FOXBOROUGH — We have returned to the formula.
Win the coin toss . . . defer . . . exploit a coach who wets himself at the sight of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady . . . introduce a player who quit on his old team but is now fully vested in the Patriots way . . . completely outsmart the other team in the first half . . . do the opposite of what you did offensively last week . . . break the opponent’s will by managing the clock so that you score on the final play of the first half . . . demoralize them in the second half and trigger the celebration over the final 30 minutes of play . . . toss in a couple of videoboard shots of the owners in their high chairs and maybe an ad for those $150 Lunar Force 1 kicks . . . print the AFC East Champion T-shirts and hats . . . then sit back and wait for the rave reviews while your fans call talk shows in the spirit of revenge rather than celebration.
Wash . . . rinse . . . repeat.
See you in Glendale Feb. 1.
The Patriots dismantled the NFC North’s first-place Detroit Lions, 34-9, on an unseasonably warm day at Gillette Sunday. It was New England’s seventh consecutive victory, a span during which the Patriots have averaged close to 40 points per game. It was New England’s 14th straight victory over an NFC North team and it improved the Patriots to 32-3 in the second half of all seasons since 2010.
“Our guys did a good job being ready to go,” deadpanned Belichick, who benched Jonas Gray, one week after Gray’s four-touchdown, 201-yard, Sports Illustrated cover day vs. Indy. Gray overslept and was late for practice Friday. His punishment was right out of the show ’em who’s boss, high school playbook. You do it when you know it’s not going to hurt you.
Can we start the playoffs now? The 2014 Patriots have taken the regular-season test and they have passed. They are the team we hoped they might be when they acquired Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner last spring. Their September slump feels like it took place way back during Prohibition. That’s the dark past and it has nothing to do with today. In November and December, New England’s home games look like they’ll be coronations rather than competitions. It’s all about style points now. Just stay healthy and keep a few tricks in the bag for December and January.
By now we have learned that winning games during Thanksgiving season does not guarantee playoff success. Since the Super Bowl shocker in the perfect season of 2007, the Patriots have been sent home from the playoffs by the Ravens, Jets, Giants (a Super Bowl), Ravens, and Broncos. They certainly could lose another game or two in this regular season (at Green Bay next Sunday, for instance), but they are going to win their division and they are going to play at home until the Super Bowl. And at this hour it feels like the Patriots are a better team than they have been in any season since they ran the table with Randy Moss and friends. Finally, they have a terrific defense again. Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford completed only 18 of 46 passes.
Sunday’s decimation of the Lions was almost too easy. The Lions came to Foxborough as possibly the most disrespected first-place opponent in recent history. They owned a 7-3 record and a share of first place in their division, yet they were 7-point underdogs and I could not find a single expert who believed they would win. Belichick, his staff, and his players are too smart to admit the same things, but you know they knew. Detroit had no chance. Jim Caldwell had no chance.
There are a handful of coaches who can come into Foxborough and play big-boy football. Tom Coughlin, both Harbaugh brothers, Rex Ryan, Sean Payton, Mike McCarthy, and Andy Reid are in this small club. Caldwell is not. He’s in the John Fox, Marvin Lewis, Chuck Pagano club. Sunday’s embarrassment was a coaching wedgie.
“We get great coaching and preparation,” said Brady, not wanting to insult the other guys. Very Patriot-like.
Belichick and his coordinators, Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, totally undressed Caldwell and his staff. One week after beating the Colts with a ground-and-pound, the Patriots took to the air and surgically dissected Detroit’s top-ranked defense. Brady had plenty of time to throw and his target usually didn’t have a defender within 5 yards (“We were a little out of whack at times,” acknowledged Caldwell). The Patriots led, 24-6, at halftime even though they rushed for only 5 yards in the first two quarters.
Detroit, meanwhile, played scared. The Lions were on their heels. Ndamukong Suh was silent and Megatron Calvin Johnson (10 targets, four catches, 58 yards) was a non-factor when the game was being decided in the first three quarters. Caldwell was more conservative than William F. Buckley. He went for field goals when he needed touchdowns.
Belichick’s dad, Steve Belichick, played for the Lions in 1941.
Bill Belichick was with the Lions in 1976 and 1977 when he was making his bones as a young coach in the NFL. He learned his lessons well. And he threw his book of knowledge at the ever-beatable Detroit franchise.
The Patriots are back on message, and in the mighty jungle that is Gillette in November, the Lions slept all day.Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org