Belichick Won't Kneel To Conquer

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 31, 2007; Page E01

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For the first half of the New England Patriots' season, it has appeared that the only person capable of slowing down the offense is Coach Bill Belichick. And he has been decidedly uninterested in doing so.

The Patriots will take an 8-0 record into Sunday's showdown in Indianapolis with the 7-0 Colts. The Patriots are on course to shatter the NFL's single-season scoring record and are drawing comparisons to the greatest teams in history. They're so imposing that they've made an underdog of the Colts even though they're the undefeated defending Super Bowl champions playing at home.

bill belichick - new england patriots
Bill Belichick has always masterfully fostered an us-against-the-world attitude among his players, and many people around the league think he's more combative than ever this season. (Mel Evans - AP)

But it also has been a season of controversies for the Patriots and Belichick, their unyielding coach, and the latest is whether Belichick might be violating one of the sport's unwritten rules by using a merciless approach to win games by lopsided margins and embarrass opponents.

"It could be making some people mad," former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese said this week. "It certainly could be. I don't doubt that at all."

But the question remains: Is Belichick doing anything wrong? Reese and other observers said no.

"Having been on both sides of it, it always boils down to, if you want to keep it from happening, you have to stop them," Reese said. "The problem is, right now they're almost impossible to stop."

Former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann said yesterday of Belichick: "He doesn't give a damn about what anyone thinks, and that's great. The NFL isn't a social club. You're not supposed to score against this [opposing] coach because his job is on the line? Come on. You do something about keeping your own job. The Patriots have got the pedal to the metal, and they're not backing off."

After beating the Redskins, 52-7, on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots have scored 331 points; the NFL record is 556 by the Minnesota Vikings in 1998. The Patriots' average margin of victory is 25.5 points per game. They haven't scored fewer than 34 points in a game or won by fewer than 17 points.

But what has created the stir is the way that Belichick has gone about things the past three weeks. In an Oct. 14 game at Dallas, Patriots reserve running back Kyle Eckel scored a touchdown with 19 seconds to play on a one-yard run on fourth down. That made the final score 48-27. A week later, Belichick sent quarterback Tom Brady back into the game in the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins -- after backup Matt Cassel's pass had been intercepted and returned for a touchdown that reduced the Patriots' lead to 21 -- and Brady threw his sixth touchdown pass of a game that ended with a 49-28 score.

Against the Redskins, the Patriots left their offense on the field for two fourth-down plays in the fourth quarter with the score 38-0 and 45-0. They converted both, the second with Cassel in the game, and ended both drives with touchdowns. The television cameras caught Joe Gibbs, the Redskins' Hall of Fame coach, with an angry expression on his face on the Patriots' first fourth-down conversion, but Gibbs said after the game he had "no problem" with anything the Patriots did. Not all of his players agreed.

"Most coaches, the reasonable thing to do is kick the field goal," Redskins defensive end Phillip Daniels said after the game. "Run the ball. Kneel down. Something. I think everybody was surprised. I don't know what was going on. You have to ask him. I can't read his mind."

When center Casey Rabach was asked in the locker room if the Patriots had run up the score, he smiled and said: "Come on, you think? . . . It is what it is. Hey, to the victors go the spoils. It's a crappy way to go about things, but I don't want to get into trouble. Move on."

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