On Wednesday morning. Bill Belichick conducted a 14-minute conference call with the Buffalo media. The entire session was marred by a screeching noise that came over the speakerphone between the reporters’ questions and Belichick’s replies.
It led me to wonder if we’d been victimized by the same sinister technology that has caused the headsets of five opposing teams to malfunction at Gillette Stadium in recent years.
The Patriots say the poor communication is an NFL problem. But really, how can any lucid person not suspect that something is amiss? SpyGate, anyone? Belichick is notorious for seeking out every advantage. If he thought distracting reporters with piercing noise would give him a microscopic edge against the Bills on Sunday, does anyone doubt that he’d be all for it?
As usual, I tried my best to pry an expansive answer out of Belichick on the more pertinent issues of the day – how gratifying it is to win after the league suspended Brady; whether he’s contemplated his place in league history; his team’s amazing record in conference home games.
“Well, we’re focused on getting ready for Buffalo this week,” Belichick said. “What’s in the past is in the past. We don’t really care about anything but Buffalo now. We have our hands full preparing for the Bills. They played great against Arizona, a team we played a few weeks ago. We know what Arizona is, and they really handled them.
“So we’re going to have our best game of the year to be competitive with Buffalo on Sunday,” he said. “We know that, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
“What’s in the past is in the past” ranks right up there with “It is what it is” on my list of horrifying cliches. That’s how it goes every year, twice a year. Still, we gather around the speakerphone, wondering if this might be the day when Belichick finally snaps and reminds us that his time in New England directly parallels Buffalo’s playoff drought.
You could say, “Bill, there are reports that the sun, the primary source of energy and life on the planet, is plummeting to Earth. Your thoughts?” And Belichick would reply, “We’re just focusing on Buffalo this week.”
But who’s to question him, considering his remarkable run of success over the last 16-plus seasons in New England? Belichick is 190-69 with the Pats in the regular season. In the Pats’ 27-0 win over Houston, he tied Curly Lambeau for fourth all-time among coaches, with 226 victories.
Belichick has won four Super Bowls as a head coach, lost two others, reached five straight AFC championship games and 10 in the last 15 seasons. His Patriots have won at least 12 games in six consecutive seasons. They’ve captured seven straight AFC East titles and 12 of the last 13. He has a record 23 playoff victories. I know it’s painful, Buffalo fans.
He now trails only Don Shula (328), George Halas (318) and Tom Landry (250) in wins. Many observers believe Belichick is the best coach ever. Their ranks grew in the first three games of this season when the Pats, playing without Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski (essentially) and left tackle Nate Solder, got off to a 3-0 start.
“We don’t care about the last three weeks,” Belichick said, “or the last three years, or whatever else it is. None of that really matters this week. All that matters is how well we prepare this week and how well we coach and play on Sunday against a very good football team, a division rival. It’s an important game at this point in the season.
“That’s really what it’s all about for us,” he said. “All the rest of it, we can talk about it some other time, but it doesn’t really matter right now.”
Again, the results are unassailable. Belichick is obsessive about revealing as little of his feelings as possible, and his players fall in line. Julian Edelman did the player conference call and sounded as if he had been listening to the Belichick library of Rosetta Stone language tapes.
Good thing we have Rex Ryan to provide comic relief. Toward the end of Edelman’s conference call, Rex emerged a few minutes early for his 12:05 p.m. presser. He walked over to the group and nodded toward the speakerphone with a devilish look.
Ryan leaned down and asked Edelman the final question, using an alias well-known to veteran Bills fans: “Julian, “ Ryan said. “This is, uh, Walt Patulski from The Buffalo News. Are you playing quarterback this week?”
“Huh?” the star wideout replied.
“Are you playing quarterback this week?” Ryan asked.
“Well, I’m going to do whatever the coaches ask me to do,” Edelman said. “So if they ask me to go out and give a glass of water to someone on the sideline, I’m going to do that with a smile on my face if it helps our team win. So you can ask Coach that one.”
“All right, Julian,” Ryan said. “I will, buddy.”
“All right, Walt,” Edelman said.
It was hard to tell if Edelman had caught on to Ryan’s joke. It cannot have been amusing for Belichick. Remember, he once held a player (Wes Welker) out for the first series of a 2011 playoff game for poking fun at Ryan’s rumored foot fetish in a press conference.
While Belichick plays it close to the vest, Ryan barely has a filter. Like Donald Trump, he simply can’t help himself in front of a microphone. He’s the blathering antithesis to the genius in New England, and he’s not ashamed to say so.
“Obviously, his style works a hell of a lot better than my style,” Ryan said. “So I’ll give him that. But I learned a long time ago, you got to be yourself in this league. If I tried to be Bill Belichick, that would never work. Just like – not that he ever would – if he tried to be like somebody else.
“I think it’s hilarious when he’s on (the conference call). It’s who he is, but it’s great. He does it better than anybody else. Some guys try to copy that style. They’re phonies. Belichick does it, that’s who he is. Belichick is the most consistent guy there is. I try to be consistent, in a way different way.”
How’s this for consistent? The Patriots have won 41 of their last 42 regular-season games against AFC foes at Gillette Stadium. The loss was to the Bills in a meaningless 2014 finale, in Doug Marrone’s final game as coach. Belichick is 28-4 against the Bills as Pats head man. He’s 11-4 against Ryan, whose Jets won at Gillette in a 2011 playoff game.
Belichick’s teams do not get caught looking ahead. Methodically, obsessively, they focus on the next opponent. Belichick doesn’t look past anyone. He doesn’t look past breakfast. The notion that he would take any team for granted is ludicrous. The record says so.
If the Patriots were capable of taking any team lightly, the Bills’ blowout of Arizona would have gotten their attention. The scary thing, if you understand Belichick’s uncanny ability to make every week a fresh challenge, is that it doesn’t even matter.