The "Patriot way" may have been a media creation in the first place, but it's not dead.
That's in the words of quarterback Tom Brady, who addressed the media as a whole for the first time since news broke of Aaron Hernandez's murder investigation.
He was asked if the "Patriot way" still exists amid the turmoil around the team. He responded first by defining the phrase in terms that should have defined it from the beginning:
"To win football games and to represent the community? No question. I think that's what we show up here every day for."
Why scrap it now?
Part of the Patriot way is to focus completely on the task at hand and to ignore the distractions that could arise at a time like this. In that sense, the Patriot way faces its biggest test of the Bill Belichick era this season.
The fate of our season is going to be determined by the guys in our locker room, and hopefully nothing else. That's something that I think we've always made a strong commitment to. You talk about the Patriot way, and to me that means mental toughness, to me it means dealing with different situations and adversities over the course of a season and offseason and how you can put those things behind you and focus on your job.
The Patriots have taken the first steps in that process over the past two days, first by having Belichick speak to the media on Wednesday, then by giving four of the six 2012 team captains their face time with the media on Thursday.
The four players—Brady, safety Devin McCourty, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo—spoke to the duties and difficulties of such a task.
McCourty was elected as a team captain for the first time in 2012, and although 2013's captains haven't been selected yet, he's not shying away from his role in helping the team get past the tragedy:
I think it’s up to us to be leaders right now, to go out and lead the team. The best way we can do that is to go out and show them and do things the right way and show the younger guys what to do and what not to do. [Just] continue to be leaders of this team and show guys how it’s supposed to be done.
Those leadership qualities will be put to the truest test following an offseason that has been especially tumultuous for reasons that have affected the team both on the field and off the field.
With Hernandez in jail, wide receiver Wes Welker now suiting up for the rival Denver Broncos, tight end Rob Gronkowski currently on the physically unable to perform list and a new charge of driving under the influence for cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, the distractions and changes are more numerous than in years past.
[There's] going to be a lot of things said and done throughout the course of this year, but we’re going to have to be able to move forward, we’re going to have to be able to come in here and ignore the noise and work as hard as we could to win ballgames. It’s going to be tough, but at the same time, it has to be done. And that’s our goal.
Whether the Patriots are able to achieve that goal will be tied directly to their commitment in the film room and on the practice field.
How would you grade the Patriots' handling of the Aaron Hernandez situation?
The Patriot way is letting the product on the field do the talking. It's being mentally tough. It's winning football games. It's every cliché we've come to associate with the Patriots, from "doing your job" to "ignoring the noise."
And it's very much alive and well.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all stats obtained from the Sports-Reference.com network and all quotes obtained firsthand or via team press releases.