local police station, shirtless and disoriented, leaving his house reeking of burnt marijuana. Suddenly, the defending Super Bowl champions were back on defense.
Fortunately, they’re pretty good at it.
“I mean, are there any more questions about the Chiefs here?” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Thursday after nine straight unanswered questions about Jones’ unusual weekend. “The rest of it, I’m done talking about. We issued a statement, that’s it.”
Jones apologized to his teammates and the New England fans on Thursday, saying he made a “pretty stupid mistake,” but he declined to elaborate on what happened. Belichick refused to say whether Jones would be benched for fear of revealing valuable strategic information to the Chiefs.
In the Patriots’ locker room, the players said they would have no trouble putting the incident aside on Saturday. And it’s hard to doubt them, after what they have gone through over the last 12 months and beyond.
Hours after New England’s 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game last January, the team was accused of illegally deflating the footballs. Even before the league investigation that would find them guilty, the Patriots plugged up their ears and dug in their heels.
And went on to win the Super Bowl.
A season earlier, New England recorded its now-customary 12-win season, AFC East title and trip to the conference championship game despite releasing tight end Aaron Hernandez over the summer, shortly before he was charged with first-degree murder. (He was convicted in April 2015, a few months after his former teammates’ Super Bowl victory.)
“I think coach Belichick does a great job of really just, like, brainwashing us,” defensive back Duron Harmon said this week. “We just try to ignore all the distractions, whether it’s that situation or ‘Deflategate,’ or any other distraction. We just try to ignore the noise.”
If Jones is benched for part of the game, the Patriots will be giving up a pass-rusher whose 12 1/2 sacks were the fifth most in the NFL this season.
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