Vikings trying to emulate Patriots mystique

The Vikings know the Patriots are the measuring stick for NFL success and are trying to build toward that.

The NFL is a cyclical world in which teams rise and fall quickly. A team that wins a Super Bowl one year can miss the playoffs the next. A 10-win team one year can be a 10-loss team the following season. It happens all the time … except in New England.

No team has been as consistently dominant in the modern era of the NFL as the New England Patriots, the Vikings’ opponent Sunday. When Bill Belichick took over for Pete Carroll in 2000, the Patriots limped to a 5-11 record. Not only haven’t the Patriots had a losing record since that season, over the last 11 years, the Patriots have won 10 or more games in each of them.

Their regular season numbers are staggering – two seasons with 10 wins, one with 11, three with 12, one with 13, three with 14 and one perfect 16-0 regular season. In that 11-year span, they have a mind-numbing 138-38 record, including 51-13 over the last four seasons.

They do it their way in New England and their way clearly works. They find role players who fit their system and will completely change offensive and defensive schemes from one game to the next. Where other teams stubbornly attempt to impose their will by not changing what they do on offense or defensive, Bill Belichick is willing to morph his team from one game to the next, so what an opponent sees on film will be completely different the next week, especially on offense.

The culture of winning is there and the results can’t be denied. The Patriots have become the envy of the league and something for other teams to attempt to emulate as best they can.

“They strive for perfection every year,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “The bottom line is that’s what they do. They’ve been a model franchise as far as going out, winning ballgames and not being satisfied with wins – which is what we’ve got to do around here now.”

It isn’t a magic formula that has made New England what it is. It’s a work ethic and a regimented system that is perfected and repeated. Players and coaches who have gone through the system can attest to its success and, when they leave Boston to play or coach elsewhere, they bring some of that same commitment to winning with them.

“It’s just guys going out there and working every single day,” Robison said. “You hear from guys that come around the league from New England. They go out and they work every day as if they’re starting over fresh every week. That’s what you have to do in this league. You can’t worry about last week. You can’t worry about next week. You’ve just got to concentrate on the task at hand. That’s what we’ve got to do.”

That is the attitude that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is trying to instill. Despite entering the season opener as underdogs and blowing out the St. Louis Rams on the road Sunday, Zimmer immediately turned his attention to the Patriots for the next game.

While it’s been a decade since the Patriots brought home a Super Bowl, not adding a fourth ring to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s fingers hasn’t been due to a lack of trying. Over the last nine years, New England has been to two Super Bowls and five conference championship games, which has helped cement the legacy as one of the most dominant franchises in NFL history.

“Look at Coach Belichick’s record,” linebacker Jasper Brinkley said. “When all is said and done, he’s going to be one of those great coaches that you all are going to remember. It’s great to have a coach like that. It makes everyone accountable and that you’re responsible for your own actions.”

Part of the Patriots’ mystique has been that their offense can change at the drop of a hat. If an opponent can’t stop they run, the Patriots will run 40 times. If they can’t stop the pass, they’ll throw 50 times. You may not see the same formation twice and, if you do, you can bet the same play won’t be run out of the same formation. Film study becomes difficult because you’re confident what you’re seeing on tape isn’t going to be what you see on the field the next game.

“You have to be ready for it,” Brinkley said. “Most of the time when teams give you different looks, they’re trying to confuse you. You have to be ready for different looks, but you usually get the same concepts out of them.”

The Vikings are looking to do something that few teams have been to do throughout the Belichick era – hand the Patriots a second straight loss. It just doesn’t happen with New England often. They have lost back-to-back road games only twice with Belichick as their coach over the last 13 years. The Vikings are hoping that they have discovered the magic formula for success and the Patriots will be an ideal test to determine how far along that process is because, say what you want about the Denver Broncos or Seattle Seahawks, the New England Patriots remain the measuring stick for success in the NFL.

“They’ve got some sort of secret over there because they win year after year after year,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “The reality is that it’s about how are you going perform on game day. With the new scheme we’ve put in, it’s obvious to us that we can win if we execute – regardless of how they change things up. The one thing we know is that we have to be playing at high level for all four quarters because they will keep coming at us.”

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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