THE PROBLEM WITH living your life under the spotlight is that the camera captures only the eruption in public, not the months of silent annoyance. On December 4, when the New England Patriots faced the Buffalo Bills, Tom Brady left the field after throwing a late and late pass to wide receiver Brandin Cooks on third down, ending a series in the first quarter. Brady was upset and more irritable than usual, as has been the case this season in the eyes of some players and staff of the Patriots. When the chin was unzipped, Brady passed by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on the bench.

Brady kept walking and looking towards McDaniels, so the coach repeated: “We had it unmarked.”
Brady turned to McDaniels and yelled, “I got it!” Everyone nearby, including head coach Bill Belichick, turned to watch as Brady shouted. He took off his helmet and while a Patriots staff member stopped him – and with McDaniels father and legendary high school coach in Ohio, Thom, in the stands behind the bench – he shouted “Jód … [ rudeness]”.
The video of the scene went viral, and many rationalized it as a symptom of Brady’s legendary competitiveness. Later, Brady would apologize to McDaniels, who minimized the incident with the press as “part of what makes him great.” After all, many in the Patriots building knew that Brady’s explosion was not really against McDaniels. It was not about Cooks. And it was not because of the game against the Bills. It was the culmination of months of important hidden frustrations of the spotlight. For almost two decades, Belichick managed to subvert the egos of his best player, his boss and himself for the good of the team, producing historical results. This year, however, the dynamics have been different.

THE PATRIOTS ARE in unknown territory. Not only have they won matches and titles. They have won at an unprecedented pace and for an unprecedented time, which causes feelings of privilege to be dragged into Gillette Stadium in an unprecedented way, too. The Patriots, in the only statement that anyone associated with the team would make in the record of this story, responded to specific questions saying that there are “several inaccuracies and multiple examples given that did not occur”, although they did not want to go into detail. But according to interviews with more than a dozen members of staff, executives and players of the Patriots and league sources with knowledge of the internal workings of the team, the three most powerful people in the franchise – Belichick, Brady and the owner Robert Kraft– they have had serious disagreements. They differ with Brady’s personal trainer and partner, Alex Guerrero; with the plans of the long-term team in the position of field marshal; with the demanding style of directing of Belichick; and above all, with whom will be the last man standing. The interviewees describe a palpable feeling in the building that this could be the last year together for this group.
Brady, Belichick and Kraft have raised expectations and possibilities so high that virtually no other team in the Super Bowl era could truly understand what they are like. Brady and Belichick were not only pushing the limits of what a team could achieve. They were also challenging the basic understandings of how a group of people with great results escape the usual forces of ego and pride. For 17 years, the Patriots have resisted everything the NFL and its rivals could put in front of them, knowing that if they were united, nobody could touch them. Now they threaten to get rid of the only possible way: from within.

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