FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots continued the Bill Belichick Revenge Tour with yet another thrashing that left yet another opponent awed by the immense precision with which they are playing right now.
But the more pertinent questions coming from the 52-7 victory over the Washington Redskins on Sunday at Gillette Stadium revolves more on style than any of the staggering numbers the 8-0 Patriots have produced in a half-season of work.
First, how much flak are the Patriots going to take for running up the score? Second, is there anything anybody can really do about it? Third, will they use that flak as another perceived diss to further feed their desire to win?
All of those questions figure to get plenty of debate this week as New England heads to Indianapolis for a historic matchup with the 7-0 Colts. This is the latest point in a season in which two undefeated teams have ever met in the history of the NFL. The last time it was even this close was 1921, when the 7-0 Akron Pros met the 6-0 Buffalo All-Americans.
But for all the attention next Sunday's game is going to get – look for hype equivalent to a conference title game – the immediate topics for the sports-loving public will revolve around the Patriots and their habit of crushing opponents this season. Their closest margin is 17 points so far and the rest have been decided by 21 or more.
The latest and most obvious evidence of New England running it up came with roughly 11 minutes remaining Sunday. Up 38-0, the Patriots not only threw deep on one play to wide receiver Randy Moss, but they also later went for it on fourth-and-1 at the Washington 7-yard line.
After New England converted, quarterback Tom Brady then threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Wes Welker to finish the drive. It was the 30th touchdown pass of the season for Brady, setting a career high and further bringing him closer to Peyton Manning's single-season record of 49 set in 2005. It also helped the Patriots push their scoring total to 331 points at the season's midpoint for an average of 41.4 points a game and a pace for 662 points, which would shatter the mark of 556 by the 1998 Vikings.
But again, this is not about numbers. It's about form. It's the age-old question about what is right or wrong in sports.
When it comes to pro sports, it's not an easy debate. This is not the local YMCA league where feelings can matter. This is the league for big boys, big money and big egos.
Still, there seemed to be the seeds of hard feelings after the game when Belichick and Redskins coach Joe Gibbs exchanged the briefest of handshakes. By the time Gibbs got to the post-game press conference, he was effusive with praise and pointed no fingers at the Pats.
"I don't think you could say enough good things about (the Patriots)," Gibbs said. "They've got great talent, great coaching … It will take a lot to stop them."
But then Gibbs was asked if the Pats should perhaps have stopped themselves.
"No, I have no problem with anything that they did," he said. "Nothing, no problems from me."
For his part, Belichick shrugged off questions about the issue. Of course, he was the one who put Brady back in the game in the fourth quarter with New England leading 42-21 after backup Matt Cassel threw an interception for a score against the Dolphins last week.
"What do you want us to do? Kick a field goal?" Belichick said when asked about going for it on fourth down. "It's 38-0. It's fourth down. (We're) just out there playing."
A number of Washington players echoed Gibbs' sentiment, even while saying New England was going for the score.
"Sure, they were running up the score," Redskins offensive tackle Todd Wade said in a matter-of-fact tone. "Every coach is different in how they do it. … They were a machine all day and were as good as advertised."
The next question is what will anybody do about it?
At this rate, not much.
"If they keep scoring the way they are, it won't happen," Wade said.
But the NFL is a funny collection of runaway egos. Will somebody take a cheap shot at Brady or Moss or somebody else because they're getting tired of getting beaten down?
Former Washington quarterback and current radio voice Sonny Jurgensen, a Hall of Famer, smiled and paused long when asked about the nature of revenge in this sport. He then said that there's really nothing that can be done.
"What are they supposed to be doing, kneeling down in the third quarter?" Jurgensen said.
Again, that's a fair point considering the level of the competition. If teams don't like getting beaten so bad, they probably should do something productive about it, like play better. Also, it would be perceived as whining if the Redskins did complain.
Furthermore, the approach right now with the Patriots should be gentle. That's become obvious as they play like a team determined to shove criticism back into the face of anyone who dares to utter it.
From criticism of Moss during the offseason to the hue and cry over Belichick being caught in the midst of Spygate, New England is playing with an edge that borders on disdain for any creature.
Or as wide receiver Donte' Stallworth put it after the game: "We don't care what other people say about stuff like that. Those people aren't in this locker room, aren't in this organization. We don't care. We've been accused of some stuff earlier this season … it doesn't matter."
- New England