September 13, 2016


Bill Belichick's Unflappable Football Machine (JEREMY GORDON, Sep 13, 2016, WSJ)

 "'Cut off the snake's head and the body will die' doesn't apply to the New England Patriots -- because the whole team is a snake's head," writes the Ringer's Michael Baumann. "Suspend Tom Brady and knock Rob Gronkowski out with a hamstring injury, and Bill Belichick will just conjure some dunce off the bench to distribute the football to his army of Wes Welker types."

There was a twisted poetry in seeing the Patriots as actual underdogs, as opposed to the conspiratorial riffing about respect that Boston fans (and, if we're being fair, most sports fans) have indulged in for the last decade. Brady will never be a folk hero--he's too pretty, too successful, and too normal--but his suspension did carry a whiff of sporting injustice. It also begged the question of whether the team would manage to fill the gap. The last time he was out for an extended period was 2008, when he suffered a season-ending leg injury and was replaced by Matt Cassel. Nearly a decade later, it was safe to wonder whether the machine had rusted a bit. "Oh, Belichick loved this," writes Yahoo's Dan Wetzel. "It is not often New England gets to play the nobody-picked-us-card. It is not often the coach gets to prove everyone wrong and he and his crew correct, and then immediately get to flip the script and downplay it all."

Jimmy G. and the Young QBs (Peter King, 9/12/16, MMQB)

The other reason this outcome was so significant: Brady has such a command of this team and this locker room, and then he was gone, his four-game ban for the Deflategate sanction separating him from the team nine days ago. It was left to Belichick and the coaches and the remaining veterans to convey the sense of normalcy, even with Brady in limbo.

How'd they do it?

"We all just did our jobs," said veteran receiver Julian Edelman.

"It's all about tuning everything out and just doing your job," said defensive end Chris Long, in his first year in New England.

That mantra is so pervasive in Belichickland that even the alumni use it. I was in Houston on Saturday night and listened to Bill O'Brien's pre-game speech to his team, and he used some iteration of "Do your job" three times in 21 minutes.

Try as you might, you cannot get Patriots players to talk in real terms about what's going on in this difficult period. Because they know you don't do that; it can't help the team win, and Belichick insists on eliminating all the crappola that affects his team's chance to win.

"I don't think about who's out there playing," Edelman said. "That's not my job. You know Belichick: 'Ignore the noise. Don't believe the hype.'" There's little doubt he's succeeded. Walking around the locker room Sunday night, you couldn't find anyone giddy, or overly surprised, by what happened here. Train the mind, and the body will follow--as long as the body is good enough, and unselfish enough.

"That's one of the differences here," Long said. "Team-first guys. To gather all team-first guys, I'm telling you, it's hard to do. But they do it here. It matters. Jimmy's one of those. It's a next man up thing, and he can handle it."

Garoppolo isn't demonstrative, nor particularly excitable. Two men in the offensive huddle on the game-winning drive had no memory of anything he said other than the play calls. He throws with good touch. He is accurate. Midway through the fourth quarter, New England trailing for the first time all day, Garoppolo faced a third-and-15. One of the options on offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' call was a fake screen that gave Garoppolo a couple options downfield. One was a deep throw up the left side to Danny Amendola; that's the option Garoppolo took. His throw was perfect.

Garoppolo belongs. He just does. You saw his reaction to adversity--the two lost fumbles that kept Arizona in the game--which basically was no reaction. In the span of three hours, Garoppolo proved the Patriots aren't going to be the vulnerable team everyone thought they'd be in the four games without Brady. The next three are home (Miami, Houston on a Thursday, Buffalo), and the prospects of running away with the division again are suddenly very real. "Everyone can shut up now and watch the guy get better and grow," said safety Devin McCourty. 

Posted by at September 13, 2016 5:04 PM