Patriots vs. the World: New England's mentality amid deflate-gate

Columnist
Yahoo Sports

PHOENIX – Bill Belichick wore flip-flops to Super Bowl Media Day.

He had an old pair of jeans, a worn Gravis backpack and a blue hoodie that he acknowledged "sure isn't new." He wasn't dressed to impress. He didn't care.

He looked and sounded relaxed, even when media, mostly cable news shows, tried to draw him into a discussion of deflate-gate.

"Just focused on the Seahawks," Belichick said on ten separate occasions, plus sort of one more time, so let's go with 10.5 – not psi. The logo'd microphones scurried away.

USA Today tried to get him to take a selfie. He declined. His thoughts on Katy Perry didn't go far. He was more willing to discuss his favorite movies – "Home Alone" and "Home Alone 2" over the Christmas holidays, and particularly "My Cousin Vinny" and the trial work of Mona Lisa Vito.

"It's the greatest testimony of all-time," he joked.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick speaks during Super Bowl XLIX Media Day. (USAT)
Patriots coach Bill Belichick speaks during Super Bowl XLIX Media Day. (USAT)

Belichick has turned his focus onto preparing for the game Sunday against Seattle. This seems clear. He's fought the battle against deflated footballs and now a man known for his pragmatic way is well aware of one thing about this week: it's time to win.

A victory helps in all ways, not only empowering the accused but also silencing doubts since the footballs on Sunday will be under league control. Oh and that trophy presentation, Roger Goodell himself up there on the stage, would be oh-so sweet.

A loss would be a crushing end to a rough stretch, especially for Tom Brady, who sure doesn't need a terrible game when the football is properly inflated.

And so while Belichick and the Patriots swear they don't care about the controversy anymore and they've moved on and they're here to play football, you can be rest assured that the issue – mostly the way its framed this coach, these players and that organization – will be addressed.

Every team seeks an Us-Against-The-World, Nobody-Believes-In-Us mentality. They think it provides some kind of an edge even when a Super Bowl is on the line and you wouldn't think any edge is needed. So it's often invented.

New England is in its sixth Super Bowl with Belichick and Tom Brady, it goes to the playoffs every season, it's always a league favorite. Trying to figure out a way to be the underdog, the doubted, the victim, it's nearly impossible.

At least until now.

Inside the Patriots, the feeling is that this controversy is overblown by NFL security that strategically leaked out damning details against New England that lack context or perspective. It's how police and prosecutors do it when trying to put pressure on a murder or terrorism subject – evidence leaks and "person of interest" designations.

It is anything but a professional internal investigation. Even fans who think New England absolutely, positively did it should see the point here.

And that's the reason for the team to be bitter, even as they declare they are just tuning out the "noise."

"I think they think it's a bunch of hogwash," owner Robert Kraft said of the players. "Except for our quarterback, they're not paying much attention to it."

At least until they are told to pay attention to it. If this is one of those so-called distractions, it's a distraction that is far more likely to be a positive, a rallying cry, a motivational force rather than a negative.

This is where the strength of Belichick comes into play. He has strong command over the players, who trust him implicitly. When he says to not pay attention, they'll try to not pay attention. But when he wants to remind them that the outside world is questioning who they are, the work they've put in, whether they even deserve to be in the Super Bowl, they'll be all ears.

"If coach is saying 'Jump,' players are saying, 'How high?'" defensive lineman Chandler Jones said. "You've got a large group of guys that are giving it their all, doing everything coach is saying."

Patriots QB Tom Brady answers a question during media day for NFL Super Bowl XLIX. (AP)
Patriots QB Tom Brady answers a question during media day for NFL Super Bowl XLIX. (AP)

Coach has made it clear to everyone in the organization – other than Kraft, the ultimate boss – to not address the inflation story. They repeated the same mantra, often using the same phrases, across the hour meeting with the media that is mostly just a circus inside a basketball arena.

It's almost impossible to imagine Belichick not using this between now and kickoff Sunday.

Patriots against Everyone, and, for once, it might actually be true.

"Our eyes need to be on the target," Belichick said. "... Look, it's still football, 120 yards long, 160 feet wide, goal posts are the same size. ... I think everybody is going to be ready for the game."

It's a dream scenario for a coach. Who doesn't deep down want to be the bad boys?

"This is a very complicated, hard business that can be very cruel at times," Kraft said. "It's like family, a marriage. … It's important to always be together."

New England sounded together on Tuesday. The players brushed everything aside. Their casually dressed coach parried every media query with ease. He was calm and composed and seemed to be having fun with all of it.

Having your entire operation labeled cheaters isn't much fun.

It sure can be useful headed into the biggest game of the year though. It sure can become a positive then. And right now, Bill Belichick and his guys will tell you, that's all they're focused on right now.

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