Why the Patriots are still the best team in football

By Miles McPherson

They just lost their first game of the season by a score of 16-0 against the Buffalo Bills, moving them down a few spots in Elliot Harrison’s power rankings. By all accounts, the Bills exposed New England as the struggling, injury-plagued franchise they truly are. But I’m here to tell you that they’re still one of the best teams in football—and it’s because they have an excellent leader in Head Coach Bill Belichick.

No matter the challenges, a team with a good leader always has a chance to win. Conversely, a team with a bad leader is playing handicapped, no matter the perceived advantage.

With all-pro quarterback and franchise face Tom Brady on the shelf, serving a four-game suspension for his involvement in deflategate, 2014 second round pick Jimmy Garoppolo was positioned to start. He dazzled in his first game, posting a 106.1 quarterback rating and, most importantly, defeating the Arizona Cardinals in week one.

In week two, however, Garoppolo injured his shoulder after a hard tackle by Dolphin’s linebacker Kiko Alonso. He was forced to leave the game, and rookie Jacoby Brissett, the team’s third round draft pick this year, was forced to finish that game and start the third game against the Houston Texans where the Patriots beat the Texans 27-0.

That’s how I know that the Patriots have excellent leadership: because they can play a third string quarterback—hands down the most important position in the game—and still win.

As a leader myself, I have been deeply inspired and challenged by the leadership principles outlined in the book Extreme Ownership. In it, authors Jocko Willink and Leif Babin write, “the best leaders don’t take responsibility for their job. They take Extreme Ownership of everything that impacts their mission.”

“The best leaders don’t take responsibility for their job. They take Extreme Ownership of everything that impacts their mission.”

The concept of ownership percolates from the top-down in any team. In the case of the Patriots, Belichick takes full responsibility for the team’s record.

Earlier this year, the Patriots narrowly lost the AFC Championship to the Denver Broncos. The Patriot’s kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, who missed a crucial extra-point try in that game, lamented the loss and blamed himself for it. But Belichick would have none of it.

“Steve is a great kicker. He had a great year for us,” said Belichick in a press conference. “I think every coach or player who participated in the game wish… they could have done (a couple things) differently. I feel that way. Everybody I’ve talked to feels that way. I can’t imagine that anyone who participated in the game doesn’t feel that way…”

“I feel like it’s my fault, I’m sure all the other players who played feel like it’s their fault.”

No finger pointing, no excuses. It’s that type of ownership that makes Belichick’s players step up and take responsibility for the outcome. That’s why the Patriots can start a third string quarterback and still win, and that’s why even when they lose, the players still rally and encourage each other.

Here’s how Willink and Babin put it, “Once a culture of Extreme Ownership is built into the team at every level, the entire team performs well, and performance continues to improve, even when a strong leader is removed from the team.”

The Patriots are not one of the best teams in football because of their record or because they have a talented roster. They’re great because everyone—from the head coach to the kicker and even the third-string quarterback—takes ownership for the outcome of each game.

We all have the experience of belonging to a team. Between work, family, and our community of friends, we all collaborate with other people in a coordinated effort toward reaching our individual and collective goals. My encouragement to you is that you take it upon yourself to make your team successful by practicing this one, simple principle: own the outcome.

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