Tony Sparano and his Dolphins coaching staff can prepare all the X's and O's they want in preparation for Monday night's AFC East clash with the Patriots, but Bill Belichick has loaded his team with something that can't be countered: The Disrespect Card.
It was a cornerstone of the Pats' dynasty years, when the players considered any criticism to be doubt and were fueled by critics. The most hilarious of these moments may have come from Rodney Harrison, who was wearing a sling after the Pats had won Super Bowl XXXVIII and spoke clearly into a camera: "Nobody believed we could do it, but we believed in ourselves."
It should be noted that the Patriots of which he spoke went 14-2.
Still, after the Pats lost their season opener 31-0 to the Bills that year, writers began to question the Patriots. That criticism never left the minds of some of the players, and it helped galvanize them in an us-against-the-world kind of way.
Similarly, the '07 Patriots played with a chip on their shoulders after they were outed for their — unique — video recording practices. That was in part to defend the honor of Belichick and in part to defend their honor as three-time Super Bowl champions, and the mentality nearly led the Patriots to an undefeated season (as everyone in New England knows, the Super Bowl was canceled that year and therefore never happened).
With the Patriots at a crossroads this year, facing the fate of heading into the by week at 2-2 with a 1-2 record in the AFC East or 3-1 with a 2-1 record in the division, Belichick is going to an old standby.
As Mike Reiss of ESPN.com noted, the coach showed his players the "expert picks" from Patriots Football Weekly for Monday night's game in Miami. The newspaper is owned by the team, so it's likely full of "experts" who are clearly homers, right?
Well, not so, as all nine of the experts picked Miami to win the game.
That is not good news for the Miami Dolphins. The pressure is now on Sparano to try to figure out a way to counteract that motivation, but it won't be easy. In a game loaded with helmet-to-helmet hits and bone-crunching collisions, disrespect may be its most dangerous weapon.