|Three-to-one is not good odds for Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, who is sacked by (from bottom) Adalius Thomas, Jarvis Green, and Mike Wright. (MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF)|
No stop signs here - they're in cruise control
CINCINNATI - You expect them to win just by showing up. This must have been what it was like watching UCLA when Lew Alcindor, then Bill Walton dominated college basketball. This must have been what it was like when Sonny Liston, then Mike Tyson, KO'd a succession of tomato cans in the heavyweight division.
Your Patriots took their game to "Monday Night Football" last night and New England fans arriving home from the embarrassing Red Sox rally (are these things MLB-mandated?) no doubt put their feet up and turned on the flat screen in anticipation of another 38 points and another easy win.
Things played out predictably, as Tom Brady threw three more touchdown passes (two to Randy Moss) and the Patriots thumped the Bengals, 34-13.
It was another demonstration of the all-around superiority that has marked the first quarter of this championship-to-be season. As the stands emptied and the clock wound down, the guys in the ESPN booth were speculating on New England's chances of going 16-0.
The Patriots are 4-0, but their games haven't held much interest in the fourth quarter. They are simply too good. They've made it look too easy.
Don't tell that to Bill Belichick.
"There's still more we can do," said the master. "There's things we can do better. We're still leaving some stuff out there. I'd like to think a month from now we'll be better. We should be."
That's a frightening prospect for the other 31 teams in the NFL. The Patriots have won by scores of 38-14, 38-14, 38-7, and 34-13.
"The score doesn't matter," said linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who has been around since the beginning of this magical run. "We don't care about the score. We just want to win. We've got a lot of good football players on this team."
What about the noise of 16-0 and Super Bowl plans? Is it tough to block out the infinite expectations that come with this spectacular start?
"We've had to do that in other seasons, like when we won the 21 in a row," said Bruschi. "There's a lot of leaders who have been around here when it's been successful. We're doing well now, but we know we need to work."
This TV special was played at Paul Brown Stadium on the one-year anniversary of the Patriots' 38-13 victory at the same site in 2006. That was the day rookie Laurence Maroney ran for 125 yards on 15 carries.
Early in the evening, the Patriots announced that Maroney (groin injury) was inactive for the rematch. The timing of the release signified another brilliant move by Belichick. The Patriots probably knew all week that Maroney wouldn't play, but Belichick uses the injury report as a weapon. Smart Bill never shows his hand and knows that the Bengals might have wasted some time preparing for Maroney. It's a small edge, but one can only wonder why other teams go along with league rules and announce things early in the week.
Belichick no doubt was one of the few people at Paul Brown Stadium who could claim he met Paul Brown. Belichick's dad, former Navy assistant Steve Belichick, was friendly with the NFL icon, and teenage Billy Belichick met Brown in the 1960s.
Brown is the man who invented the draw play, the facemask, and the Cleveland Browns. Belichick has invented linebackers as tight ends (Mike Vrabel caught another touchdown pass last night), videotaping opposing coaches' signals, and injury-report manipulation.
Coach Bill even changed the way we talk. Belichick is believed to be the first man in history to publicly utter, "It is what it is." Now it rolls off the tongue of every fifth-grade kid explaining a detention slip.
The Bengals, the only NFL team with parole officers listed in the team directory, are 1-3, but not a single player was arrested over the weekend. This represents good times for Cincinnati, the only American city where "Mensa" is a four-letter word.
Maroney was not missed. In his place, Sammy Morris ran for 117 yards on 21 carries, including a touchdown. Very Patriotic. The Big Name Guy can't play, so the Other Guy gets the job done.
Mr. Tom Brady stands tall as the single irreplaceable part. Brady made his worst throw of the season (a wobbly duck over the middle that fluttered into the hands of Bengals cornerback Leon Hall), but completed 25 of 32 passes for 231 yards. He has completed a whopping 79.2 percent (95 of 120) on the season and has 13 touchdown passes, including seven to Moss.
The first one to Moss last night was a beauty. Moss went into the left corner of the end zone, jumped over poor Johnathan Joseph, spun in mid-air, and got both feet inbounds. Moss is the player who thus far has taken the Patriots to a new level.
"He's a pretty good receiver," deadpanned Belichick. "It doesn't surprise me. He made plenty of those against us."
The Raiders, by the way, are still waiting for the immortal John Bowie (acquired with the draft pick the Patriots swapped for Moss) to play his first NFL down.
The Monday Night Folk couldn't have been too happy with this one. The game hardly held your interest. The Patriots have been doing that all season.
And so the beat goes on. The Patriots are home against Cleveland Sunday, then go to Dallas to take on the unbeaten Cowboys (and don't you wish the mighty Tuna was still there?). The Cowboys, Packers, and Colts are all 4-0, but only the Patriots are being talked about as a legitimate threat to the undefeated Dolphins of 1972.
It's certainly a lock that they're going to the playoffs. Maybe it's time for a rally at City Hall Plaza.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.