NEW ORLEANS -- Bill Belichick hates the word "swagger."
In Michael Holley's book "Patriot Reign" the Patriots head coach became aware that one of his players had said in 2002 the team needed its swagger back. Belichick was apopleptic, decrying swagger and stressing discipline and concentration over some intangible force.
Willie McGinest didn't use the word "swagger" when I spoke with him about what seems to be ailing the Patriots in big games. But he did talk about pride, competition and intensity.
The former Patriot who developed into a big-game force and locker room sage during the Patriots' salad days, works as an NFL Network analyst now.
I asked him what he thought was lacking against the Ravens in the Patriots AFC Championship loss.
"The adjustment Baltimore made at halftime was to attack the weakness of the Patriots was to attack the passing game," McGinest stated. "They were great at turning the ball over. Great at points per game. Good red-zone defense. But at some point, if your offense isn't scoring 35, 40 points a game and you're giving up big plays in the passing game against a good offense that has a dominant defense, it's gonna be tough to win games."
The Patriots are 1-9 since 2009 in games where their offense is held to fewer than 20 points. They were 16-24 from 2001 through 2008 in those games. That's a winning percentage of .100 over the past four seasons compared to .400 in the prior eight years.
"There's nothing wrong with (an offense scoring fewer than 20 points)," McGinest said. "We beat Tennessee (in the 2003 AFC Divisional Playoffs), what, 17-14? My thought as a defender is that if your offense gives up 10 points, you can only give up nine. That's just how it is. If your offense scores seven points, you can only give up six."
Does McGinest perceive the same intensity with this group that he saw with his?
"It's not the same guys," McGinest pointed out. "We had a distinct group of guys with the attitude, our respect for the game, our competitive level. We competed against each other. It really wasn't about who we were playing against, it was more about us pushing each other. I don't know if they've developed that yet. They have a chance, they've got to spend some time together but that's not easy to teach.
"We took everything personal and we had pride," he added. "It's a different time. That's just how we were. Even the young guys that came in adapted that from us. Like the Seymours, the Vince Wilforks or some of these other guys that were there. The Asante Samuels. When Rodney came in, we already had Ty Law with that attitude. We had Lawyer Milloy. We had guys that had that mentality. We just added more guys to it. Vrabel was another guy."
There are elements of that toughness throughout the Patriots defense. Wilfork, Rob Ninkovich, Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo being prime examples; Devin McCourty seemingly close to the same level. But offenses aren't scared to go against the New England defense.
"It doesn't seem like (the intensity is) there but for them to be successful in the future, that's definitely something they'll have to develop," McGinest concluded.