The 2020 New England Patriots are the embodiment of grit. In a year full of bad news and negativity they’ve shown mental toughness, resilience, and adaptability. The adversity this team has overcome since March is more than most teams will face in a decade. But the New England Patriots aren’t most teams. Most teams struggle to succeed after losing a legendary quarterback. Most teams don’t have to travel the same day they play. Or have interceptions called back due to a non-existent whistle. And most teams can’t hold the Kansas City offense to 26 points.
But the Patriots and their grit did just that, in a prime example of one of Bill Belichick’s favorite phrases, Complimentary Football. The defense made Patrick Mahomes uncomfortable and forced several bad throws. The offense was in sync and could have been explosive with a more competent quarterback. There were several standout players on both sides of the ball. Despite falling short on the scoreboard, I was so impressed that it’s been almost impossible to award this week’s Game Ball. Almost.
Out of the many incredible performances, two players deserve a Game Ball, James White and Deatrich Wise Jr. That’s right, for the second week in a row we have multiple Game Ball recipients. And I promise, my bias towards James White was only a small part of this decision. The more important factors are their grit and high level of play. While neither man had eye-catching stats, it was their effort as a whole that lifted the team around them.
Let’s dig into what separated White and Wise from the rest of their teammates. James White returned to the field just two weeks after the tragic passing of his father in a car accident. His mother was severely injured as well, and has been in the hospital but appears to be recovering. We’ve seen many athletes play after experiencing personal tragedy. Brett Favre played an incredible game on Monday Night Football the day after his father passed away in 2003. Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics started in a playoff game a day after the death of his younger sister. There are many similar stories throughout sports history, and each one is remarkable.
It’s just as remarkable, however, to step away from the game. White spent two weeks away from football with his family. It’s a great reminder that no matter what we sometimes think, football is never as important as family. And when he did return to the field, he made his presence known. As usual, he was a staple in the passing game, despite not having a quarterback until the 4th quarter. Catching a team-high seven of eight targets and adding three rushes, he gained 59 total yards. That’s not going to turn heads, but those yards always seemed to come at the perfect time.
When he was finally given the ball, he gained 3 first downs on the Patriots final drive of the first half. The drive that would have given the Patriots a chance to tie the game with a field goal attempt if an actual quarterback was in the game. On the Patriots final drive of the game, White ran for 10 yards and a first down, and caught a six-yard pass that unfortunately was not enough to convert on fourth down. James White has shown for years that he makes this team better when he is involved in the offense.
Hopefully, split-decisions are not the new norm for Game Ball awards but failing to point out the contributions of Deatrich Wise, Jr. would be criminal. The Patriots were able to generate great pressure that still contained Mahomes even when they only brought three pass rushers. Wise seemed to spend more time in the Kansas City backfield than he did on his own sideline. He consistently forced Mahomes off his spot, which led to several poor throws.
He was on the field for 66% of the defensive snaps, his fourth-highest total in his career. The pressures he put on Mahomes don’t show up on the stat sheet, but the impact they have on the game are just as important as other stats. If Devon McCourty and J.C. Jackson had held on to the interception opportunities they had, those pressures would have had even more impact. Deatrich Wise has been a force on the defensive line all season, and along with the rest of this great defense will be crucial to the Patriots success this season.
There are so many reasons to love the New England Patriots, but their toughness and grit are two of their best qualities. Despite the many challenges they’ve faced, and will continue to face, this team knows how to fight back. The team’s ability to persevere defines their identity for this season. And I can’t wait to watch this story unfold on the Championship DVD in February.
–Travis Baltes is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @TravisBaltes