FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick has directly referenced the New England Patriots’ opponent 23 times in four meetings with the media this week. He’s only twice referred to his returning quarterback.
The Patriots are playing the winless Cleveland Browns, and Tom Brady, possibly the greatest quarterback in NFL history, is returning from a four-game suspension. Welcome to the absurd world of the Patriots.
In what should surprise absolutely no one, Belichick remains concentrated on the team, not an individual player. Brady’s return hasn’t been met has been met with any bells or whistles. There is no banner hanging at Gillette Stadium. The reverential treatment is over. The Patriots acted as if Brady was literally invisible Monday, claiming they hadn’t seen the quarterback in the first day he could report to Gillette Stadium since the Deflategate ban ended.
Belichick bristled at Brady-related questions Wednesday. And the Patriots’ loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday surely plays into how Belichick is handling Brady’s return.
Belichick’s disappointment with the Patriots’ performance Sunday is understandable. The villainous Rex Ryan and his lowly Bills shut out the Patriots. Despite playing with a rookie quarterback with a bandaged thumb, the Patriots should have put up a better fight. But Belichick is acting like an angry parent, upset with his kids’ midyear report cards, and now he won’t let them celebrate Christmas by refusing to acknowledge Santa Claus.
Belichick was asked how he would relay to the team that Brady wouldn’t be a fix-all.
“We’ve all got to do our job,” Belichick said. “We’ve got to do our job better. We’ve all got a lot of things to work on. That’s easy.”
It speaks to Belichick’s influence that players are buying into this borderline silliness, that no one is whispering behind the scenes, “What the hell is Bill talking about? Of course Brady’s going to make us better.”
Wide receiver Julian Edelman was asked after Sunday’s loss how seriously the Patriots really had to take the loss. After all, they were 3-0 with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett each splitting six quarters. It took Brissett playing with a thumb that could need surgery and for Edelman to take wildcat snaps for the Patriots to finally lose. Their legendary quarterback is returning, and the first four games of the season went about as well as anyone could have predicted without him.
Edelman paused as if it was an absurd notion.
“Very serious,” Edelman said. “Anytime you go out there an lose a ballgame against a division opponent, that sets you back a little. What we gotta do is take everything we didn’t do well today and learn from it, come in here and have a short memory and get ready to prepare for the Cleveland Browns.”
Patriots fans are routinely mocked for acting as if the sky is falling every time their team loses. But that comes from the team they follow. The locker room resembles a wake when they lose. Belichick won’t speak in complete sentences for days. Every phase of the game has to improve. Their next opponent, regardless of record, is a juggernaut.
And now, because the Patriots lost in Week 4, and because no individual player is more important than the team, the Patriots are not to overly celebrate Brady’s return.
People often ask why the Patriots are able to have success year after year, and what makes Belichick such a brilliant head coach. It’s not a coincidence that Belichick has his greatest success when his team is fully buying in. Monday, when the Patriots refused to admit they had seen their quarterback, is evidence this team is in a nearly brainwashed — in a good way — state by their head coach.
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