FOXBORO - In the Dolphins locker room Saturday evening, players were talking about the character their team showed by competing even though Miami was eliminated from the playoffs weeks ago.
"It just speaks to the character of the men in this room," said Miami guard Richie Incognito. "We dont quit.We just fight and keep swinging.That has been our mentality all year. Just keep swinging and try to clock as many wins as possible.
Said linebacker Karlos Dansby, We are resilient, we have a lot of pride. We dont lay down. We will never lay down. We have proud men in this locker room. We will never lay down."
There is something to be said for that, no doubt. There are teams across the league that are just punching the clock now. But it is a hollow bow those players take.
In the Patriots locker room, their resilience has led them to a 12-3 record. And while the Dolphins started the season 0-7, the Patriots have now won seven straight in the crucible of NFL crunch time. Simply competing and playing hard when there's nothing but pride on the line does show mental toughness. But being able to take blows, correct and commandeer wins in the span of 60 minutes shows a lot more resilience.
And the team on the turf at Gillette Stadium that was most resilient on Saturday was the one in the dark blue jerseys.
For the third straight week, the Patriots erased a deficit and overcame a poor start to win. It's remarkable. This may not be the most talented team , but it has backbone of steel.
Why are they able to take the shots and come back?
One thing they say from the day you come in here is just do your job," explained guard Brian Waters. "And I think that we trust each other in that fact. There are no special things around here that are any different from anybody else, outside of everybody is just wondering about what they need to do and they take care of their business.
"The end result is we never panic," he said. "We never panic. There was no panic on the sideline. More people will probably think, You guys were too calm. There wasnt any yelling, there wasnt any screaming, it was just about getting to the things that we knew we could do well and going after it after that.
There was yelling and screaming, linebacker Jerod Mayo said. From coaches who demanded things get better in the second half. But there are coaches on every sideline screaming non-stop whether their team is leading or trailing.
The onus is on the players to hear the message in the high decibels and then carry out the commands.
"We said we only needed one play to get it started as a team," said Vince Wilfork, who helped provide that "one play" with a big fumble recovery early in the second half that led to a touchdown which narrowed the Miami lead to 17-10. "All the while, we never gave up on one another and never said anything negative to one another. Going down 17-0 is a pretty big deficit but once again, this team showed its character. We believed in one another and stepped up and once we got going, it seemed that all we needed was that one play. Once we got it, it opened up everything else on offense, special teams and defense. It was a great win for us and we still have room for improvement. Each week we are going to get better.
That's been a promise that's been scoffed at throughout the season. But it's a promise that's being backed up weekly.
During the course of the season, you learn a lot of things, right?" asked Waters. "We had some situations where we got off to bad starts and didnt come back and didnt play particularly well in the end. And weve had some things happen for us where weve gotten off to bad starts and end up finishing well. Today is just another lesson learned.
When the 2009 Patriots - a truly soft team that couldn't muster wins in the face of even the adversity of a plane ride - got behind in the playoffs against Baltimore, they were toast. No character.
This team? It has a survivor's mentality. Which will serve it well in the postseason because - the way the defense often plays - a deficit in the playoffs is a guarantee.
"Theres nobody playing perfect football right now," said Waters. "So were no different from any other football team outside of the fact that weve got an extended season that we know we have in front of us and next week is a great opportunity for us to get even better going into that part of the season.
While the other teams that pass for elite in this weird 2011 season are still riding the roller-coaster in terms of wins and losses, the Patriots - who ride the roller-coaster in 60-minute snippets - keep reeling off wins. Building confidence. And strengthening a resliency that's already proven remarkable.