FOXBOROUGH — Bill Belichick and the Patriots delivered yet another strong message to Roger Goodell and NFL America Thursday night.
Playing without Tom Brady . . . playing without Brady’s backup . . . playing their second game in five days . . . established as underdogs on their home field . . . playing with a rookie quarterback starting his first NFL game . . . the Patriots humiliated the heretofore undefeated Houston Texans, 27-0, at Gillette Stadium.
Take that, Roger. You cannot hurt the Patriots. You can take away Brady for four games and New England will win them all anyway. Thursday’s demolition of Houston means that the only thing standing between the Patriots and a 4-0 record without Brady is a win over the Buffalo Bills at Gillette next week.
Belichick sarcastically told us in Arizona that he is a big fan of “story lines” so here goes: Rookie Jacoby Brissett (11 for 19, 103 yards, zero TDs, zero picks) played Game Management 101 and scored a touchdown on a dazzling 27-yard QB option in the first quarter; the Patriots’ defense inspired memories of the 1985 Chicago Bears; Bill O’Brien and the Texans did what everybody else does when they see Belichick and the Gillette lighthouse — they got weak in the knees and wet their pants. It was downright embarrassing for a coach who worked here and should have been better prepared.
But the No. 1 story line of the night was Belichick. We keep thinking we have seem the ultimate demonstration of his greatness and then we see something that tops the last one. We thought the opening-night win at Arizona would stand as the Hoodie’s favorite non-Super Bowl win, but Thursday’s shocker against the Texans was even better. It was a game won by all the boring things Bill loves — special teams, defense, and mistake-free offense.
“I’m so proud of the way our guys competed,’’ said Belichick. “A real satisfying win. The whole week the coaching staff did a tremendous job.’’
When an intrepid sort noted that Bill was climbing the ranks of career wins for coaches, Belichick said, “Today is not about me. It’s about the team, the players, the assistant coaches, and all the credit they deserve.’’
Swell. There was a lot of humble deflection in the Patriots locker room and at the podium. But everybody knows that on this night Bill Belichick was all-powerful. Even when matched up against a coach he respects, Belichick can break your team and make it quit. The Tomato Can Texans were an embarrassment on every level. They have lost their last four games in Foxborough by an aggregate count of 150-49.
Leading into this game, there was no shortage of speculation on who would quarterback the Patriots. Wonderboy Jimmy Garoppolo sprained the AC joint in his throwing shoulder in the second quarter of last Sunday’s win over Miami and suddenly everybody had an opinion about what might unfold Thursday night.
The lack of information dispensed from Fort Foxborough lends itself to wild speculation and armchair analysis. In this spirit, Boston’s sports yackers suggested that perhaps Jimmy G wasn’t really hurting that badly and would emerge from the tunnel and lead the Patriots out on to the field. Or maybe Jimmy G would just dress the part and carry a clipboard with his one good arm. There were rumors that the Patriots were trying to cajole Jimmy into action — reminding him that Brady in the past has played with this same injury.
Given that the Patriots opted not to sign a journeyman QB (T.J. Yates, Tim Tebow, Doug Flutie?) for a one-night stand, this left the team in the hands of rookie Brissett with the only backup being wide receiver Julian Edelman. Edelman played quarterback at Kent State nine years ago. Of course, putting Edelman at quarterback would have the unfortunate consequence of taking away the team’s top receiver. As Gisele Bundchen once told us, a man cannot throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time.
At 7 p.m. there was finally information. Jimmy G’s name was on the list of “inactives.” This meant that the 23-year old Brissett was going to make his first NFL start.
“Last week he was a relief pitcher,’’ Bill said in a pregame interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub. “Tonight he’s a starter.’’
OK. But one quarterback — a rookie — in a high-stakes game? Would this be the one time that Hoodie took it too far? Was he going to pay for arrogance and hubris and wind up with Edelman taking snaps in a nationally televised game?
Bill clearly wasn’t stressed by the horror of it all. He came out wearing his black-tie best: a tattered gray sweat shirt with the sleeves cut off over a blue mock turtleneck. Tom Landry, he wasn’t.
Fans had no idea what to expect from Brissett, a Floridian who was drafted in the third round out of North Carolina State last spring. Brissett’s nine passes against the Dolphins last Sunday (six completed, for 92 yards) constituted his entire NFL résumé.
The kid had a pretty good first half. Late in the first quarter, he scampered 27 yards on a quarterback keeper to score his first NFL touchdown and give the Patriots a 10-0 lead. Thus the legend of Jacoby Brissett was born. Somewhere in the swamps of Jersey, the Almighty Tuna (Brissett’s mentor, Bill Parcells) had to be smiling. Was it too soon to think about trading Jimmy G for a raft of first-round draft picks?
Special teams and defense did the rest. And coaching.
“They played the game exactly the way we asked them to play it,’’ said Belichick. “As a coach, you can’t ask any more.’’
And as a fan, you can’t ask for any more than you are getting out of Bill Belichick.
The best there ever was.