Bill Belichick would have had every right to step to the podium following the New England Patriots’ 43-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday night, lean into the microphone, open a prepared note, and simply ask one question to the assembled media.
“Do you like apples?”
It may have taken five weeks, two losses, and little way of convincing in the other pair of victories, but the New England Patriots finally looked like themselves against the Bengals – or at least how we perceived they would look at some point – and the entire affair had the fingerprints of the Patriots’ head coach all over it.
During a week in which the Patriots were lambasted for every fault short of the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen, Belichick clearly reveled in the opportunity to do one of the things he does best; convince his team to “ignore the noise,” and only look “on to Cincinnati,” a phrase generally mocked for its dismissive delivery, but really a focus of simplicity that has helped make him one of the winningest coaches in NFL history.
“We don’t sit around listening to what everybody else says,” Belichick said. “With all due respect, I mean really. Look, we have a job to do. We’re focused on doing that job. We’re not going to sit around and listen to what everybody else says. We try to do the best we can.”
But clearly there was an ingredient of exactly that in the Patriots’ dismantling of the Bengals. Even quarterback Tom Brady admitted to as much concerning the inability to escape radio, email, planes circling overhead in Foxborough with banners that read, “Trade Brady…”
“Well, it’s hard to be oblivious to things,” Brady said.
Yet, it still remains The Bill Belichick Recipe for Success: No distractions from the outside world, unless of course it’s a matter of disrespect. In which case, Belichick will have the offending words read as gospel within the Patriots locker room.
To say there was some measure of disrespect after getting their doors blown off in Kansas City six days earlier would be a definite understatement. The Patriots were 2-2, but reports surfaced that Brady was unhappy of the direction of the coaching staff and the philosophies of the offense.
Not to mention, the last time we saw these players, they looked more like a group of guys heading to outhouse cleaning detail. There was no emotion. No sense of the Patriots’ pulse as a group, leading some to believe that – already – after four weeks, the Super Bowl hopefuls were a dead team walking.
So, indeed how badly did the Patriots’ team psyche need a win of this proportion?
“I don’t know,” Belichick said. “It was the next game. It was good to win.”
Oh, make no mistake, Belichick knows. He understands that Brady’s performance (292 yards, two touchdowns) will shut everybody up for another week after spending too much time wondering where the magic has gone.
Rob Gronkowski’s enormous night (100 yards receiving and a touchdown) will finally quiet questions about his health, and Tim Wright added 85 yards and a touchdown of his own, as Josh McDaniels finally found his two tight end set working to the degree it used to in the days of Aaron Hernandez, who may or may not have been a double murderer over the course of his last, productive season in the NFL.
Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson each had a catch.
But if someone had captured Belichick at the precise moment when Brandon Bolden jarred the ball loose and Kyle Arrington scored after a New England kickoff that the Bengals bungled for 14 points in five seconds, you might have seen a child-like smile on the grinch in the hood. He has to be completely ecstatic that his team rushed for 220 yards on the ground, led by 113 from Stevan Ridley, which included a second-half, 43-yard scamper, the longest of his career.
In most ways, this was a classic Bill Belichick win: Big plays on special teams and defense. Grinding it out on offense and winning the possession game (38:56 to 21:04). Most of all, it was a win he got to stick in everybody’s face. A convincing victory that he can paste on the refrigerator for the week as proof of his coaching viability, and put a stop to the tales of family dysfunction coming from the media, fans, and yup, even his team. On Sunday night, the Patriots looked, dare we say it, happy.
“When you score, you’re going to have emotion,” Belichick said. “When you don’t, when you give up scores and turn the ball over and don’t do well, you have to generate some plays to generate that. We went down and scored, of course, we’re excited. We should be. It’s hard to do in this league. I think there’s a lot to get excited about.”
Suddenly, Pats fans aren’t freaking out about that stretch later in the season that features contests against the Bears, Broncos, Colts, Lions, Packers, and Chargers. (Deep breath.)
Instead, they’re onto to Buffalo. Obviously.
Nothing new. This is classic Belichick.
Ignore the noise.
Then tell it to go screw.
With all due respect, of course.