Patriots see benefits of working in the snow

Patriots see benefits of working in the snow
January 2, 2014, 6:00 pm
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FOXBORO -- Going back to Bill Belichick's first year as head coach in New England, his teams are 10-0 with snow on the ground. Those victories include two wins in Buffalo (2000, 2005), and blowouts at home against the Dolphins (2003) and the Titans (2009). They also include two playoff wins over Peyton Manning's Colts (2004, 2005) and, of course, the most famous of all, the Divisional Round win over the Raiders -- also known as the Tuck Rule game -- in the 2001 season.

The site FootballGeography.com has a pretty good rundown of all games played on a "snow-covered field" right here.

One reason why the Patriots are so good in the snow: They practice in the stuff.

Belichick had his team out on the Gillette Stadium turf during Thursday's snow storm in sweats and shells.

"That's one thing Bill always preaches: Football was meant to be played outside," Rob Ninkovich said. "So whatever it is, 'Get your stuff on and go practice.' "

Tom Brady explained his coach's philosophy in more colorful language back in November on WEEI's Dennis and Callahan Show.

"We’ve been pretty good in bad-weather conditions for as long as I got here," Brady said. "I think the biggest reason is because coach Belichick walks in every day and says, ‘I don’t give a crap what the weather is, get your [expletive] on and get out there, we’re practicing outside.’ That’s what he does. And we go, ‘All right.’ It could be 40 mph winds, it could be downpours, it could be three inches of snow, we’re out there on our practice fields practicing. It’s pretty rare that we go in the bubble. I think to challenge our mental toughness is as important as anything.”

This year more so than any other the Patriots are all but guaranteed to go the rest of the season without playing in any kind of warmth. They play at home next Saturday, and a win would guarantee them a trip to the AFC title game in either Foxboro or Denver.

Another victory would put them in the Super Bowl in East Rutherford, NJ.

Barring some sort of meteorological anomaly, there's no escaping the cold the rest of the way. Patriots players know that practicing in the snow -- even with the warmer confines of the Dana-Farber Field House sitting just down the road from Gillette Stadium -- helps them be ready for whatever conditions might come their way.

"It does help us prepare for the elements," rookie safety Duron Harmon said of practicing outdoors. "We don't know what the temperature's going to be next Saturday so we need to be prepared to play in anything."

Tight end Matthew Mulligan often played in the snow during his time at the University of Maine. He knows first hand the benefits of working in the powder.

"I think you do need practice in that stuff because if you get out there and you never practiced in it, you throw an element in and it can really throw you off," Mulligan said. "I think it's a great idea to do that, and it definitely helped us."

After playing in a downpour last week against Buffalo and in the snow this week, the Patriots have experience dealing with a variety of conditions.

"I'd rather the snow than the rain," Ninkovich said. "The rain, when it's 34 degrees and raining whatever it is, I'd rather be in the snow. But we've played in it all so it just helps us for whatever we're in we're in. Whatever game it is we're playing in, if it's snowing, if it's raining, we've experienced it all."

"I think we just try to prepare ourselves the best we can," Mulligan added. "Any kind of inclement weather or whatever it may be, we try to practice in all the elements. Bill has always pushed that. He said from Day 1, 'Look if it's rain, snow, no matter what it is, we're going outside in it so prepare yourself for it.' I think that's great because you don't want to be coddled. This is a tough sport all the way around. If you're gonna say, 'Oh it's raining we can't go outside,' that's obviously not how it's gonna be on game day."

Cold though it may be, practicing among the flakes breaks up the routine of practice for some players. Many said they considered it a good time, including both Ninkovich (from Illinois) and Mulligan (Maine).

Even a warm-weather guy like Ryan Wendell, who grew up in California, said he enjoyed Thursday's session outside.

"I saw none of it growing up," Wendell said of the snow. "That's why it's fun. That's what football's supposed to be like."