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ON FOOTBALL

Bad sports? No, they were good coaches

CLEVELAND -- Terry Robiskie wasn't offended, so why should anyone else be?

Because there was really so little to say about the Patriots' 42-15 thrashing of the hopeless Cleveland Browns Sunday beyond, "Let's move on," a mini-controversy of the media's making seemed to emerge concerning the tactics of Patriots coach Bill Belichick once the Super Bowl champions had jumped out to a 35-7 lead.

Belichick and auditioning defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel briefly decided to blitz away on poor rookie quarterback Luke McCown, and Belichick and auditioning offensive coordinator Charlie Weis threw deep on back-to-back plays, the second time hitting a 44-yard touchdown pass over the fractured Browns secondary. In between, Belichick reinserted running back Corey Dillon so he could gain a meaningless 2 yards to give him a meaningful 100 yards for the game and 1,200 for the season.

To some this smacked of piling on, although no flags were thrown. To a few others it seemed to be retribution for Belichick, who was run out of Cleveland on a rail after his disastrous tenure there.

But actually, it was simply a very good team playing a game called professional football against a very bad team.

There's no crying in pro football, but there's also no concept of running up the score. This is not Pop Warner or high school. And it's not Division 3, although at times the Browns made it look that way. This is the National Football League, a place where the coach responsible for making sure the score stays close is not the one scoring the points but the one paid to prevent that from happening.

Robiskie understood that and took no umbrage at Belichick's decision to throw deep on two straight plays with a 28-point lead. He wasn't bothered by the return of Dillon, although he wasn't quite sure why he was back in there until after the game. And he wasn't annoyed by the blitzing of McCown when the game was out of hand. He wasn't bothered by anything but the play of his own team because, as both he and Belichick understand, that's what you're responsible for when you're an NFL head coach: your own team and nothing else, including someone else's self-esteem.

There is no mercy rule in professional athletics. There's no private agreement to not embarrass your opponent, either. No one takes a knee in the NFL when given the opportunity to put one in their opponent's throat instead.

So when the Patriots ran two straight deep routes late in the third quarter -- the second of which was David Patten's 44-yard touchdown -- Robiskie knew what that was all about.

"Those are old-school coaches on that staff," Robiskie said with admiration. "Back when I was playing, that's what you'd do to a defense. Run one deep on them and then run the same route the next play, before the cornerback could catch his breath. That's what we did at the Raiders quite a lot. If they could do it, why shouldn't they? It's our job to stop them, not their job."

The same was true about the return of Dillon for one second-half run of 2 yards that gave him 100. Although Robiskie said at the time he was surprised to see Dillon back out risking injury, it wasn't something he was irked by. Neither was Browns defensive back Earl Little bothered. In fact, Little was impressed.

"If I ever become a football coach, I'll be trying to put points on the board," Little said. "Maybe their coaches were looking out for Dillon. He might get an incentive or something [for another 100-yard game]. Some coaches take you out in that situation so you don't get it. I know they do that.

"That's the way they coach over there, though. They look out for their players. I got no beefs. I got no problems with anyone over there."

Perhaps Crennel and Weis were showing off their wares a little bit after crushing the Browns early, but they're both looking to get a head coaching job, so who can blame them? They realize their window of opportunity grows smaller with each passing year.

As for Belichick, he denied having any ulterior (or, more to the point, interior) motive for the deep throws or the return of Dillon or the late blitzing. He said he did not have an "agenda." But who cares if he did or he didn't?

Considering some of the venom Belichick had to absorb during his final days in Cleveland, who could blame him if he wanted to rub it in just a little? The fans and the media hated him there (not without good and self-inflicted reasons, by the way) and they let him know it. They did the same thing when he returned in his first year as Patriots head coach and was beaten. So if he felt the need to stomp on that memory a little, what of it?

In the end, as Robiskie said, it was the Browns' responsibility to keep the game close, not Belichick's. They were as much in charge of what went on the scoreboard as the Patriots were. All Belichick did was the same thing Robiskie would have done given the opportunity.

He played old-school football, and the result was a harsh lesson for the Browns in how far away they are from being a Super Bowl contender. His top assistants delivered a hands-on job interview as Browns owner Randy Lerner watched from the owner's box. All in all, a pretty good day at the office for Belichick and his staff and a pretty hard one for Robiskie and the Browns, but so be it.

"It's raining mountain lions right now," Cleveland safety Robert Griffith said after the carnage. "It ain't pretty."

No it isn't, but that isn't Bill Belichick's fault. Or his responsibility.

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