It would be mean to say that New England's 9-3 victory last week over Cleveland was an example of an ugly win.
Let's just say it had a good personality.
Which is fine with the Patriots who, despite a rash of injuries, despite an offense that seems to fear throwing deep, despite having no running back averaging more than 57 yards a game, despite a humiliating 31-0 loss to open the season, are 6-2 and seemingly getting better by the week.
Winning ugly is what under-the-radar New England is all about.
Heading into Monday's prime time clash with a reeling Denver team – losers of three of their last four, with third-string Danny Kanell in at QB – the Pats are, somehow, poised to take a game-and-a-half lead in the AFC East.
Not that coach Bill Belichick is counting on the Broncos rolling over.
"That is the same thing that people were saying a couple of weeks ago against us," Belichick says. "'This guy is out and that guy is out. Maybe we just ought to save the plane fare.'"
Dismissing the Patriots was an entirely reasonable thing to do not long ago. Injuries to Ted Johnson, Ted Washington and Ty Law should have crushed the defense. The loss of running back Antowain Smith was felt in an offense that ranks 20th overall and isn't in the top 16 in any major category.
But Belichick still is the coach, and winning with misfit parts and a healthy bit of magic is what he is all about. It's what he has consistently done since he took over here. It's why inside the locker room the Patriots' confidence has only grown.
"There is a feeling that we can win away, at home," quarterback Tom Brady says. "We can win when it is hot and cold, when it is rainy with the first-string guys in there, some of guys that have stepped in to become first stringers. I think we are learning how to win.
"I think we are winning different ways. I think we are winning with some different type of passes. We are winning with runs. The defense is playing well. They have been very consistent. I think there is a lot of confidence that we can win in different ways."
Winning with smoke and mirrors is Belichick's style. In a NFL season that lacks dynamic powerhouse teams – save Kansas City – a coach's system is proving invaluable. Good things seem to happen to good coaches, and Belichick is without question a good coach.
He is now 34-25 (.576) with New England and 28-11 (.718) since Oct. 26, 2001.
He has a knack of finding guys who can step up at the right time. When Johnson and Washington were lost to the defense, Belichick turned to 5-11 defensive tackle Dan Klecko, a rookie out of Temple of all places. Klecko has emerged as an energized, if undersized, difference-maker.
When Smith went down due to injury to start the season, the running game should have been grounded at the gate. Instead, Kevin Faulk has played excellent in spurts and, with Smith back, Belichick has a three-man (Mike Cloud) rotation going.
"We have confidence in all three of our backs," Belichick says. "I think that all three of them are going to be productive.
Then there is Brady, no one's idea of an elite signal caller (QB rating: 79.5). Brady lacks the natural talent of Drew Bledsoe but, like Belichick, is a guy who just keeps winning games.
The Patriots have survived the bad karma of the cutting of team captain Lawyer Malloy and subsequent debacle in Buffalo in the season opener to win 5 of 6.
Get past Denver and New England has a chance to go into a bye week at 7-2. That ought to get some of the walking wounded healthy again (the most important being Law).
Then former coach and Belichick mentor Bill Parcells brings the Cowboys to Foxboro.
So get ready for the Patriots' return to the national spotlight. You are forgiven if you saw the injuries, saw the offense, saw the Buffalo game and gave up on New England.
But it was a mistake.
Winning with a good personality is what Belichick does best.
- New England
- Bill Belichick