Belichick's clan replacing loyalty with ugliness

McDaniels and Pioli before Sunday's game

Follow Michael Silver at Mogotxt and Twitter.

With 12 minutes to go in the 12th game of his 13th NFL season, Mike Vrabel(notes) finally lost his swagger. The Chiefs' 34-year-old linebacker lost his composure, too: Upset after the Broncos went for it on fourth-and-1 with a 21-point lead – and rookie halfback Knowshon Moreno(notes) raced in for an 18-yard touchdown – Vrabel flipped his middle finger to the Denver bench as he walked off the field.

"I was frustrated," Vrabel told Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock after the game. "I've been on the other end of one of those [blowout victories] and it's a lot of fun. Well, now I've been on the other side, and it's not good."

Hey, payback's a bitch – and then you retire.

For eight years Vrabel was a key part of this decade's dominant NFL franchise, buying into the Bill Belichick code of boorish intimidation with a zealot's devotion. Then, on Feb. 28, he received an unceremonious excommunication from the family. So much for loyalty: Looking for nothing more than cap space, the Pats included Vrabel in the trade that sent quarterback Matt Cassel(notes) to the Chiefs, where Belichick's former right-hand man, Scott Pioli, was the newly hired general manager.

Now Vrabel is playing out his final football days for a 3-9 team that on Sunday allowed another Belichick prodigy, first-year Broncos coach Josh (I Wear a Hoodie, Too!) McDaniels, yet another opportunity to pay homage to his mentor. And if you think it was a coincidence that McDaniels chose to pour it on against the team run by Pioli, you probably also believe that Eric Mangini had nothing to do with Spygate.

Mangini's estrangement from his former boss might have been the most celebrated instance of pettiness between the Pats and ex-Pats, but it clearly wasn't an anomaly. From the Rocky Mountains to the shadow of the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame, Belichick's Boys seem locked in chest-puffing quests to prove their alpha-male dominance, and really, should we be surprised?

These are single-minded men who conducted themselves in New England as though they'd run it up against their own mothers in Scrabble and displayed all the personal charm of a box of a GPS direction-provider. They also seem to have issues with boundaries, as I was just discussing with my new life coach, Charlie (Playa Hater) Weis.

So yes, Mr. Vrabel – McDaniels was most certainly trying to show you who your daddy is. Or perhaps he was telling Pioli, "I'm Bill's best and brightest, not you." Or maybe it had something to do with retribution for the Cassel trade, which didn't exactly play out the way the Broncos had hoped, at least at the time.

It doesn't really matter. The point is, in the eyes of Belichick and his disciples, you're either ruthless or helpless, and if it's the latter don't expect your old buddies to help you up and assuage your pain.

The remotely amusing part of all of this is that the Don Mega himself may soon be reduced to flipping the middle finger to the world in frustration, which wouldn't be much different from the way he behaved after losing Super Bowl XLII.

The Patriots are 7-5, and Belichick's motivational magic seems to be a bit lacking. I say this because quarterback Tom Brady(notes), through his public comments Sunday and Monday, has taken over the role of locker-room warlord, questioning teammates' commitment and intensity.

Belichick, I'm fairly certain, doesn't have a problem with his future Hall of Fame quarterback sounding those notes. But it does mark a departure from the whole "One Voice" mission statement that the coach helped make famous, and I'm guessing that even if Belichick were bothered by Brady's comments, he wouldn't have the guts to censure him.

Loyalty might be a fleeting concept in Belichick's world, but right now, he needs as much of it as he can muster.

1. New Orleans Saints: Given that Drew Brees(notes) believes in destiny and karma, can we also assume he believes he'll face (and defeat) a certain team from San Diego in the Super Bowl?

2. Indianapolis Colts: How much fun will it be to watch Peyton Manning(notes) and Denver's Brian Dawkins(notes) try to mess with one another's minds on Sunday?

3. Minnesota Vikings: How much will E.J. Henderson's(notes) broken femur hurt Leslie Frazier's defense – and how touching was the sight of E.J.'s brother, Erin, holding his hand as he was driven off the field Sunday night?

4. San Diego Chargers: How cool was it to see LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) pass Jim Brown on the all-time rushing list, salute the Best Running Back Ever by pointing to Brown's luxury suite, and then get love from the Hall of Famer in the locker room after the game?

