On Wednesday, Bill Belichick will again give his midweek press conference. I for one hope he answers each and every question by saying "we're moving on to Buffalo." He's earned the horselaugh and I like laughing. More importantly, it'd be good for his mental health.. If Belichick spent any amount of time pondering the last two Pats' games, he might just go nuts.
What is a football coach noted for excruciating attention to detail and a heaping helping of professional paranoia to make of a team capable of playing a game in which it did nothing right followed by a game in which it did nothing wrong in the space of one week? He can be happier, but he can't be any less puzzled.
I am leery of attempting to read Belichick's mind, but I'll go this far. He's not assuming blowing the out the Bengals means that he's solved all the Patriots' problems and restored the 13-3 natural order of things. Leave that to the bipolar fans and media.
Belichick likely was cheered to see that like all quarterbacks Tom Brady plays better when upright, but that's something he already knew. It is quite possible the coach is admitting to himself that Darelle Revis's theories on how to play pass defense have merit. But as for having the faintest idea how the Pats will perform next Sunday against Buffalo or the game after that and on down the line, Belichick can't hazard a guess and wouldn't if he could. He's not much on guessing
I'll guess where Belichick won't. The Pats' split of their last two games by the combined score of 57-58 shows that the local team is part of a shift in the NFL cosmos in the 2014 season where the concept of parity has taken a bizarre turn. For years, it's been used to sell the league as providing more close games than any other sport. So far this year, parity seems to mean that on any given Sunday, Monday, Thursday, every team is capable of blowing out an opponent or being blown out by them.
The dismal Thursday nighters are the most visible aspect of this phenomenon. The Eagles, who have routed opponents and been routed within individual games on a regular basis, are its most extreme example. The last two unbeaten teams in the league, Cincinnati and the Cardinals, went down yesterday by a combined 84-37 score. Nobody's immune. It's my firm belief that the Broncos and Seahawks have ass-kickings in their near futures (if not tonight for Seattle or next week for Denver).
Since 2001, the New England franchise has sneered at parity as a loser's idea. It has made consistency its hallmark, gliding along to double-digit victory seasons as a matter of habit, indeed, as a matter of birthright. Since winning IS a habit, this attitude led to more victories leading to more attitude and so on in a virtuous circle of smug.
The circle is broken. A big rebound win addresses a team's problems by indicating they have solutions. It doesn't make them go away. Tbe boat race in Kansas City was the Pats' worst loss in over a decade. No coach forgets such an experience, no matter how hard he tries. Seeing a game where the offensive line did block may have been gratifying for the coach, but it couldn't have been completely reassuring it will block equally well from here on out.
To a certain extent, this is normal. NFL coaches live in a cloud of uncertainty. Bill Parcells once told me that even for a championship team, a coach never really understood his team's possibilities until around Thanskgiving, and when this theory was put before Belichick, he didn't disagree.
As was said here last week, by then the Chiefs' loss could be a forgotten anomaly in a brilliant season
Or it could be the worst example of issues that have plagued an inconsistent team since its very first game. Since the coach's primary and nearly impossible goal is to create consistent performance, Belichick's mind is likely to remain uneasy for some time to come
On the other hand, problems with solutions are better than those without. Doubt is easier on the soul than panic.