FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Speaking at the Patriots’ annual community holiday party on Tuesday night, owner Robert Kraft lauded his team’s effort en route to clinching a playoff berth last Sunday, but he was not ready to settle just yet.
“The real present would be if we gave our fans a home playoff game,” Kraft said. “To think about how when we first bought the team, there had been one home playoff game in 34 years, which they lost to Houston in 1978. My grandkids have grown up in an era where we’ve had a lot of home playoff games, but it’s not how I grew up or my sons grew up.”
The Patriots hosted a home playoff game in January, when they were defeated by the Ravens, 33-14.
“I personally still haven’t forgotten [that game]. That was one of the most difficult games since we’ve owned the team, because it was just a total beating in my mind,” Kraft said. “The game in the first five, seven minutes was not what our team is about. I hope we have a chance to permanently erase that feeling once the playoffs come this year.”
To Kraft, the change in fortunes from the Patriots in this season from last season illustrates how difficult it is to win consistently in the NFL.
“The league is set up so everyone goes 8-8. Look at our schedule this year. That’s one of the things that I’ve been impressed with this team, is how we’ve played home and away,” Kraft said. “We had trouble last year [on the road].”
This season, the Patriots have posted impressive road wins in Pittsburgh, Miami and Chicago.
“How this team has performed this year, down in Miami, the only real weak game was the game in Cleveland,” Kraft said. “But I’ve been around this business long enough to know that if there isn’t hard practice and focus and execution, things can change very fast.”
Kraft also spoke on the performance of quarterback Tom Brady, who has not thrown an interception in eight games and is at the head of the league MVP discussion.
“He has a coterie of receivers who are really my size,” Kraft joked. “Over the years I’ve always said how we’ve never had these classic, big receivers. He’s really been able to make out with that.”
Brady and the Patriots have posted an 11-2 record, and Kraft says the change in locker room vibe this season is noticeable.
“They look like kids out there having a good time. There’s a karma and a chemistry with this team that’s pretty special,” Kraft said. “You can feel it when you walk in the locker room, both before the game and after the game. I think what’s evolved over the past seven, eight games is that there’s a sense of confidence.
“The locker room has a very positive atmosphere. It’s a nuance but it’s hard to understand if you don’t see it all the time,” Kraft continued. “[It’s] sort of like walking through a factory, and you can see whether the morale of the workers is positive or not.
“It’s a very upbeat kind of feeling. There’s a camaraderie. You see how new people come in and they can integrate very quickly into the system because it is so inviting.”
Kraft was then asked if that team chemistry was missing in the 2009 version of the team.
“I think so, yes,” Kraft responded. “From my point of view, it was not the same last year.”
Also noticeable to Kraft is the team’s resiliency and mental toughness.
“There’s a great esprit-de-corps. I don’t know what’s going to happen this year, but it’s very positive. At least you have a chance to win, when you have that type of feeling,” Kraft said. “In every game, things aren’t always going to go your way.”
With a roster infused with young players over the past two seasons, the Patriots have thrust inexperienced players into important roles. To Kraft, the credit for those players performing at a high level goes to head coach Bill Belichick.
“What’s special about Bill is that he’s a great teacher. He knows how to put players in the best position to do their job as well as they can,” Kraft said. “Bill is best when he has young men who will receive his teaching. He’s a great student of the game. He knows so much.”
In that light, Kraft recalled a speech made by second-year safety Patrick Chung to the team’s rookies this spring.
“He said, ‘Look, you guys think you know a lot. But with this coaching staff, when they tell you something, they know better than you. It took me a while, getting through the first year, to understand. They watch tape all the time. They know a lot better than you. So listen.’”
Paramount to being successful in the NFL, to Kraft, is realizing as a young player the difference in talent level between the NFL and college.
“You have young men coming out of college systems where they’ve done very well. But when they come to the NFL, everyone’s special,” Kraft said. “There’s a mold to these young men this year that are listening to Bill and the coaching staff. All these young coaches, they work very hard.”
Kraft was not only impressed with how the current season has taken shape, but also with how the team has positioned itself for the future.
“Last year we were the third or fifth oldest defense, and now we’re the youngest defense,” Kraft noted. “We have three of the first 33 picks in this upcoming draft. I’m excited about that.”