5. Arizona Cardinals: What got devoured more quickly Sunday night – Larry Fitzgerald Sr.'s ice-cream sandwich or Adrian Peterson on running plays?

6. Cincinnati Bengals: Why does the sight of Chad Ochocinco(notes) in a poncho and sombrero make Roger Goodell so loco?

7. Green Bay Packers: Is it possible that Clay Matthews(notes), and not the Texans' Brian Cushing(notes), is this year's most impressive rookie linebacker from Southern California?

8. Philadelphia Eagles: If the Bills (or Cowboys) rammed a late Terrell Owens(notes) touchdown down the Eagles' throat the way Andy Reid did with Michael Vick's(notes) scoring pass against the Falcons Sunday, how bitter would the coach have been?

9. Dallas Cowboys: When Flozell Adams(notes) is in Tucson, can we expect to see him at this watering hole?

10. Denver Broncos: Why didn't the Broncos redo Elvis Dumervil's(notes) rookie deal before this season – and every time the linebacker makes a sack, is this what's flashing through Pat Bowlen's brain?

11. New England Patriots: Is the sky falling?

12. New York Giants: How did Brandon Jacobs(notes) stay inbounds on that 74-yard touchdown catch – and do Cowboys fans now feel the way about him that he feels about their team?

13. Miami Dolphins: Was Chad Henne(notes) the best Michigan man under center at Land Shark Stadium on Sunday – and can the Dolphins ride his big arm to another division crown?

14. Pittsburgh Steelers: How did Joe Burnett(notes) drop that potential game-winning interception with 40 seconds to go in Sunday's defeat to the Raiders – and how desperately does this team miss Troy Polamalu(notes)?

15. Baltimore Ravens: Without T-Sizzle, how blatantly does their pass rush fizzle?

16. Tennessee Titans: Will Chris Johnson run for 300 yards against the Rams on Sunday – and how bummed about this matchup is the person who has to face UCSB women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb in the first round of their fantasy-league playoffs?

17. Atlanta Falcons: Is Matt Ryan(notes) the Sergeant Hulka of this team?

18. New York Jets: How much better would the Jets be if they'd signed Miles Austin(notes) over the offseason?

19. Jacksonville Jaguars: Does David Garrard(notes) define "destiny" as "playing really lousy opponents on a regular basis"?

20. Carolina Panthers: After a relatively restrained performance in his first start of '09, will Matt Moore(notes) become the latest quarterback to air it out against the Pats?

21. Houston Texans: What was all that garbage we were hearing about Matt Schaub's(notes) supposed lack of toughness – and after what we saw Sunday, will it finally stop?

22. San Francisco 49ers: Counterintuitive as it sounds, can a No. 1 overall draft pick become Mr. Irrelevant?

23. Seattle Seahawks: If Jim Mora had given a game ball to 49ers counterpart Mike Singletary after Sunday's game, would linebacker Aaron Curry(notes) have volunteered to deliver it to the visitors' locker room?

24. Chicago Bears: If the Bears try to trade Lance Briggs(notes) during the offseason, will Sunday's performance by Jamar Williams(notes) be the impetus?

25. Oakland Raiders: When Justin Fargas(notes) yelled "Let's get out of this hellhole" following the Raiders' upset victory over the Steelers at Heinz Field, was he blasting this on his iPod?

26. Buffalo Bills: Who's less ready for Prime Time – the Bills or this Bill, circa 1976.

27. Washington Redskins: What does it say about this franchise that Jason Campbell's(notes) 367 passing yards against the Saints represent the team's highest single-game total in a decade?

28. Kansas City Chiefs: What was more noteworthy on Sunday – Tamba Hali's(notes) three-sack effort or his three-word postgame interview session?

29. Detroit Lions: What, exactly, is the point of trotting out an injured Matthew Stafford(notes) for a 2-12 team?

30. St. Louis Rams: If you run 34 of 65 plays inside the opponent's territory and come away with nine points, how atrocious is your offense?

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Yo, Raheem Morris and Greg Olson – when your rookie quarterback throws five interceptions inside the red zone, do you think it might be a decent idea to run the ball a bit more down there?

32. Cleveland Browns: If I'd told you in August that Chargers fullback Mike Tolbert(notes) would score on a 66-yard touchdown pass this season, what percentage of you would have been able to predict which opponent it would come against?