Week 4 of the 2014 season was the regular-season low point of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era. (Brady’s season-ending injury in 2008 notwithstanding.)
The Patriots were walloped by the Kansas City Chiefs 41-14 on a murderous Monday night. The fallout from that game led to a “Dump Tom Brady” movement unmatched in pre-Deflategate history.
The Patriots Dynasty was on life support.
“It’s entirely possible to see how ineffective the Patriots have been on offense over the first four weeks and suggest they are fatally flawed and there is something horribly wrong with them to the extent that even Tom Brady and Bill Belichick can’t fix it,” Grantland’s Bill Barnwell wrote the day after the Kansas City mess-terpiece.
After that Patriots loss to Kansas City, Mike Girardi of Comcast Sports New England asked Belichick if he was going to re-evaluate the quarterback position.
Belichick’s grimace killed like Tony Montana.
At his weekly Wednesday press conference 36 hours later, the gathered media throng wasn’t about to let up on the beleaguered coach.
Belichick, meanwhile, was ready to move on — especially when the subject of the quarterback was discussed.
In just 58 seconds, Belichick offered the following responses to successive questions:
“We’re on to Cincinnati.”
“We’re on to Cincinnati.”
“We’re on to Cincinnati. It’s nothing about the past. It’s nothing about the future. Right now, we’re preparing for Cincinnati.”
“We’re getting ready for Cincinnati.”
“We’re getting ready for Cincinnati. That’s what we’re doing.”
“We’re going to gameplan and do our best to get ready for Sunday night as we always do. Nothing’s changed.”
It was one of Belichick’s signature works, surpassed only by “Do your job” in the historic parlance of the Patriots coach.
None of that talk would have been remembered had the Patriots not smote the 3-0 Bengals that week. New England’s 43-17 rout ignited a run that saw the Patriots lose only one meaningful game through Super Bowl XLIX.
The game created a glorious night in Foxborough. It was a game during which Brady eclipsed the 50,000-yard career passing mark as the Patriots raced out to a 14-0 lead. Brady held the ball used to set the mark before flipping it to Julian Edelman on the sidelines. Edelman promptly tossed it back to Brady. He then Gronk-spiked it to the planet’s core.
“I told my brother before we came to the game, ‘I’m going to make (No.) 12 look like Tom Brady again today, baby,’” Rob Gronkowski said in a rare display of genuine emotion after the victory. “And I went out there, with my teammates, and we made Tom Brady look like Tom Brady after you guys were criticizing him all week.”
Two years and one week later, the Patriots are playing host to those same Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Meanwhile, Grantland has been assigned to the ash heap of digital media history.
Brady’s play last week coming off his 4-game suspension and 259-day layoff was, well, very, very Brady. Putting up 406 yards passing against the Cleveland Browns won’t get you to Canton. But delivering the ball the way Brady did, especially after been banished to a month of nude sunbathing in Italy, certainly can.
Perhaps the biggest concern for the Patriots this time against the Bengals is their once-reliable-as-SEAL Team VI kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Since his catastrophic extra-point miss in the AFC title game loss to Denver, the Patriots’ kicker has already missed 3 FG attempts this season — matching the entire number of whiffs he had last regular season.
“Stephen’s one of our hardest-working players and I’d say one of the most-respected players on the team because of the way he does work and how team-oriented he is,” Belichick said (via Eric Wilbur of boston.com). “Whatever we’ve asked him to do, whether it be the training things or kickoffs or situations, the amount of field goals where we’ve had multiple holders and snappers over the course of his career. He does a great job of working with those guys and just working to make the operation better and more consistent. We’ll keep doing that just like we do with everything else in our program.”
At $4.3 million, Gostkowski is the highest-paid kicker in the NFL. One area where Gostkowski has excelled is in taking advantage of the new rule that allows touchbacks to be returned to the 25-yard line. New England’s opponents have the worst average starting field position (22-yard line) heading into Week 5.
Still, that issue is minor when compared to the end-of-the-world scenario that faced the Patriots when these teams met two years ago.
The mantra of these Patriots is quite different. They are a team that went 3-1 without Brady and would clinch at least a first-round bye if it won the rest of its games. This time, Cincinnati is merely one more stop on to Houston.