ATLANTA – All teams practice two-minute scoring drills. The New England Patriots, apparently, practice two-minute press conferences.
Tom Brady was fresh off a 30-23 victory in Atlanta, one of the more difficult places to play in the NFL. He'd completed 20 of 31 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns. He'd honed a herd of ignored and disregarded receivers into a surgically precise attack.
And afterward, he looked for all the world like he was making small talk at a Starbucks counter.
"We slugged it out," he said. "This was a very good team. This is a hard place to play. It was nice to win and get to 4-0."
Good. Hard. Nice. These are the kinds of words that Brady and the rest of the Patriots deploy to keep the rest of the world at bay – meaningless tidings that give the appearance of an answer.
More examples …
Head coach Bill Belichick: "We had a good second half against a good football team. … That's a good club that Coach [Mike] Smith has over there in Atlanta. They fought us hard straight to the end. They made a good example of what it takes to win in this league, and that's 60 minutes of good football."
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Wake up, we're not done yet. Julian Edelman, who had seven receptions for 118 yards: "It's just another win. It was a good win and a good road victory."
Good and nice are good and nice, but the most important word of The Patriot Way is this: control. Control of the ball on the field, control of the message off it. You can't alter or affect that control any more than a ripple in the ocean can affect the course of an ocean liner.
The message, from Belichick on down, remains the same: We did what we were supposed to do, but we can always do it better.
"We still have a lot of work to do and a lot of things to clean up," said Kenbrell Thompkins, the undrafted wide receiver with a touchdown and 127 critical yards in this game. "We will correct the mistakes tomorrow and keep moving forward."
"There were some key things that we messed up on and have to work on," Edelman said. "I'm sure that we will be working on those in practice."
This isn't cherry-picking. These are literally the most interesting quotes in these players' brief interviews. More than one reporter in the locker room turned away from yet another color-by-numbers interview grumbling in disgust at the lack of information.
But, then, it's not the Patriots' job to make the media's job easier. It's the Patriots' job to win football games, and that's exactly what they're doing, effectively if not necessarily efficiently.
The Patriots and Falcons traded scores in the first half, ending the initial 30 minutes tied at 10.
But in the fourth quarter, New England opened up leads of 20-10 and 30-13. A fortuitous onside kick, a fumbled Brady snap – "Something we've got to work on," he said afterward, of course – and a Falcons defense that finally woke up put Atlanta in position to at least tie the game with a touchdown with under a minute left.
On a do-or-die fourth down, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan looked to receiver Roddy White and lofted a potential touchdown, but Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib was there to knock it down and preserve a New England victory.
Talib was behind White, and so had to leap up and over him to punch out the pass while not getting flagged for interference. It was a phenomenally difficult, insanely pressurized play, and here's how Talib described it: "Matt Ryan put it up and I had to get to it and break it up."
You get the idea.
The Patriots' defense isn't yet strong enough to hold off Denver, and the offensive attack isn't yet multifaceted enough to scare Seattle. But, as they'll tell you, they're working on it. And if you give Brady enough time in the pocket and Belichick enough time with game tape, they'll find a way to beat you.
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Brady finished his public comments in under 90 seconds. He walked off the podium and began heading toward the Patriots' team bus. As he did, he passed right under several televisions showing Ryan's press conference, happening simultaneously just down the hall.
Ryan spoke for six and a half minutes, not long in real-world terms but a bladder-busting filibuster compared to Brady. Ryan considered the Falcons' failures in the red zone (one score in six attempts), the difficulties in connecting with his receivers, the team's mindset in nearly pulling off a dramatic 17-point comeback. By the time he was done, Brady was long gone, and he wouldn't be coming back.
When you're in control, you don't need to apologize. You don't need to justify. And you certainly don't need to explain.
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