New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman is reportedly fired up to prove the people who think his success was all due to Tom Brady wrong. Steven Senne/Associated Press

In the past, one of the biggest X-factors for the Patriots was having Tom Brady in their corner.

The quarterback provided a sense of security that no game was ever out of reach, and all opponents could be taken down. Having the GOAT provided a huge advantage any time the Patriots took the field.

Add the presence of Bill Belichick, the best head coach in the NFL running the show, and the Patriots were nearly impossible to beat the past two decades.

So now what?

Brady is in Tampa. Does that mean Belichick is the lone X-factor left in the building?

Not necessarily.

There are a few other positive elements that should help pick up some of the slack.

In the age of the pandemic, perhaps the greatest strength of the 2020 edition of the Patriots lies in having so many returning players in key positions, particularly on offense as well as the defensive secondary. That kind of consistency and knowledge with the playbook and system should be beneficial, especially with all the restrictions enforced due to COVID-19.

So will the presence of top-notch veteran leaders in the room, who will help shepherd the newcomers, and continue to reinforce Belichick’s values.

All of these components should provide a boost to the Tom Brady-less Patriots.

But there’s at least one other positive on the list that could trigger the biggest impact: Motivation.

As intangibles go, that might be the most important chip the Patriots have in their back pocket: the incentive to show they’re still worthy without No. 12. It just might be their greatest X-factor after Belichick.

As it stands, there are a few players who have something to prove and are “motivated” to put a sock in the mouths of all the critics. But it extends beyond individuals. This is a collective mission for the Patriots.

The disrespect card applies across the board, especially with so many so-called experts jumping off the bandwagon due to Brady’s departure. There’s been plenty of doubters in the media making the case for a Patriots collapse. Already, there’s a boatload of bulletin board material floating around.

While the primary burden is on Belichick to show he can be successful without Brady, some of that also falls on the team. Already questions are being asked: Was much of the Patriots’ success because of having the greatest quarterback of all time? Or can the others prove that to be more myth than truth?

The veterans in the room, be it Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater, James Andrews, James White or Dont’a Hightower, are likely to push that theme.

Already, McCourty and Slater have hinted about that narrative during recent media sessions. They’ll create a collective chip on the Patriots shoulders.

Patriots Hall of Fame safety Rodney Harrison, who was a master at finding slights – real or imagined – in order to light a spark in the room, believes there’s merit in the motivation factor.

And, he believes both Belichick and the team leaders will make good use of the material at hand, whether it’s having some pundits ranking them well out of the top 10, or The Score, a Canada-based sports media outlet, rating their quarterback room dead last in the league.

Talk about disrespect – even the lowly Jaguars, with Gardner Minshew, Joshua Dobbs and Jake Luton, were ranked ahead.

“(Belichick) might bring up a couple articles … everybody saying it’s over, Brady this, Brady that,” Harrison said. “Of course he’ll say something about that. But at the end of the day, whether he makes the point or not, he knows the team will be motivated to prove they can win without Tom.”

That said, it’s still questionable whether that type of motivation actually produces results, or is just a bunch of lip service that sounds good.

Will having that chip truly make a difference?

Harrison buys in.

“It’s not just talk, not with the Patriots. It’s a chip you carry in the weight room, you carry in the film room, in the dining room, you carry at home watching extra film, it’s a chip that motivates you,” said Harrison. “It’s motivating for people to say you can’t win without Brady. I know I would be pissed. … So these guys are going to be motivated, pumped up and ready to go.”

McCourty, Gilmore, Hightower and other defensive leaders will also stress what happened at the end of last season, when the defense couldn’t make a stop in the closing minutes against the Dolphins with a first-round bye on the line in the final regular-season game, not to mention having Derrick Henry (204 yards from scrimmage) run roughshod over them in the divisional round playoff loss to the Titans.

So there’s meat on the bone on the defensive side. That’s added motivation beyond Brady.

Offensively?

Think head-coach-in-waiting Josh McDaniels might want to prove he can have an effective offense without the benefit of having Brady at the controls? That could be the ticket to the longtime Patriots offensive coordinator’s next job.

Or how about Julian Edelman?

Was he simply a product and creation of Brady in a long line of effective slot receivers?

Mike Giardi of NFL Network recently tweeted that he heard from sources Edelman was hell-bent on proving his worth, and showing up all the naysayers who have cast the Patriots aside.

“Julian is Julian. He hates excuses. He hates to lose,” one Patriot told Giardi. “… People thinking we’re no good and (that) he’s just a product of Brady.”

Entering his age 34 season, it will be interesting to see if Edelman delivers without Brady, not to mention seeing if age has finally caught up to him. Judging by the sound of it, Edelman is determined to show he can succeed without the GOAT.

Ditto for the team.

Then, you could look toward wide receiver N’Keal Harry, who wants to prove he was a worthy first-round pick, and not a bust. He’s also reportedly been working to improve his footwork, training with self-proclaimed “Footwork King” Rischad Whitfield. After a less-than-glowing first season, Harry is taking steps to show he’s better than what transpired in Year One catching passes for Brady.

So whether it’s individually, or collectively, the Patriots are motivated. They have a score to settle.

“You gotta take it personal,” Harrison said with respect to proving the Pats’ past success wasn’t all about Brady. “You gotta let it motivate you.”

It’s now their cause, trying to find an identity beyond No. 12.

But, can they stifle all of those who have cast them aside, without their best weapon, and chief silencer, Brady? Because, that’s one of the things the GOAT did best, silence the nonbelievers. Having Brady in the huddle was the great equalizer on so many fronts.

Now that job will go to Jarrett Stidham, an unproven talent, or perhaps veteran Brian Hoyer – allegedly the worst QB tandem in the league.

Stidham, in particular, has to prove he is a worthy successor, capable of leading the team to wins.

There’s no question the Patriots will try to use that motivation to their advantage, and Belichick might be the ringleader drumming up the cause.

“I absolutely think Bill is going to use (the disrespect card), that’s for sure,” said SiriusXM NFL analyst Solomon Wilcots, “and for those people who think they’re going to tank … they really don’t know Bill Belichick. There’s no way he’s going to sit around and take a bunch of losses.”

It just remains to be seen how far that X-factor ultimately drives them.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.